Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The ethics of animal experimentation

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

At the heart of the debate about the ethics of animal experimentation lies the question of the moral relationship between humans and non-humans. Western philosophers over the centuries have regarded humans in a different light to the rest of the animal kingdom. For example, Aristotle believed that there was a hierarchy of animals, with humans at the top, as humans could reason and had “rational souls”. Even within humans there was a hierarchy: men were more rational than women, and Hellenes were more rational than other races. This made it perfectly acceptable to enslave “barbarians”. Descartes considered that non-humans were insentient “machines”. As such, they could feel no pain, and so could be exploited ruthlessly. Kant, on the other hand, accepted that animals could suffer, but, by lacking moral autonomy, they also lacked moral status.

These were not the only views. Jeremy Bentham, writing at the end of the 18th century, suggested that, “The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. … The question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” (quoted in Singer1).


One of the moral features of the second half of the 20th century has been the emergence of the concept …

View Full Text


  • Competing interest: None declared

Linked Articles

  • Primary survey
    Jonathan Wyatt