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Ethical Considerations of Non-Humans

Ethical Considerations of Non-Humans

We tend to take it for granted that because we consider animals to be less than we are, they have fewer rights. In essence, we’ve made an ethical judgement that a species inferior to humans has less need to survive than humans, or at least not as much need to survive as well as humans. We prioritize ourselves over other species, specially those “lower” than us. This viewpoint tends to not be considered carefully, rather it is often adopted more from an intuitive stance than one involving deliberate ethical analysis.

Continuing this position once we have encountered a species that we judge to be superior to humans, will become interesting. A logical extension would suggest that we accede to a lower status than the superior species, but experience says the human race will find that difficult to accept. If on the other hand, we defend our right to survival as being equal to other forms of life, no matter what the level is, then we will have to change our opinion of lower forms of life.


  • God – when confronted with an “almighty” being, there will be no confusion about superiority, and little consideration given to the ethical question of weighing our survival against that of God. Most religions have already established a clear position in that regard. Most humans will accept a position similar to that of an ant in the presence of a giant, once the “supreme being” credentials have been established.
  • Aliens – alien life forms may have varying levels of intelligence, but we pose them in our imagination differently. Sometimes we think of them as more intelligent and even benevolent, but often prefer to imagine them as threatening and evil, acting with little understanding of ethics, much less our own sense of morality. This gives us a feeling of superiority over them, even if they possess technology far more advanced than ours, and allows us to consider fighting or even exterminating them in the name of our own survival. If we end up facing aliens who are highly advanced in intelligence, technology, AND consideration of ethics, our reaction is likely to be very different. As the difference between us and them grows larger, it will become increasingly difficult to differentiate between ALIEN and GOD.
  • Artificial Life/AI/Cyborgs – The main issue here is defining what is life and intelligence. But assuming that can be resolved, AI (and hybrid) life forms will automatically inherit a negative bias, just as in the case with aliens. Once again, the hurdle to establish credentials as intelligent and ethical will be higher than the standard we use for other humans, but when they have been clearly established, there will be little room to question them.

Animal Rights
AI Rights

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