Res Publica

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 83–99 | Cite as

On Respecting Animals, or Can Animals be Wronged Without Being Harmed?

  • Angela K. MartinEmail author


There is broad agreement that humans can be wronged independently of their incurring any harm, that is, when their welfare is not affected. Examples include unnoticed infringements of privacy, ridiculing unaware individuals, or disregarding individuals’ autonomous decision-making in their best interest. However, it is less clear whether the same is true of animals—that is, whether moral agents can wrong animals in situations that do not involve any harm to the animals concerned. In order to answer this question, I concentrate on the illustrative case of treating animals in a demeaning yet harmless way that would be disrespectful if humans were concerned. I discuss whether such actions are permissible or unjustifiably discriminatory from a moral point of view. I conclude that moral agents cannot directly wrong animals without harming them and thus do not owe it to a particular animal to refrain from such actions. However, if the actions increase the likelihood that animal abuse will occur, this presents a strong indirect reason against performing them. Thus, the reasons for refraining from such actions are merely indirect rather than direct.


Animal ethics Discrimination Harm Respect Humiliation 



The author wishes to thank François Jaquet, Oscar Horta, Richard Healy and Valéry Giroux, two anonymous reviewers of Res Publica as well as the members of the Groupe de recherche en éthique environnementale et animale (GRÉEA) in Montréal for critical and constructive feedback on previous versions of this manuscript. Parts of this article were drafted during a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (PP00P3_123340), a junior research fellowship at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics at the University of Münster, and a postdoc at the Centre for Research in Ethics in Montréal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of FribourgFreiburgSwitzerland

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