The question of whether hunting animals for sport is ethical is a complex one with many different variables. Hunting is popular around the world, and has long been a tradition in many cultures. While its historical roots come from the necessity of the act, most people who hunt today do so for the sport of it. This question approaches that particular aspect of hunting and not the question of whether it is right for human beings to kill animals for the purposes of food. Some argue that hunting animals for sport is ethical because human beings are more important than animals, and thus, their feelings should not be afforded the same consideration as the feeling of human beings. Others argue that hunting animals for sport is unethical because it causes pain to the animals while bringing no tangible to counter the negative of pain. While the arguments in favor of hunting animals may be compelling in some sense, hunting animals is unethical from a utilitarian perspective because the harm caused by the act outweighs any good that might be associated with it. This paper will outline the ethical argument for why hunting for sport is unethical, and it will address that question by considering multiple ethical perspectives. In addition to that, the paper will outline some of the objections to this thesis, and provide a response to those objections. Finally, it will close by wrapping up the discussion on this question and by discussing some of the further implications of hunting animals for sport.
The proper way to consider the context of this discussion is by considering multiple ethical perspectives. First is the utilitarian perspective, which provides a basis for assessing the societal impact that an act may have. Utilitarian theories have long been designed to provide a rational basis for understanding what is best for society. It is based in the theory that something is “good” and ethical if that something brings the most good to society (Visak). Under the basics of this ethical theory, there are always going to be losers who miss out on the good. Likewise, there are going to be winners, and utilitarian ethics requires one to do some accounting. It requires one to identify and try to quantify the good and the bad to determine which is greatest with a particular choice. In this case, killing animals for sport brings only a small societal good. It provides hunters with a moment or happiness or thrill. They derive some emotional pleasure from the act of hunting animals for sport. On the flip side, though, as are the negatives that come with hunting for sport. For instance, hunting for sport causes pain to an animal. While some may argue that the discomfort felt by an animal is different in measure than pain felt by humans, it is still pain, and thus, it should be considered a downside of killing for sport. In using the utilitarian perspective, one should note that the balancing test does not always bring to bear a horrible negative and a great positive. It is certainly true in this instance that causing pain to animals is less of a societal bad than causing pain to human beings. However, the good produced by hunting for sport is so small that it cannot support even the small amount of bad caused by the act of hunting for sport.
One can also consider the question of hunting for sport from the perspective of virtue ethics. If one is to consider Aristotle’s formulation of virtue ethics, then one must recognize that each virtue is to represent the golden mean, a place between two undesirous states. For instance, courage is a virtue because it rests in the middle of cowardice and foolhardiness, two extremes that Aristotle held to be untenable (Hursthouse, 1999). Taking these things into account, one can conclude that deciphering a virtue would require one to find the middle ground and to avoid the extremes. In this case, it cannot be argued that killing an animal for sport occupies any middle ground. This act is the epitome of the extreme, since it involves the taking of the animal’s life. One might consider trapping or even fishing to be virtuous, since it involves a person finding the middle ground between two poles. For instance, a person who catches a fish before releasing that fish has neither sat on the sideline to avoid a challenge nor taken the life of the fish. Rather, that person has sought out the balance of finding some adventure and not killing the fish. If one understands Aristotle’s formulation to suggest that virtue is finding this delicate golden mean, then even if one cannot quite define where the golden mean is with regard to hunting for sport, one can clearly understand that the killing of an animal cannot be the logical balance point because it is such an extreme result with such an extreme ending.
There are objections to these arguments, and they typically center on the role of animals and how their pain should be categorized. These could be called anthropocentric arguments. In formulating the thesis about the basics off utilitarian theory, there is an assumption in play that animal pain is at least somewhat equivalent to human emotion. There is a consideration that animal pain, and the killing of an animal, is more important than the momentary pleasure that is experienced by human beings doing the hunting. People objecting to the formulations in this paper would suggest that it is not appropriate to think of these two things as equivalent. Animals, they would argue, suffer pain in a different way than human beings. There is not nearly as much emotional consciousness in play for animals, making their experience less than our human formulation of pain. In addition, these individuals might argue in general that animals should not be afforded the same consideration as human beings because human life is more valuable than animal life. In responding to this arguments, one might note that even if animal pain is less than human pain, the taking of an animal life is a permanent thing while the happiness experienced by humans is fleeting. This still tips the moral balance in favor of hunting being an unethical act. In addition, there is no basis for diminishing animal pain to nothingness. Ethical frameworks are to determine what is the right decision to make in nature, and any decisions to limit those questions to human beings are arbitrary.
Ultimately hunting for sport is a popular, but unethical act. The hunter gains a small benefit from his heightened level of happiness, but he does not gain anything lasting or tangible. At the same time, the animal loses its life, and the pain that it experiences in the moment is severe in comparison to the moment of happiness that a hunter might have. From the utilitarian perspective, one could certainly see how the scales would tip in favor of this bringing more badness to the world than goodness, and thus, being unethical. In addition to that, the Aristotelian theory of virtue ethics would also support the conclusion that hunting for sport is unethical because it involves a person getting out of balance and far from the golden mean.
- Hursthouse, R. (1999). On virtue ethics. OUP Oxford.
- Višak, T. (2013). Killing Happy Animals: Explorations in Utilitarian Ethics. Palgrave Macmillan.