Adam I. Gerard

Can Other Animal Species Be Inherently Evil?

A few thoughts at the intersection of Posthumanism and Ethics.

The Traditional View

The traditional view has it that any non-human animal:

  1. Lacks emotions, feelings, and inner mental life.
  2. Lacks reasoning abilities, cognitive faculties, etc.
  3. Lacks moral consideration and moral worth (that the "rules of morality" just don't apply to them).

Descartes, Aristotle, and most other famous philosophers have advanced such views. If you believe that Free Will is essential to morality (that choice is an essential component of morality), then the lack of decision-making abilities (in an animal) means that morality isn't at play (correspondingly) - they've been mostly viewed as amoral, mindless, animate objects.

Even in cases where evil is attributed to non-human animal events (consider the Plague of Locusts of Biblical lore) by theologians, we've been loath to attribute evil directly to the species (and/or directly to members of that species).


By contrast, human cultural folklore has it that many animals can be intrinsically or inherently evil. Often creatures of myth and lore.

A Little Elaboration

A brief historical point of clarification that I've alluded to:

  1. Before the development of Humanism, the dominant worldview (in Europe and most of the World) was that each person merely occupies a fixed role in the Divine Order. Nobles and Kings are at the top. Peasants have no rights and exist simply to provide food, armies, and labor to those Divinely anointed at the very top.
  2. Most peasants, for instance, lacked last names. (The modern surname is a fairly recent notion in the West. A Roman patriarch [patrician] might have ten or thirteen distinct Latin names while a common freeman might have one but one - their last name was erased and replaced by that of their Roman lord.)
  3. The point of existence was to render service to their noble masters (with the eventual promise of some far-distant eternal reward in paradise after the peasants died).
  4. The development of Humanism (and Individualism) repudiated those dominant philosophies and resituated the focus of society and human interests on people. Every person has significance, dignity, and moral worth.
  5. Over time Humanism has been continually expanded outward to include all people (human beings).

Posthumanism continues in the spirit of Humanism but believes the task of Humanism is incomplete - we've ignored all the other animals and thinking beings.


I've discussed Posthumanism a bit. Briefly, I summarize the collection of similar views that fall under that heading as the view:

  1. That ethics, political theory, and other normative considerations don't apply solely to human beings.
  2. That humans are not the only ends of moral reasoning. (That other animals are or can be moral ends unto themselves and not just means - that is to say, they can be more than juicy tasty steaks that satisfy some human need or want.)

If one believes that cruelty to animals is unjust and/or immoral because one has violated the happiness, and intrinsic rights, or caused internal suffering to an animal, they are likely a posthumanist. (One could still defend criminalizing cruelty to animals on the basis of public safety considerations or opposing some vice-like human behavior and not necessarily be a posthumanist.)

A Tension?

If Posthumanism implies that all have moral worth, does that also imply that some animals can be evil?

  1. Considerations of moral worth are done within the context of a particular moral system. As humans, we are bestowing human moral norms and statuses onto other animals (seeing them as morally equivalent).
  2. However, we often dismiss certain animal behaviors as merely instinctual although they appear to be morally repugnant to us, humans (spider females eat their male counterparts after mating, cats will toy with their prey and kill smaller animals for fun, etc.).

Is there a tension here, in the above two observations?

  1. On the one hand, we are either bestowing some human moral status or some neutral moral status that's equivalent between humans and other animals.
  2. But our moral intuitions (and indeed all moral intuitions) are deeply shaped by our special (spec-ial, here, "of the species") biology.
  3. In fact, our moral intuitions seem inextricably intertwined with our biology. Our mind, our brain, our feelings, etc. are all fundamentally shaped by our DNA (although not exclusively so).
  4. So, there can be no neutral moral status that's not "infected" by some anthropomorphic/anthropocentric or other special-centric moral intuition. (Morally objective but biological relativist Aristotelian-style alternatives may not be an out here, since we're cross-applying moral norms between and to different species.)
  5. Can a species-independent moral position be justifiably taken given the above considerations?

So, in extending our moral norms between species we are extending some species-specific moral norm(s) between two species (and saying they are both judged and morally equivalent under those norms).

That would seem to imply that other animals should, will, or can be judged as evil (against the reigning hesitance to do so). Some animal behaviors are clearly errant or random (say, a dog attacking their pet owner/caretaker). Some animal behaviors appear to be clearly errant and intrinsic to an animal's normal biological development.

Or, in taking the other horn, perhaps Posthumanism might be untenable since no species-neutral moral perspective can be uniformly and fairly applied to all relevant animals.

Is the above argument sound and valid? I lean toward Posthumanism (especially if I am forced to choose between Posthumanism and Transhumanism). Context: I'm a vegetarian who gave up my favorite foods years ago.

A Wider Question?

Per 7., Is there a wider question here too? Can a single moral perspective (say that of a specific species) ever justifiably be applied between two or more species? (Must all justified ascriptions of evil be relative to a single moral "frame of reference" - e.g. on the basis of something like Aristotelian Animalism.)

For instance, it's been empirically shown that avian rationality shares many overlapping features with human rationality but that the two differ greatly. Birds, for instance, have a single cranial "hemisphere". (What about species that have three or more?) Is the Kantian notion of universal rationality itself not suspicious as an anthropomorphic theory?