The Elements of Moral Science (1835, 1856 ed.)

Francis Wayland


Our Duty To Brutes

I should be guilty of injustice to one class of my fellow-creatures, if I should close this treatise upon human duty, without a single remark upon our obligations to brutes.

Brutes are sensitive beings, capable of, probably, as real degrees of physical pleasure and pain as ourselves. They are endowed with instinct which is, probably, a form of intellect inferior to our own, but which, being generically unlike to ours, we are unable to understand. They differ from us chiefly in being destitute of any moral faculty.

We do not stand to them in the relation of equality. “Our right is paramount, and must extinguish theirs.” We have, therefore, a right to use them to promote our comfort, and may innocently take their life, if our necessities demand it. This right over them, is given to us by the revealed will of God But, inasmuch as they, like ourselves, are the creatures of God, we have no right to use them in any other manner than that which God has permitted. They, as much as ourselves, are under his protection.

We may, therefore, use them, 1. For our necessities. We are designed to subsist upon animal food; and we may innocently slay them for this purpose.

2. We may use them for labor, or for innocent physical recreation, as when we employ the horse for draught, or for the saddle.

3. But, while we so use them, we are bound to treat them kindly, to furnish them with sufficient food, and with convenient shelter. He who cannot feed a brute well ought not to own one And when we put them to death it should be with the least possible pain.

4. We are forbidden to treat them unkindly on any pretense, or for any reason. There can be no clearer indication of a degraded and ferocious temper, than cruelty to animals. Hunting, in many cases, and horse-racing, seem to me liable to censure in this respect. Why should a man, for the sake of showing his skill as a marksman shoot down a poor animal, which he does not need for food? Why should not the brute, that is harming no living thing, be permitted to enjoy the happiness of its physical nature unmolested? “There they are privileged; and he that hurts or harms them there, is guilty of a wrong.”

5. Hence, all amusements which consist in inflicting pain upon animals, such as bull-baiting, cock-fighting, etc., are purely wicked. God never gave us power over animals for such purposes. I can scarcely conceive of a more revolting exhibition of human nature, than that which is seen when men assemble to witness the misery which brutes inflict upon each other. Surely, nothing can tend more directly to harden men in worse than brutal ferocity.