Animals: Moral Intuition and Moral Reasoning

  • Jonathan Charteris-BlackEmail author


This chapter identifies animal-related metaphors that characterised online discussion of Brexit and drew on cultural models to arouse moral intuitions. I identify two different frames for animal metaphors: in the first humans are attributed characteristics that are conventionally associated with animals; I describe this as the ‘Human-as-animal’ frame and suggest it is allegorical in nature. A typical example of this is when an idiom contains an animal term and provides a stereotypical way of talking about human traits such as deception and greed. This frame has a stylistic tendency towards intensification and hyperbole. The second frame is the ‘Animal-as-human’ frame. This is a frame where people attribute their own views on Brexit to their pets. This reflects a contemporary style developed in social media that involves creating and circulating memes such as manga style images, animal emojis and photographs of a pet (usually a cat or a dog)—with embedded text metaphorically expressing the pet’s ‘opinion’. The pet serves as an emotional shield, though other platform users could respond by posting the views of their own pet. I take this as a face-saving strategy that engages through humour and encourages a ‘light’ response with a stylistic tendency toward understatement and euphemism. There are potential criticisms of the anthropomorphism implied by the ‘Animal-as-human’ frame: it is a form of deception as it attributes human emotions to animals which in reality rely on instincts rather than moral reasoning. However, an animal frame can enhance the quality of human-to-human interaction by drawing attention to shared feelings of empathy for cats or dogs among pet owners. Once an empathetic frame is established through the mimetic ‘animal is human’ frame, online conflict and hate speech becomes less feasible because it would infringe the interactional rules established by the frame.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and EducationUniversity of the West of EnglandBristolUK

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