In reply to: Humans have souls; animals do not
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."
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."
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.
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.
- 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
- “JPII Said Animals Do Have Souls…” Global Catholic Network, March 15, 2011. http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=604934
- Ojibwa. “Some American Indian Beliefs About an Afterlife.” Native American Netroots, June 22, 2016. http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1936
- 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
- Jackson Ethics Center. Animal Rights and Environmental Wrong, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KJnHQmnivc , 25:45
This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.