Social Question

CorwinofAmber's avatar

Why are non-human-animals considered property of humans?

Asked by CorwinofAmber (406points) January 2nd, 2010

We deny the personhood of animals because we claim that animals have certain “defects,” such as the inability to use language or a supposedly inferior intelligence, that permit us to treat them instrumentally, as means to our ends. But there is simply no such “defect” that is possessed by animals that is not also possessed by some group of human beings. There are, for instance, human beings who are severely impaired and will never engage their environment as actively as a healthy dog. Nevertheless, we would never think of eating such a human, or using her in experiments.

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42 Answers

laureth's avatar

All Animals are Equal by Peter Singer, a Utilitarian.

You might enjoy it.

Darwin's avatar

“we would never think of eating such a human, or using her in experiments.”

Actually some folks have done just that, but the rest of us have judged their actions to be inhuman.

Basically, humans figure they own animals because they can. Animals don’t know to object in an organized manner and are generally willing to go along with what we ask of them.

MacBean's avatar

”...and are generally willing to go along with what we ask of them.”

And when they’re not, we just whip them into submission or put them down!

Darwin's avatar

“And when they’re not, we just whip them into submission or put them down!”

Precisely, unfortunately.

ETpro's avatar

Thought provoking question. Thanks.

I’d just say, hey, give us a bit of time. It wasn’t that long ago that most of the earth’s nations set aside owning other human beings as property.

One distinction that is often made is that very few animals can recognize themselves in a mirror, or in photographs. Chimps are an exception, and as such share a self awareness that sets human beings apart from other animals.

Interestingly, chimpanzees are the only other animal besides man that seems to take pleasure in aggression toward their neighbors, too. Chimps in the wild routinely launch devastating attacks on neighboring families and murder as many of them as they can. If you watch a video of this in action, they do a celebratory dance after victory. Rather chilling to see.

Pretty_Lilly's avatar

Hey not long ago black people were considered property and Native Americans ”“None of the Above”” as far as human & non humans

Pcrecords's avatar

I’d like to be seperate from the royal we you lay out in your question.

Some if us don’t make that distinction.

As a child raised on David Attenborough I’ve always felt I’m part of the animal kingdom and though (apparently) part of the dominant species still just one resident of planet earth.

rooeytoo's avatar

This all sounds like a PETA commercial. Look at it this way, if humans did not care for domesticated animals they would probably all starve and die a terrible death. In the meantime, my dogs live a life of leisure and air conditioned comfort. While I work to buy the kangaroo meat they have for breakfast each day.

I feel sorry for the chickens I eat, but it is their destiny as it is mine to work for a living. It all depends on whether you are born with feathers or not. I want them to have a good life, scratching in the dirt in fresh air while they are alive. Then I want them killed quickly and mercifully to become my dinner.

Pcrecords's avatar

If humans didnt care for domesticated animals they’d find a way to care for themselves. (so long as they weren’t caged)

Dogs cats mice hamsters rats ferrets et al were wild for a very long time. They’d survive without us quite happlily.

SABOTEUR's avatar

You gotta have to hold somebody responsible for scooping the poop.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Pcrecords – If the millions of cats and dogs that are euthanized all over this world were left to their own devices to survive, I am afraid that not many would.

You should live where I live, pups die of starvation and anemia brought on by tick and parasite infestations daily. The mother of my dog is a little over 3, and has had 4 litters, she will not last much longer. But her pups are now having pups so the beat goes on. They would be a lot better off if they were “owned.” Your view is naive and unrealistic.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Humans are deluded into thinking that only their needs matter. I wonder what planet humans will subdue and destroy next.

laureth's avatar

If people hadn’t gone through the trouble of domesticating the animals in the first place, their continued care would not be an issue. That sounds more like a case of, “you broke it, you buy it.” And our long-ago ancestors domesticated them because they realized their survival odds were enhanced with a steady supply of animal products.

Pcrecords's avatar


Cats and dogs survived long before humans got involved and started domesticating. There would be a natural balance reached in the end if we stopped.

Do dogs naturally seek out marsupials for sustinance?

laureth's avatar

@Pcrecords, re: “Cats and dogs survived long before humans got involved and started domesticating.”

Um. Wolves did OK before domestication, but some of them seemed to think that the garbage pit near the cave had some tasty scraps in it, and people took a liking to them. Breed the odd black or floppy eared ones for years and years, and that’s how you got dogs.

I imagine housecat domestication went similarly.

Pcrecords's avatar

@lauerth yup. Excellent point.

rooeytoo's avatar

How long do you estimate it would take before this natural balance was reached? Since there are not many predators around anymore? I think just a few might die a slow and horrible death of starvation. But if you insist it is the best thing to do, I will go home and kick out my 12 year old akita and tell him it is for his own good, he should go live in the wild!

I feed my dogs roo and yes the dingos do seek out marsupials for sustinance and they eat roos and wallabies as well.

Pcrecords's avatar

Without domestication we’d never have to euthanize dogs and cats.

I agree that with our house dogs and cats we have a duty of care.

I’m just not naive enough to beleive that were human kind to dissapear tomorrow our pets wouldn’t evolve and survive.

tinyfaery's avatar

We “own” animals because of the legal liability of the animals that we choose to care for. If someone were to take my cat I have a means by which I can recover my beloved family member. If someone’s dog attacked me, those who “own” the dog are liable. If someone poisoned all of your cattle and destroyed your livelihood you would want a way to recover your losses.

Aside from the practical, I do not feel like my cats are my possessions. They are living beings that I have invited into my home. With that comes the promise to always care for them and to do what I can to protect them from harm. In return they give fill me with happiness, sometimes do what I like, and always love me. They give a little. I give a little. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I think many people feel like this, even if they can’t articulate it.

I’ve said this before. People don’t even treat other people decently. We cannot expect much when it comes to nonhuman animals.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Pcrecords – There was just a feral camel cull in Australia, feral camels had to be killed because they were dying of starvation. Before that there was a cull of roos, dying of starvation, these are all undomesticated animals. As I said I see domesticated and undomesticated dogs dying every day. In the USA there are undomesticated deer starving every winter, that’s why hunting licenses are issued. The balance of nature is so screwed up I don’t think it can ever be normal (whatever that means again). But I don’t care to try to convince you, if you choose to buy the PETA propaganda, so be it. It will be a cold day in hell before they can make it illegal to own animals, too many meat eaters, so my dogs are safe, I’m not worried.

ratboy's avatar

Who else has the money to buy them?

rooeytoo's avatar

It’s not safe to walk out the door at night!

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Pcrecords They may have to evolve and survive if human kind were no longer here to domesticate them, that is quite possibly true but what would their quality of life be? Just because something would naturally happen doesn’t mean that it is always for the best and I think I would rather be living the life of @rooeytoo‘s Akita than the diseased-ridden foxes that roam the streets where I live looking for scraps. Domesticating certain animals is not a bad thing provided they are treated with respect.

Pazza's avatar

Didn’t this whole treating animals like cattle start from the bible?
And humans got the idea from the bible that we were the only sentient beings on the planet ‘God’s children’ if you will, and that God put man in charge of the animals to do with as he pleased.

Didn’t it only go pair shaped when Darwin came along?


I couldn’t watch it all, and I still eat bigmac’s.
Go figure.

Man has no respect for animal life, and people wonder why there are so many conflicts accross the globe.

Pazza's avatar

Why is it ilegal for a dog owner to abuse a dog, yet puppy farms are legal?

jca's avatar

whenever i let my cats outside, they always come back. nobody’s making them come back, but they do. i let them in, i feed them, they sleep, i let them out again next weekend. i pay for their medical care. if they want to go elsewhere, nobody’s stopping them. i’d be sad, but i could not stop them. does that mean i own them? i guess so.

jca's avatar

@tinyfaery : beautifully written.

ETpro's avatar

@jca In the case of humans and cats, it is highly debatable who owns whom. Spoony THE cat clearly thinks she wons this place and, out of convience to her, lets us stay here too. :-)

Darwin's avatar

@tinyfaery “If someone were to take my cat I have a means by which I can recover my beloved family member.”

Don’t move to Texas. Dogs have value under the law here because they can be used for hunting and other tasks, but cats do not.

tinyfaery's avatar

Just one more reason I would never live in Texas.

Buttonstc's avatar

Well, speaking as just one member of “the humans” I don’t regard my cats as my property. I consider them family and feel responsible for them regarding health care, food, shelter, clean litter box etc. as well as however much love and affection as they are willing to tolerate.

Anyone with cats knows who owns whom. Hint: the humans aren’t the ones doing the owning.

jca's avatar

i always say “I pay my rent so the cats have a place to live, and they’re nice enough to let me sleep here.”

Buttonstc's avatar


So true. So true. (as those of us with persnickety felines know all too well) :D

Pcrecords's avatar

@leanne1986 I’m not claiming a world without humans being over run with feral beasts is the ideal.

What I’m saying is that sooner or later evolution would take hold and domesticated animals would learn to survive in the wild.

Every animal that’s lived in our household was regarded as one of the family and at the moment I’ve a twelve year old cat who as others have described above allows me to live with him.

What I would say, which I beleive is the basis of the question is that were I to find a stray cat I’d take it in and feed it (I have done this, and she was a great cat) when i was a kid a cat adopted us, it had burns on it’s ears. It stayed for around six months then went on it’s merry way.

Now is it right to cull a population of animals due to starvation? I do see that it ends suffering, but would we even consider that during a human famine?

ETpro's avatar

@Pcrecords Kudos on most of what you said, but the likelihood is that cattle and perhaps sheep would not now make it without human help. Evolution needs geologic time to work its survival changes. When a favorable environment becomes an unfavorable one overnight, there is no time for evolution to work out adaptations to the change. Extinction is the result.

Darwin's avatar

@ETpro – Based on what happened in the 15th and 16th centuries in Mexico and Texas, I suspect at least some cattle would survive just fine. Within 50 years cattle went from the few that Columbus brought on his second voyage to hundreds of thousands, including many who had gone wild. In fact, in 18th and 19th century Texas, the scariest beast to run across was an angry wild bull.

The sort that would survive are basically the cattle that live on the open range. I suspect that dairy cattle would have a much harder time of it since they have been bred to produce more milk than their calves could consume.

ETpro's avatar

@Darwin Yeah, I was referring to milk cows. I’ll concede that some cattle would do fine. Horses may have followed the same route in spreading across the Americas.

Darwin's avatar

@ETpro – Yes, horse did, but even faster. I live in a part of Texas known as the “Wild Horse Desert” for that reason.

ETpro's avatar

@Darwin That’s what I thought too till I got into researching it while responding to a question I asked on Answerbag. There are a few minor chinks in the armor of that theory, it seems.

There was an even better reference I found earlier, but I’m not finding it this try. Will post it if I can dig it out again. You used to be able to search through all your old questions on AB, but that one of the many things they improved out of existence. :-(

Darwin's avatar

@ETpro – I base my information on the spread of European horses and cattle in the New World from a research project I undertook using observations recorded by Spanish and French priests in original expedition notes, beginning with Columbus’ time and going forward to the 19th century. Gotta love the Spanish – they wanted everything written down, and they kept all of it.

One of the priestly jobs was to inventory the New World, which they did very carefully on a day-by-day basis. You can track the spread of the European horse through the New World by their accounts, as well as the reception horses and cattle got from the American peoples.

Where the confusion seems to come in is how to differentiate fossil horse species from the European horse. There were many species of Equus in the New World, just not the precise species Equus ferus caballus. Equus ferus did evolve first in the New World, but there is a period of several thousand years up to the time of the Spanish arrival where there are no horse fossils to be found anywhere in the New World. And when the Spanish and French arrived, there were no horses in use anywhere.

About 15,000 years ago Equus ferus was a widespread, holarctic species, meaning it occurred throughout the Northern hemisphere. Horse bones from this time period, the late Pleistocene, are found in Europe, Eurasia, Beringia, and North America.

Yet by 7,000 years ago, the horse became extinct in North America and rare elsewhere. By the time of that extinction it is quite possible that humans in North America had either domesticated the horse, or treated the horses in North America as they had the horses from whence they migrated. As this one expert points out:

“Our findings show that the mammoth and the horse existed side by side with the first human immigrants in America for certainly 3,500 years and were therefore not wiped out by human beings or natural disasters within a few hundred years, as common theories otherwise argue.”

The reasons for this North American extinction and world-wide population decline are not known at this time. However, it was very clear when the Spaniards and the French first arrived that the native peoples caught on to the idea of the horse very quickly, and within 10 years were raiding ranches to take away horses and cattle both. Community memory as represented by oral history could definitely have preserved the memory of the horse in the Americas, making its reintroduction seem to be the meeting up of old friends.

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