Animal Welfare Ethics

Many times during life we are faced with ethical decisions concerning the welfare of animals. This may be with scientists in the laboratory or the way in which we decide to breed and eat thousands upon thousands of animals each day.  The main arguments for these ethical and moral decisions can be based upon a number of models, two of which are utilitarianism and deontology.


Utilitarianism originates from the late 18th – 19th Century, and philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) were classic utilitarian’s.  Their philosophy believes that the action is determined by the consequence and the outcome should be for the greater good for the greater number.  A utilitarian decision is based upon what would be the greatest benefit for the future and for the greatest number.  This benefit may be individual or mass pleasure, the absence of pain or intellectual gain. A utilitarian would explore the cost – benefit analysis.  They determine what is right by calculating the amount of pleasure or suffering you think your actions may cause.  The decision that is made is the one that gives the most pleasure and the least suffering for the majority concerned.  This means that negative consequences may occur but is outweighed by the benefits for the greater number.

Utilitarianism also asserts that when deciding how to act, a person should always count other peoples and their own happiness equally.  An example of a utilitarian decision would be that the suffering of monkeys in a laboratory used to help cure Parkinson's disease is less to the benefit of the human population if a cure was to be found for the disease.  It may also be criticised by the example that intense mass chicken farms trigger more suffering to the chickens than the pleasure that the mass population of humans gain from eating those chickens.  


Deontology originates from the Greek word ‘duty’ and its meaning is to act a sense of duty or moral duty.  It is based upon good intentions where the outcome is less important.  Deontologists believe as humans we have a duty to help other beings with their rights in consideration, and insist that the duty is delivered even if they themselves suffer as a consequence.  Deontology can work in many ways depending on the situation.  For instance, a gamekeeper who shoots or traps wild predators perceives it as being his duty to protect his game birds or livestock from being eaten by these wild animals.  On the other hand, a wildlife rescuer would disagree with the killing of these wild animals as they believe it is their duty to protect them.

Deontology serves the basis for moral ethics for both human and animal rights.  Tom Regan (born 1938) is a famous philosopher who used the ethics of deontology in his book ‘The Case for Animal Rights’.  Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was another philosopher who used a deontological approach to his ethical arguments on human rights.      

Both utilitarianism and deontology can have positive effects on animal welfare ethics.  The philosopher Tom Regan takes a deontological approach believing every animal has rights and they should never be killed irrespective of the benefit to humans.  Peter Singer (born 1946) is a philosopher with utilitarian approach and argues that humans and animals are the same, and what is done for mankind should be no different to other sentient beings.

Learn more about Animal Welfare with ACS

If you are interested in Animals and their welfare, take a look at our selection of courses as shown at the bottom of this page.

If you have any questions about studying with ACS or choosing a course to study, please get in touch with us today. You can phone us on (UK) 01384 442752 or (if outside UK) +44 (0) 1384 442752, or use our FREE COURSE COUNSELLING to submit a form to our specialist Animal Tutors.