Animal Rights and Vegan Advocacy
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In response to: 
“Humans have souls—animals don’t.”

Article

This objection to animal rights and veganism posits the tenuous idea that how we treat animals should be tied to the presence or absence of a soul. The belief that animals do not have souls is used as a justification for their exploitation and mistreatment  or, at a minimum, to assert that animals deserve considerably less moral consideration than humans because of this deficiency.

There is not even a consensus across cultures or religions on whether animals have souls or even whether souls exist at all. But because the belief in a soul (and, by implication, an afterlife) is widespread, this objection is worth exploring.

The existence of a soul is not relevant.

There is no logical reason having a soul should be a requirement for moral consideration. Having immortality makes a difference about what happens when our bodies die but not about how we should be treated while we are alive.

The vileness of slitting the throat of a cow, chicken, goat, or any sentient being is unrelated to whether that being has a soul. If you saw someone mercilessly kicking a dog or beating a pig with a whip, would your first thought be that this is perfectly OK because these animals do not have a soul?

Some believe that animals do have souls.

If you believe that both humans and animals have souls, then this objection is defeasible.

Some believe the Christian bible teaches that animals have souls. We are only relating to a Christian perspective here, as most of our readers are from predominantly Christian countries.

Elijah D. Buckner, in his 1903 book The Immortality of Animals, concludes, “The Bible, without the shadow of a doubt, recognizes that animals have living souls the same as man.”1Buckner, E. D. The Immortality Of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006, 38

Pope John Paul II declared to a public audience in 1990 that “also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren.”2“JPII Said Animals Do Have Souls . . . ” Global Catholic Network, March 15, 2011. http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=604934

Job 12:10 teaches that in God’s hand “is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

Many indigenous peoples believe that animals have souls. A number of Native American tribes not only believe that humans and animals have souls but also that the spirit, or soul, stays in the same world or journeys to another world after death.3Ojibwa. “Some American Indian Beliefs About an Afterlife.” Native American Netroots, June 22, 2016. http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1936 4Danchevskaya, Oksana Y. “Concept of Soul among North American Indians.” Accessed September 13, 2017. http://www.se.edu/nas/files/2013/03/NAS-2011-Proceedings-Danchevskaya.pdf

The absence of a soul could elicit better treatment, not worse.

Philosopher Tom Regan believes that C. S. Lewis, one of the most important Christian theologians of the 20th century, turns this topic on its head.

According to Regan, C. S. Lewis believed that because animals do not have souls, they deserve higher moral consideration because there is no possibility they will enjoy compensation in an afterlife.5Jackson Ethics Center. Animal Rights and Environmental Wrong, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KJnHQmnivc , 25:45

Outline

 Talking Points OutlineKnowledge Base
  • Context
    • This objection to animal rights and veganism posits the tenuous idea that how we treat animals should be tied to the presence or absence of a soul.
    • The belief that animals do not have souls is used as a justification for their exploitation and mistreatment  or, at a minimum, to assert that animals deserve considerably less moral consideration than humans because of this deficiency.
    • There is not even a consensus across cultures or religions on whether animals have souls or even whether souls exist at all. But because the belief in a soul (and, by implication, an afterlife) is widespread, this objection is worth exploring.
  • The existence of a soul is not relevant to a moral consideration for animals.
    • There is no logical reason having a soul should be a requirement for moral consideration.
    • Having immortality makes a difference about what happens when our bodies die but not about how we should be treated while we are alive.
    • The vileness of slitting the throat of a cow, chicken, goat, or any sentient being is unrelated to whether that being has a soul.
    • If you saw someone mercilessly kicking a dog or beating a pig with a whip, would your first thought be that this is perfectly OK because these animals do not have a soul?
  • Some believe that animals do have souls.
    • Context
      • If you believe that both humans and animals have souls, then this objection is defeasible.
    • Some believe the Christian bible teaches that animals have souls.
      • Context
        • We are only relating to a Christian perspective here, as most of our readers are from predominantly Christian countries.
      •  Elijah D. Buckner, in his 1903 book The Immortality of Animals, concludes, “The Bible, without the shadow of a doubt, recognizes that animals have living souls the same as man.”6Buckner, E. D. The Immortality Of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006, 38
      • Pope John Paul II declared to a public audience in 1990 that “also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren.”7“JPII Said Animals Do Have Souls . . . ” Global Catholic Network, March 15, 2011. http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=604934
      • Job 12:10 teaches that in God’s hand “is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”
    • Many indigenous peoples believe that animals have souls.
      •  A number Native American tribes not only believe that humans and animals have souls, and also believe the spirit, or soul, stays in the same world or journeys to another world after death.8Ojibwa. “Some American Indian Beliefs About an Afterlife.” Native American Netroots, June 22, 2016. http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1936 9Danchevskaya, Oksana Y. “Concept of Soul among North American Indians.” Accessed September 13, 2017. http://www.se.edu/nas/files/2013/03/NAS-2011-Proceedings-Danchevskaya.pdf
  • The absence of a soul could elicit better treatment, not worse.
    • Philosopher Tom Regan believes that C. S. Lewis, one of the most important Christian theologians of the 20th century, turns this topic on its head.
    • According to Regan, C. S. Lewis believed that because animals do not have souls, they deserve higher moral consideration because there is no possibility they will enjoy compensation in an afterlife.
    • Source10Jackson Ethics Center. Animal Rights and Environmental Wrong, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KJnHQmnivc , 25:45
  • Meta
    • Purpose
      • The purpose of this post is to explain the reasons why this objection is invalid.
    • Contributors
      • Greg Fuller   Author
      • Isaac Nickerson   Copy Editor
    • Revisions
      • 2017-07-01 First published   glf
      • 2017-09-12 Major rewrite to improve and conform to guidelines   glf
      • 2017-09-14 Copy editor’s first pass   isn
      • 2017-09-17 Copy editor checked changes   isn

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Explore

Maggie Olson explores her reasons for being vegan in “Why I’m a Christian Vegan,” in Today’s Christian Woman.

Tom Regan explores this question in a videotaped presentation “Animal Rights and Environmental Wrongs,” starting around 24:08.

Elijah D. Buckner’s 1903 book The Immortality Of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis is available online on Google Books.

Chapter 8 of Vasu Murti’s online book They Shall not Hurt or Destroy explores the topic of animals possessing souls.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Buckner, E. D. The Immortality Of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006, 38
2.“JPII Said Animals Do Have Souls . . . ” Global Catholic Network, March 15, 2011. http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=604934
3.Ojibwa. “Some American Indian Beliefs About an Afterlife.” Native American Netroots, June 22, 2016. http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1936
4.Danchevskaya, Oksana Y. “Concept of Soul among North American Indians.” Accessed September 13, 2017. http://www.se.edu/nas/files/2013/03/NAS-2011-Proceedings-Danchevskaya.pdf
5.Jackson Ethics Center. Animal Rights and Environmental Wrong, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KJnHQmnivc , 25:45
6.Buckner, E. D. The Immortality Of Animals: And The Relation Of Man As Guardian, From A Biblical And Philosophical Hypothesis. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006, 38
7.“JPII Said Animals Do Have Souls . . . ” Global Catholic Network, March 15, 2011. http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=604934
8.Ojibwa. “Some American Indian Beliefs About an Afterlife.” Native American Netroots, June 22, 2016. http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1936
9.Danchevskaya, Oksana Y. “Concept of Soul among North American Indians.” Accessed September 13, 2017. http://www.se.edu/nas/files/2013/03/NAS-2011-Proceedings-Danchevskaya.pdf
10.Jackson Ethics Center. Animal Rights and Environmental Wrong, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KJnHQmnivc , 25:45