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Amorality and Animals

Animals, in a general sense, are amoral, meaning, they are neither moral nor immoral. They do not know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, and basically, they do not know that anything they do is even categorized as such.

Animals act solely on their instincts and their primitive ways of conduct. Just because killing a fellow human being is illegal and considered a heinous crime does not mean that a hungry lioness feeding on a helpless gazelle makes the lioness is a criminal in any way. Or that a pet python strangling its owner to death makes the python immoral. They were simply acting based on their natural ways. It may be appalling for humans but the fact that animals are considered amoral legitimately makes them not responsible for their actions.

However, the common belief that all animals are amoral has been proven wrong by ethologist Marc Bekoff when he published his book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. Cited in the book are various examples of moral behavior among animals, primarily among mammals. One experiment on great apes, which are the nearest primate relatives of humans, showed an astounding moral conduct when a female chimpanzee invited a fellow primate in her cage to help her reach a tray of food which was too high up for a single ape. Rats also act similar to the apes as they often help each other in escaping from a trap and sharing chocolates with one another.

Even renowned primatologist Frans de Waal agrees with animal morality. He even mentioned several scientific studies demonstrating animal kindness inside and outside human-devised experiments. In one experiment with chimps, one chimp opts to share his treat with another rather than eating the entire thing alone. A group of bonobos gathered around to console one named Makali which was attacked by a rival.

Even elephants and apes show clear signs of grief and depression when a family member passes away. These examples of animal empathy may be due to the presence of mirror neurons in the animals’ brains which help them understand and relate to how another animal of their kind is feeling. These same neurons, which trigger emotional resonance, can be found in human brains.

Due to this fact, it is safe to say that moral behavior is naturally embedded in our brains rather than being taught and influenced by society and religion. Even with our ever-growing curiosity with animals, humans fail to see how similar we are to those other fellow primates in the animal kingdom.

Humans are not at the top of the food chain, rather, we are all equal in one way or another. Complex communication, long memories, and moral benevolence are not limited to humans alone. Animals are also very capable of higher cognitive abilities, and they are evolving the way humans evolve too. Perhaps all we need is a little humility and some consideration in the welfare of these animals as we protect and improve the shared world we live in.