Wild animal suffering

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The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. ~ Richard Dawkins

Wild animal suffering is the suffering experienced by nonhuman animals living outside of direct human control, due to harms such as disease, injury, parasitism, starvation, dehydration, extreme weather, natural disasters, and predation. Wild animal suffering has historically been discussed in the context of the philosophy of religion as an instance of the problem of evil. More recently, a number of academics have considered the suspected scope of the problem from a secular standpoint as a general moral issue, one that humans might be able to take actions toward preventing.

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  • There is enough suffering here for a thousand warrens ... In these holes lie all the plagues and diseases that come to rabbits—fever and mange and the sickness of the bowels. And here, too, in this nearest hole, lies the white blindness, that sends creatures hobbling out to die in the fields, where even the elil will not touch their rotting bodies.
  • Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter. Rabbits, like most wild animals, suffer hardship.
  • In the middle of the floor lay a dead swallow, with his lovely wings folded at his sides and his head tucked under his feathers. The poor bird must certainly have died of the cold. Thumbelina felt so sorry for him. She loved all the little birds who had sung and sweetly twittered to her all through the summer. But the mole gave the body a kick with his short stumps, and said, "Now he won't be chirping any more. What a wretched thing it is to be born a little bird. Thank goodness none of my children can be a bird, who has nothing but his 'chirp, chirp', and must starve to death when winter comes along."
    "Yes, you are so right, you sensible man," the field mouse agreed. "What good is all his chirp-chirping to a bird in the winter time, when he starves and freezes?"
  • The winter grew cold – so bitterly cold that the duckling had to swim to and fro in the water to keep it from freezing over. But every night the hole in which he swam kept getting smaller and smaller. Then it froze so hard that the duckling had to paddle continuously to keep the crackling ice from closing in upon him. At last, too tired to move, he was frozen fast in the ice.
  • Many people today have a romanticized view of nature and of the situation of animals in the wild. They believe nature is some kind of paradise where animals live happy lives. Other people are aware that animals in the wild can suffer and die prematurely in different ways but believe these are exceptions. The truth, however, is very different from this.
  • All things spoke peace and plenty, and the Prince
    Saw and rejoiced. But, looking deep, he saw
    The thorns which grow upon this rose of life:
    [...] How lizard fed on ant, and snake on him,
    And kite on both; and how the fish-hawk robbed
    The fish-tiger of that which it had seized;
    The shrike chasing the bulbul, which did chase
    The jeweled butterflies; till everywhere
    Each slew a slayer and in turn was slain,
    Life living upon death. So the fair show
    Veiled one vast, savage, grim conspiracy
    Of mutual murder, from the worm to man,
    [...] The rage to live which makes all living strife—
  • On the one hand, animals in nature face all kinds of coercive horrors, such as starvation and disease. According to the Principle of Negative Fairness, these natural horrors are a moral issue: we should care about the coercive horrors that animals experience in nature. Simply leaving animals alone in nature – however much animal advocates may like to romanticize it – is, on Rightness as Fairness, not fair to animals. Just as there is nothing fair about leaving fellow human beings to suffer or die from starvation or disease, so too is there nothing fair about leaving animals to suffer and die from such things in nature.
I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. ~ Charles Darwin
  • People who accuse us of putting in too much violence, [should see] what we leave on the cutting-room floor. My conscience troubles me more about reducing the pain and savagery that there is in the natural world than the reverse.


  • Near the brook a heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost, and the mandibles of its bill were frozen together. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead ... As I approached I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly. I gave it peace, and saw the agonised sunlight of its eyes slowly heal with cloud.
  • [J]ust a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.
  • What expressions can sufficiently declare the shocking scene that for some minutes continued, whilst this mighty army of fish were forcing the pass? During this attempt, thousands, I may say hundreds of thousands of them were caught and swallowed by the devouring alligators. I have seen an alligator take up out of the water several great fish at a time, and just squeeze them betwixt his jaws while the tails of the great trout flapped about his eyes and lips, ere he had swallowed them. The horrid noise of their closing jaws, their plunging amidst the broken banks of fish, and rising with their prey some feet upright above the water, the floods of water and blood rushing out of their mouths, and the clouds of vapour issuing from their wide nostrils, were truly frightful.
  • What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types—biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one's own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out—not to mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in "natural" accidents of all types: an earthquake buries alive 70 thousand bodies in Peru, automobiles make a pyramid heap of over 50 thousand a year in the U.S. alone, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a planet that has been soaked for hundreds of millions of years in the blood of all its creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism's comfort and expansiveness.
  • Existence, for all organismic life, is a constant struggle to feed—a struggle to incorporate whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, life on this planet is a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more flesh.
  • Why does the Raven cry aloud and no eye pities her?
    Why fall the Sparrow & the Robin in the foodless winter?
    Faint! shivering they sit on leafless bush, or frozen stone
    Wearied with seeking food across the snowy waste; the little
    Heart, cold; and the little tongue consum'd, that once in thoughtless joy
    Gave songs of gratitude to waving corn fields round their nest.
    Why howl the Lion & the Wolf? why do they roam abroad?
    Deluded by summers heat they sport in enormous love
    And cast their young out to the hungry wilds & sandy desarts
  • The Spider sits in his labourd Web, eager watching for the Fly
    Presently comes a famishd Bird & takes away the Spider
    His Web is left all desolate, that his little anxious heart
    So careful wove; & spread it out with sighs and weariness.
  • Many humans look at nature from an aesthetic perspective and think in terms of biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, but forget that the animals that inhabit these ecosystems are individuals and have their own needs. Disease, starvation, predation, ostracism, and sexual frustration are endemic in so-called healthy ecosystems. The great taboo in the animal rights movement is that most suffering is due to natural causes. Any proposal for remedying this situation is bound to sound utopian, but my dream is that one day the sun will rise on Earth and all sentient creatures will greet the new day with joy.
  • Tennyson nailed it. We trust that God is love. But we also believe that God is the creator of the nature, and nature simply does not seem to point to a God of love. Parasites, viruses, bacteria, diseases and cancer kill millions and torment millions more, humans and animals alike. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, mudslides and volcanoes do the same. And the animal kingdom is, as Tennyson said, red in tooth in claw. (So is the human kingdom for that matter). The creation looks almost as much like it was created by a cosmic predator (I Pet 5:8) as it does like it was created by an all loving, peaceful, benevolent Creator. There seems to be a "Lucifer Principle" at work in the world, as Howard Bloom noted. "Nature does not abhor evil," he says. "[S]he embraces it." (The Lucifer Principle).
  • The stag, and most wild animals ... who suffer much from want in the winter, have no superabundance, nor are in a state to engender till they have recruited themselves during the summer; and it is then the rutting season commences, and during which he exhausts himself so much that he remains the whole winter in a state of langour. His flesh and blood are then so impoverished that worms breed under his skin, which still adds to his misery; and which do not perish till the spring, when he recovers new life from the active nourishment he is abundantly furnished with by the fresh production of the earth.
  • Born to destroy those beings which are subordinate, we should exhaust Nature if she were not exhaustless, and by a fertility superior to our depredations, renovates the destruction we continually make. But it is so ordained that death should contribute to life, and that reproduction should spring from destruction. However groat, therefore, may be the waste made by man and carnivorous animals, the total quantity of living matter is never diminished, and if they hasten deaths they are also the cause of new births being produced.
  • Plants are only reproduced once a year, whereas in insects, especially among the smaller species, one season gives birth to several generations. Among insects there are numbers who live upon other insects; there are some, as the spiders, which devour with indifference their own as well as other species; they serve for food to the birds; and fowls, both wild and tame, are destined for the nourishment of man, or the prey of carnivorous animals. Thus violent deaths seem to be equally as necessary as natural ones; they are both modes of destruction and renovation; the one serves to preserve nature in a perpetual spring, and the other maintains the order of her productions, and limits the number of each species.
  • Let us consider any of the inferior species which serve as food to others, herrings, for example, present themselves in millions to our fishermen, and after having fed all the monsters of the northern sea, they contribute to the subsistence of all the nations in Europe for a certain part of the year. If prodigious numbers of them were not destroyed, what would be the effects of their prodigious multiplication? By them alone would the whole surface of the sea be covered. But their numbers would soon prove a nuisance, they would corrupt and destroy each other. For want of sufficient nourishment their fecundity would diminish, by contagion and famine they would be equally destroyed, the number of their own species would not be increased, but the number of those that feed upon them would be diminished. As this remark is alike applicable to any other species, so it is necessary they should prey upon each other, the killing of animals, therefore, is both a lawful and innocent custom, since it is founded in nature, and it is upon that seemingly hard condition they are brought into existence.
  • Among these, animals are classified as the one of the three (or four) unfortunate rebirth destinies ... The category of animals includes both land and sea creatures, as well as insects. The specific kinds of suffering that animals undergo are frequently mentioned in Buddhist texts; these include the constant need to search for their own food while always seeking to avoid becoming food for others. ... The possibility of achieving rebirth out of the realm of animals is said to be particularly difficult because of either the inevitable killing in which predators engage or because of animals' constant fear of becoming prey; neither mental state is conducive to higher rebirth.
  • It seems to me that many theories of the universe may be dismissed at once, not as too good, but as too cosy, to be true. One feels sure that they could have arisen only among people living a peculiarly sheltered life at a peculiarly favourable period of the world's history. No theory need be seriously considered unless it recognises that the world has always been for most [humans] and all animals other than domestic pets a scene of desperate struggle in which great evils are suffered and inflicted.
    • C. D. Broad, Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, Vol. 2 (1938) p. 774


  • "But, good heavens! the whole plan of life is one of rapine. We did not fashion the spider to prey upon the fly, or the cat to play with the wounded mouse. We did not ordain that the strong should fall upon the weak, and tear and torture them for their own benefit. Surely we are not responsible for the brutalities of the animal creation."
  • More seriously still, the value commitments of the humane movement seem at bottom to betray a world-denying or rather a life-Ioathing philosophy. The natural world as actually constituted is one in which one being lives at the expense of others. Each organism, in Darwin's metaphor, struggles to maintain its own organic integrity. The more complex animals seem to experience Gudging from our own case, and reasoning from analogy appropriate and adaptive psychological accompaniments to organic existence. There is a palpable passion for self-preservation. There are desire, pleasure in the satisfaction of desires, acute agony attending injury, frustration, and chronic dread of death. But these experiences are the psychological substance of living. To live is to be anxious about life, to feel pain and pleasure in a fitting mixture, and sooner or later to die. That is the way the system works. If nature as a whole is good, then pain and death are also good.
  • It is often assumed that wild animals live in a kind of natural paradise and that it is only the appearance and intervention of human agencies that bring about suffering. This essentially Rousseauian view is at odds with the wealth of informatio n derived from field studies of animal populations. Scarcity of food and water, predation, disease and intraspecific aggression are some of the factors which have been identified as normal parts of a wild environment which cause suffering in wild animals on a regular basis.
  • A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.
    Yet in the sweetest places cometh ill,
    A noisome weed that burthens every soil;
    For snakes are known with chill and deadly coil
    To watch such nests and seize the helpless young,
    And like as though the plague became a guest,
    Leaving a houseless home, a ruined nest—
    And mournful hath the little warblers sung
    When such like woes hath rent its little breast.
  • [E]cosystems do not only have value aesthetically and prudentially, they also have disvalue. In aesthetic terms, few of us enjoy the sight of animals dying through starvation or disease. And many of us also recoil rather than feel a sense of wonder at the reality of predation. And, as we have seen, ecosystems also possess prudential disvalue. As well as improving the well-being of sentient animals of which they are a part, they also facilitate their suffering. This means that if we value ecosystems for the the beauty and the well-being they afford, we cannot object to interventions which interfere with and change those ecosystems if they increase that beauty and well-being. In other words, then, it appears that sometimes out duty may be to protect ecosystems, and at other times it may be to interfere with them.
  • Utility, rights, and holistic standards all point toward some modest steps to limit or check the predatory activity of carnivores relative to their victims. At the very least, we should limit current subsidies to nature's carnivores. Policing nature need not be absurdly costly or violate common-sense intuitions.
  • Many believers in animal rights and the relevance of animal welfare do not critically examine their basic assumptions ... [T]ypically these individuals hold two conflicting views. The first view is that animal welfare counts, and that people should treat animals as decently as possible. The second view is a presumption of human non-interference with nature, as much as possible ... [T]he two views are less compatible than is commonly supposed. If we care about the welfare and rights of individual animals, we may be led to interfere with nature whenever the costs of doing so are sufficiently low.
  • In other cases we are interfering with nature, whether we like it or not. It is not a question of uncertainty holding us back from policing, but rather how to compare one form of policing to another. Humans change water levels, fertilize particular soils, influence climatic conditions, and do many other things that affect the balance of power in nature. These human activities will not go away any time soon, but in the meantime we need to evaluate their effects on carnivores and their victims.


Observe, too, says Philo, the curious artifices of nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. ~ David Hume
  • Whichever way man may look upon the earth, he is oppressed with the suffering incident to life. It would almost seem as though the earth had been created with malignity and hatred. If we look at what we are pleased to call the lower animals, we behold a universal carnage. We speak of the seemingly peaceful woods, but we need only look beneath the surface to be horrified by the misery of that underworld. Hidden in the grass and watching for its prey is the crawling snake which swiftly darts upon the toad or mouse and gradually swallows it alive; the hapless animal is crushed by the jaws and covered with slime, to be slowly digested in furnishing a meal. The snake knows nothing about sin or pain inflicted upon another; he automatically grabs insects and mice and frogs to preserve his life. The spider carefully weaves his web to catch the unwary fly, winds him into the fatal net until paralyzed and helpless, then drinks his blood and leaves him an empty shell. The hawk swoops down and snatches a chicken and carries it to its nest to feed its young. The wolf pounces on the lamb and tears it to shreds. The cat watches at the hole of the mouse until the mouse cautiously comes out, then with seeming fiendish glee he plays with it until tired of the game, then crunches it to death in his jaws. The beasts of the jungle roam by day and night to find their prey; the lion is endowed with strength of limb and fang to destroy and devour almost any animal that it can surprise or overtake. There is no place in the woods or air or sea where all life is not a carnage of death in terror and agony. Each animal is a hunter, and in turn is hunted, by day and night. No landscape is so beautiful or day so balmy but the cry of suffering and sacrifice rends the air. When night settles down over the earth the slaughter is not abated. Some creatures see best at night, and the outcry of the dying and terrified is always on the wind. Almost all animals meet death by violence and through the most agonizing pain. With the whole animal creation there is nothing like a peaceful death. Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.
  • Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.
  • I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
  • That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?
  • The wolf, escorted by his milk-drawn dam,
    Unknown to mercy, tears the guiltless lamb;
    The towering eagle, darting from above,
    Unfeeling rends the inoffensive dove;
    The lamb and dove on living nature feed,
    Crop the young herb, or crush the embryon seed.
    Nor spares the loud owl in her dusky flight,
    Smit with sweet notes, the minstrel of the night;
    Nor spares, enamour'd of his radiant form,
    The hungry nightingale the glowing worm;
    Who with bright lamp alarms the midnight hour,
    Climbs the green stem, and slays the sleeping flower.
  • Fell Oestrus buries in her rapid course
    Her countless brood in stag, or bull, or horse;
    Whose hungry larva eats its living way,
    Hatch'd by the warmth, and issues into day.
  • The wing'd Ichneumon for her embryon young.
    Gores, with sharp horn, the catterpiller throng.
    The cruel larva mines its silky course,
    And tears the vitals of its fostering nurse
  • Arrest with rising jaw the tribes above;
    With monstrous gape sepulchral whales devour
    Shoals at a gulp, a million in an hour.
    ―Air, earth, and ocean, to astonish'd day
    One scene of blood, one mighty tomb display!
    From Hunger's arm the shafts of Death are hurl'd,
    And one great Slaughter-house the warring world!
  • Wild animals almost never die of old age: starvation, disease, or predators catch up with them long before they become really senile. Until recently this was true of man too. Most animals die in childhood, many never get beyond the egg stage. Starvation and other causes of death are the ultimate reason why populations cannot increase indefinitely. But as we have seen for our own species, there is no necessary reason why it ever has to come to that. If only animals would control their birth rates, starvation need never happen.
The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
  • It is better for the genes of Darwin's wasp that the caterpillar should be alive, and therefore fresh, when it is eaten, no matter what the cost in suffering. If Nature were kind, She would at least make the minor concession of anesthetizing caterpillars before they were eaten alive from within. But Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquilizes gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favored by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquilizing a gazelle improved that gene's chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see why this should be so, and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to the death– as many of them eventually are.
  • The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
  • Even if we were required to meddle in nature, protecting animals from predators would not be a high priority – if it would be sensible at all. Better that we help whales stuck in ice or protect animals threatened by natural disaster. Predators are, with very few exceptions (such as humans), exclusively or primarily carnivores, being unable to survive without meat. To protect the gazelle from the lion, or the elephant from the hyena, would be to save one but doom the other. It seems very doubtful that we are obligated to pick sides here (even if shooting a lion might cause the lion less suffering than what her gazelle victims would experience). Nature really seems to be "red in tooth and claw" when it comes to carnivores. In conclusion, the reductio argument concerning positive obligations to animals fails. Contrary to that argument, if the combination of equal consideration and our obligations to humans supports any positive obligations to animals, these obligations prove to be plausible ones.
    • David DeGrazia, Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status (1996), pp. 277–278
  • He didn’t jump; I crept closer. At last I knelt on the island’s winter killed grass, lost, dumbstruck, staring at the frog in the creek just four feet away. He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes. And just as I looked at him, he slowly crumpled and began to sag. The spirit vanished from his eyes as if snuffed. His skin emptied and drooped; his very skull seemed to collapse and settle like a kicked tent. He was shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football. I watched the taut, glistening skin on his shoulders ruck, and rumple, and fall. Soon, part of his skin, formless as a pricked balloon, lay in floating folds like bright scum on top of the water: it was a monstrous and terrifying thing. I gaped bewildered, appalled. An oval shadow hung in the water behind the drained frog; then the shadow glided away. The frog skin bag started to sink.
    I had read about the giant water bug, but never seen one. "Giant water bug" is really the name of the creature, which is an enormous, heavy-bodied brown bug. It eats insects, tadpoles, fish, and frogs. Its grasping forelegs are mighty and hooked inward. It seizes a victim with these legs, hugs it tight, and paralyzes it with enzymes injected during a vicious bite. That one bite is the only bite it ever takes. Through the puncture shoot the poisons that dissolve the victim’s muscles and bones and organs—all but the skin—and through it the giant water bug sucks out the victim’s body, reduced to a juice. This event is quite common in warm fresh water. The frog I saw was being sucked by a giant water bug. I had been kneeling on the island grass; when the unrecognizable flap of frog skin settled on the creek bottom, swaying, I stood up and brushed the knees of my pants. I couldn’t catch my breath.
  • [M]any carnivorous animals devour their prey alive. The usual method seems to be to subdue the victim by downing or grasping it so it can’t flee, then eating it whole or in a series of bloody bites. Frogs eat everything whole, stuffing prey into their mouths with their thumbs. People have seen frogs with their wide jaws so full of live dragonflies they couldn’t close them. Ants don’t even have to catch their prey: in the spring they swarm over newly hatched, featherless birds in the nest and eat them tiny bite by bite.
  • I think of the fox that Park Service Ranger Gene Parker told me about. The fox sprawled naked and pink-skinned in a mountain field, unable to rise, dying of mange. I think of the swimming bluegill I saw at the Lawsons', upstream in Tinker Creek on the other side of Tinker Mountain. One of its eyes was blinded by an overgrowth of white water mold, a white that spread halfway down its back in filmy lumps like soaked cotton batting. It had been injured, perhaps when a fisherman had hooked it and tossed it back, perhaps when a flood dashed it on rocks, and the fungus had spread from the injured site. I think of Loren Eiseley's description of a scientist he met in the field, who was gleefully bearing a bloody jar squirming with yard after yard of some unthinkable parasite he had just found in the belly of a rabbit. Suddenly the lives of the parasites—some sort of hellish hagiography—come to mind. I remember the bloodworms and flukes, whose parasitic life cycles require the living bodies of as many as four hosts. How many of the grasshoppers that hurtled around me in the Lucas meadow bore inside their guts the immense coiled larvae of horsehair worms?
  • I don't know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives, Henle's loops and all. Every glistening egg is a memento mori.
  • After a natural disaster such as a flood, nature "stages a comeback." People use the optimistic expression without any real idea of the pressures and waste the comeback involves. Now, in late June, things are popping outside. Creatures extrude or vent eggs; larvae fatten, split their shells, and eat them; spores dissolve or explode; root hairs multiply, corn puffs on the stalk, grass yields seed, shoots erupt from the earth turgid and sheathed; wet muskrats, rabbits, and squirrels slide into the sunlight, mewling and blind; and everywhere watery cells divide and swell, swell and divide. I can like it and call it birth and regeneration, or I can play the devil's advocate and call it rank fecundity—and say that it's hell that's a-poppin
  • The intricacy of Ellery and aphids multiplied mindlessly into tons and light-years is more than extravagance; it is holocaust, parody, glut.
  • The pressure of growth among animals is a kind of terrible hunger. These billions must eat in order to fuel their surge to sexual maturity so that they may pump out more billions of eggs. And what are the fish on the bed going to eat, or the hatched mantises in the Mason jar going to eat, but each other? There is a terrible innocence in the benumbed world of the lower animals, reducing life there to a universal chomp. Edwin Way Teale, in The Strange Lives of Familiar Insects—a book I couldn't live without—describes several occasions of meals mouthed under the pressure of a hunger that knew no bounds.
  • Beasts are the subjects of tyrannic sway,
    Where still the stronger on the weaker prey;
    Man only of a softer mold is made,
    Not for his fellows' ruin, but their aid.


  • Nature is no sentimentalist,—does not cosset or pamper us. We must see that the world is rough and surly, and will not mind drowning a man or a woman; but swallows your ship like a grain of dust. The cold, inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, benumbs your feet, freezes a man like an apple. The diseases, the elements, fortune, gravity, lightning, respect no persons. The way of Providence is a little rude. The habit of snake and spider, the snap of the tiger and other leapers and bloody jumpers, the crackle of the bones of his prey in the coil of the anaconda,—these are in the system, and our habits are like theirs. You have just dined, and, however scrupulously the slaughter-house is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity,—expensive races,—race living at the expense of race. ... The cholera, the small-pox, have proved as mortal to some tribes, as a frost to the crickets, which, having filled the summer with noise, are silenced by a fall of the temperature of one night. Without uncovering what does not concern us, or counting how many species of parasites hang on a bombyx; or groping after intestinal parasites, or infusory biters, or the obscurities of alternate generation;—the forms of the shark, the labrus, the jaw of the sea-wolf paved with crushing teeth, the weapons of the grampus, and other warriors hidden in the sea,—are hints of ferocity in the interiors of nature. Let us not deny it up and down. Providence has a wild, rough, incalculable road to its end, and it is of no use to try to whitewash its huge, mixed instrumentalities, or to dress up that terrific benefactor in a clean shirt and white neckcloth of a student in divinity.
  • Attic maid, honey-fed, chatterer, snatchest thou and bearest the chattering cricket for feast to thy unfledged young, thou chatterer the chatterer, thou winged the winged, thou summer guest the summer guest, and wilt not quickly cast it loose? for it is not right nor just that singers should perish by singers' mouths.
    • Euenus, "The Swallow and the Grasshopper", Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology (1906), p. 209


  • [I]t is clear you have either never taken a course in ecology and evolution, or forgot the message. There is this strange thing called a food web – in which organisms are primary producers, eat primary producers, eat the eaters of primary producers – and so on. That is called life. It has NO ethical or moral values. Those are HUMAN values. A wolf or lion kills another animal – the pain and suffering are not ecological issues – the life of the wolf or lion is the issue. If the wolf or lion dies of starvation – then the prey potentially become over populated – like the deer in Princeton. Your values are not the values of nature.
  • Indeed the amount of suffering and premature death present in nature could still be glimpsed were we only to consider the tiny number of animals that successfully reach maturity in comparison to those who die shortly after coming into existence. Population dynamics shows how this figure is very low because of the prevalent reproductive strategy in nature, which consists in producing very large numbers of offspring who have very little chance of survival.
  • [I]t is not inherently absurd to suppose that there is an obligation to protect animals from natural predators, even if this obligation has limited practical application. Nor (except, perhaps, in the case of ethical holists) does it conflict with our deepest moral convictions. If one of these convictions is that we should strive to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, then assisting prey animals, in some cases at least, is one way in which this might be accomplished.
  • If you stop and think about the sheer number of animals on Earth that make a living by laying eggs in other animals and doing all sorts of horrible things to them before consuming them alive, it can give one pause.
  • Among brutes as well as men, everything important and delightful as it may be in its nature and effects, is begun, Continued, and ended in difficulty. We view throughout the whole animal creation the painful anxiety of the mother too often rewarded with the loss of the young progeny, and her trouble about rearing them end in disappointment ... the hawk and the owl will always prey on the infant family of the sparrow and the mouse: all nature is one wide waste of devastation; and, though we may diminish the sufferings of animals under our own eyes, yet the wood and the wilderness will be theatres of woe, and the wide waters of the deep tainted with the blood of savage strife, so long as the world remains in its present condition.
  • Thomas Ignatius Maria Forster, Philozoia: Or Moral Reflections on the Actual Condition of the Animal Kingdom, and on the Means of Improving the Same (1839), pp. 65–66
  • I never pity animals in captivity because I have seen too many wild animals suffering from starvation and other things. I remember polar bears emaciated to extreme weakness because the ice had gone and with it every chance for them to hunt food. I have seen caribou exhausted by fear, and around them howling wolves forcing them to run and run until they lost sense and strength and became an easy prey. In nature, every animal is merciless toward every other.


  • Why ridicule the act, the feeling blame,
    Which from the spider would the fly reclaim;
    Since from the reptile, in gradation due,
    'Twould link the world in sympathy to you?
    Let not this bold assertion ease thy mind,
    "This all is nature, and by heav'n design'd:"
    Would you not bless the arm, if stretch'd to save
    Your individual carcass from the grave?
    From the fierce tiger's unrelenting claw,
    Or rav'nous wolf; though Nature gave the law?
  • Respecting the state of savage or uncultivated life, man and other animals appear to be very similarly circumstanced; both of them being miserably subject to almost every evil, destitute of the means of palliating them; living in the continual apprehension of immediate starvation, of destruction by their enemies, which swarm around them; of receiving dreadful injuries from the revengeful and malicious feelings of their associates, uncontrolled by laws or by education, and acting as their strength alone dictates; without proper shelter from the inclemencies of the weather; without proper attention and medical or surgical aid in sickness; destitute frequently of fire, of candle-light, and (in man) also of clothing; without amusements or occupations, excepting a few, the chief of which are immediately necessary for their existence, and subject to all the ill consequences arising from the want of them.
  • Delightful representations of animated nature have indeed been made by the best authors, which I hope I shall be pardoned in dissenting from, and confess that though I am not blind to there being much enjoyment, the different evils of all animals, and of all classes of mankind, strike me with the most force. Those authors construe almost all things into so many tokens of happiness. If they look at a drop of water through a microscope, and see a multitude of animalcula swimming about, they seem to conclude that they must all be in a state of pleasure; not judging by analogy, that for one whose motions are the effect of happy sensation, there may be several which are struggling for food, from disease, and other such causes; that even the very fluid they inhabit is disputed by larger animals, who are continually destroying them and giving them the agonies of death after a very short life, whether it be of pleasure or of pain, and thereby embittering the draught of the thinking part of mankind. The different actions and cries indeed of all creatures, are adverted to as enlivening scenes of happiness; not noticing how many of them, which to the uninformed may appear to proceed from enjoyment, are in fact produced by fear, anger, pain, and the like; and which close observation will frequently discover them to be. How are the weak and sickly males oppressed by the strong and healthy ones, crossed in their amours, deprived of their food, injured in their bodies, and at last driven to end their lives in solitary places!
  • It is strange that philosophers first show how one animal supports itself by destroying another, and then enter into discussions on the apparent admirable order of things in their present state. But though this may be a necessary contrivance, and the only way in which life can be supported, it can never be a beautiful one, in our short sights, notwithstanding that something worse might be, were this not the case.
  • Though brutes suffer much in a natural state, they seem to endure much more when in our power; and in the former state all appearing to mix much enjoyment with their troubles, particularly the horse and the ass, which (as is well known) when wild, form societies, and appoint sentinels to warn them of danger, find their food beneath their feet, their shelter in the warmth of the climate, and make use of their strength with which they are end owed, in travelling about for fresh food, in defending themselves, and in escaping from their enemies; in this state the ass is known to be as active and spirited, as he is here dull and dejected.
  • Y: As you think it wrong for man to kill other animals for food, do you also think it wrong that animals should devour each other? As this is the general law of nature.
    Z: It appears wrong, according to the rules by which we govern our own actions to each other; and should I witness the attempt in any animal of destroying another, I would endeavour to frustrate it; though this might probably be wrong.
  • Y: But the whole species of the carnivorous kind would then become extinct. Were they created to be annihilated?
    Z: I do not see why the whole species of one animal is more important than an equal number of another, although that number might not comprise the whole species of the latter: and, besides, it is not proved that the whole species would perish; as some might feed on the bodies of those animals which they might find that were in a fit state; and also upon vegetables, which they will eat occasionally. It is known that wolves will live in the two ways mentioned, when deprived of other means.
  • Can a reflecting mind turn for a moment to any quarter without shrinking at the scenes of carnage and suffering which constitute not only the minor streams, but the grand tide of life: though mingled with many pleasures we admit; but the goods falling mostly on man, and the evils mostly on animals. Those men, however, who are above others, and still more above dumb animals in happiness, are readily led to believe that the sweets of life greatly predominate in the whole classes of animated beings, yet an impartial view seems to tell a very different tale.
  • Yet it must be confessed that whichever way we turn our eyes we see a system of aggression and destruction. In order for one animal to live, thousands must die: directly so if the one be carnivorous, and indirectly so if graminivorous. It has been calculated that some birds destroy thousands of butterflies during the rearing of a single brood; and if we take man, who is half carnivorous, and calculate how many lives are destroyed to maintain him in comfort during his life, even without sport, the number will appear enormous, no estimate of which can however be made without taking into account the size of the animals he feeds on.
  • But as the multiplication of animals exceeds the vegetable food, it is true that by killing some of the animals not any the less live, as they are only killed instead of starved. This, we are sorry to confess, is the system of nature, but this is no justification of a partial destruction of lives. It is generally, tritely enough said, that animals most be destroyed by every means they now are,—that destruction is the general law of nature, and otherwise overstock would result; let us for a moment admit it, we must then on the same plea massacre human beings, namely, to prevent overstock; and we ask the advocates of this principle just to point out what crime consists of, as it seems to us that most crimes can be defended on the same ground.


  • We now know that the whole of organic nature on our planet exists only by a relentless war of all against all. Thousands of animals and plants must daily perish in every part of the earth, in order that a few chosen individuals may continue to subsist and to enjoy life. But even the existence of these favoured few is a continual conflict with threatening dangers of every kind. Thousands of hopeful germs perish uselessly every minute. The raging war of interests in human society is only a feeble picture of the unceasing and terrible war of existence which reigns throughout the whole of the living world. The beautiful dream of God's goodness and wisdom in nature, to which as children we listened so devoutly fifty years ago, no longer finds credit now – at least among educated people who think.
  • [I]n other parts of the African continent, when the fierceness of the summer has dried up the rivers, the amphibia, great and small, collect in uncongenial crowds in the pools left along the deeper parts of the channel; and the land animals, the deer, the apes, the birds, stoop hastily and furtively to snatch insufficient draughts from the depths where lurk so many ravenous foes. Then, in colder lands, what wretchedness does winter bring—when the snow puts an end to the livelihood of all the tribes which seek sustenance on the earth, and the frost mocks the misery of those whose food is in the marsh or the pool. The frozen-out woodcock taps in vain for a soft spot in which to insert his slender bill—his larder is locked up and the key gone. Now and then comes a winter so sharp that the naturalist misses, next summer, whole species from their accustomed haunts. In one long frost all the snipe perished in parts of Scotland, and have never been plentiful since.
  • How mournful for these poor starvelings the fact, apparently so insignificant, that the temperature has fallen below freezing-point! What misery is approaching them in the leaden gloom of the northeast! And in those circles of the earth where the reign of winter is prolonged, hunger is the inseparable associate of life, lying down with it in its shivering sleep, rising with it in its gloomy waking, and tracking its footsteps always along the ice-bound circuit of its weary quest.
  • But if the vicissitudes of climate are fraught with suffering, so are the vicissitudes of age. The infancy of many animals is as helpless as babyhood. Few hired nurses, it is true, are so patient, so provident, so watchful, so untiring in care, as the dams, feathered or furred, who, in nest or lair, watch over their young. But then the lives of these guardians are terribly precarious, and innumerable are the orphans of the animal world.
  • Every wet spring drowns in the holes they have never learnt to quit a multitude of small helpless creatures—every storm of early summer casts innumerable half-fledged birds prematurely on the hard world to cower, and scramble, and palpitate, and hunger, till inevitable doom overtakes them after a more or less short interval.
  • At first sight, domesticated animals may seem much better off than their wild cousins and ancestors. Wild buffaloes spend their days searching for food, water and shelter, and are constantly threatened by lions, parasites, floods and droughts. Domesticated cattle, by contrast, enjoy care and protection from humans. People provide cows and calves with food, water and shelter, they treat their diseases, and protect them from predators and natural disasters. True, most cows and calves sooner or later find themselves in the slaughterhouse. Yet does that make their fate any worse than that of wild buffaloes? Is it better to be devoured by a lion than slaughtered by a man? Are crocodile teeth kinder than steel blades?
It is commonly believed that animal ethics entails respect for natural processes, because nonhuman animals are able to live relatively easy and happy lives in the wild. However, this assumption is wrong. ~ Oscar Horta
  • I just think it may be, in fact, the case that nature is just a horror show. It is bad almost any place you could be born in the natural world, you're unlucky to be a rabbit and you're unlucky to be a fox. We're lucky to be humans, sort of, and we can dimly imagine how much luckier we might get in the future if we don't screw up.
  • Most of the 1300 millions of the earth's inhabitants have either a scanty nourishment, unsatisfying and prolonging life with difficulty, or they live for a time in superfluity, from which they derive no preponderating enjoyment, and must for another period actually starve and suffer want, when they must accordingly endure the pains of hunger for long periods, whilst the pleasure of satiety, with perfect stilling of hunger, only occupies a few hours of the day. But now let any one compare the dull delight of satiety and digestion with the distinct gnawing of hunger or the hell-torments of thirst to which animals in deserts, steppes, and such regions, that in the hot season are perfectly dry, are not seldom exposed. How much more, however, must among many species of animals the pain of hunger exceed the pleasure of satiety in the course of life, which at certain seasons die of hunger from want of food, often in considerable numbers, or for weeks and months just on the brink of starvation, prolong their existence in slightly more favourable conditions of life! This happens both with graminivorous birds and birds in the winter of the polar and temperate zones and in the arid tropics, as also with carnivora and beasts of prey, which often for weeks wander about vainly in search of booty until they perish of inanition.
  • As for the other spring of Nature, Love, ... In the animal kingdom one can hardly speak of an active sexual selection on the part of the male, even among the highest birds and mammals; of a passive selection through the struggle of the males in which the strongest remains victor, only among a small part of the higher animals, or the rest, the sexual impulse is not individual, but is purely general. But now in the infinitely larger part of the animal kingdom there do not exist organs of sexual pleasure acting as stimulants to coition; without such accordingly coition is an office indifferent to the egoism of the individual which is carried on by the impelling constraint of instinct, as the spinning of the web of the spider or the building of the bird's nest for the eggs hereafter to be laid. To the absence of enjoyment in the office of fecundation in the case of most animals also the frequently indirect form of this function deviating from direct copulation points. When in the vertebrates a personal physical enjoyment appears to occur, it is at first certainly as flat and insignificant as possible; but soon there is also added the contest of the males for the female, which in many species of animals is waged with the greatest bitterness, and has for its consequence often painful injuries, not seldom also the killing of one of the rivals. Add to that, among those animals which at the time of rut form herds led by the victorious male, the involuntary continence of the younger members, whether they separate into smaller detachments or remain with the main herd, when an invasion of the rights of the head of the family is punished in the cruellest fashion. This involuntary continence of the largest part of the males, and the pains and vexation caused the defeated by the contests, seem to me a hundredfold to exceed the pleasures accruing to the prosperous males from the sexual pleasure. As for the females, in the first place, among most animals they far more rarely couple than the privileged males; and, secondly, the pains of child-bearing in their case far outweigh the pleasure derived from copulation.
  • Why acts nature thus? and why does she thus crowd her creatures one upon another? Because she would produce the greatest number and variety of living beings in the least space, so that one crushes another, and an equilibrium of powers can alone produce peace in the creation. Every species cares for itself, as if it were the only one in existence: but by its side stands another, which confines it within due bounds: and in this adjustment of opposing species creative nature found the only mean of maintaining the whole. She weighed the powers, she numbered the limbs, she determined the instincts of the species toward each other; and left the earth to produce what it was capable of producing.
  • The jungle, existing exclusively in the present, is certainly subject to time, but remains forever ageless. Any concept of justice would be antithetical to all this. But is there justice in the desert, either? Or in the oceans? And in the depths? Life in the sea must be pure hell, an infinite hell of constant and ever-present danger, so unbearable that in the course of evolution some species – including Homo Sapiens – crawled, fled, onto some clods of firm land, the future continents.
  • Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain.
  • And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.
  • It is commonly believed that animal ethics entails respect for natural processes, because nonhuman animals are able to live relatively easy and happy lives in the wild. However, this assumption is wrong. Due to the most widespread reproductive strategy in nature, r-selection, the overwhelming majority of nonhuman animals die shortly after they come into existence. They starve or are eaten alive, which means their suffering vastly outweighs their happiness. Hence, concern for nonhuman animals entails that we should try to intervene in nature to reduce the enormous amount of harm they suffer. Even if this conclusion may seem extremely counter-intuitive at first, it can only be rejected from a speciesist viewpoint.
  • What happens to all the other animals that come into existence? They die, often shortly after they start to be sentient. They starve, are killed by other animals or in other painful ways, and, because they die so soon, they do not have the chance to have many other experiences apart from the suffering of their death. This means that they may never have any positive experiences at all, or just have very few ones. Other animals may be able to survive a bit longer and have some more positive experiences, yet not enough to outweigh the suffering they endure because of the hardships of their existence which eventually lead them to their death. These animals experience more suffering than well-being in their lives.
  • Many people think we shouldn't worry about this. Some people hold speciesist views according to which we should only care about what happens to human beings. Others hold environmentalist positions that entail that we should just care about the conservation of ecosystems or species and disregard the interests of individual nonhuman animals. According to those holding these views, nonhuman animals can be sacrificed for the sake of environmental conservation (though, interestingly, they seldom maintain this view when human beings are affected). However, if we agree that the interests of all sentient animals must be taken into account we should reject these anthropocentric and environmentalist views as speciesist.
  • Similarly, some people have argued that the harms suffered by animals in the wild (e.g. disease, starvation and predation) should not concern us because they are natural. This sounds like a speciesist claim, given that such a view is rarely held when humans suffer those harms. Also, it seems that if the animals themselves could have a say on this, they would clearly prefer to be spared those harms, as we would in their situation.
  • This means that the number of animals that come into existence only to die shortly after is extremely high. On average, if we consider a context in which populations remain stable at least in the mid term, for each animal that reproduces, only one of her or his offspring survives (otherwise animal populations would grow exponentially very fast, and would become massive with just one generation). This means that all the rest of the animals die. Many of them die shortly after coming into existence. These animals starve to death, are eaten by other animals, or die for other reasons that usually entail a great deal of suffering. This means that an enormous number of animals come into existence only to suffer. Their lives contain virtually no enjoyment, since they die shortly after they start to exist. However, their lives do contain significant suffering, because of the painful ways in which they die. They thus live lives in which disvalue outweighs value. Living their lives causes them more harm than good. In fact, in many cases it causes them great harm and no good at all.
  • He was less interested in television. Every week, however, his heart in his mouth, he watched The Animal Kingdom. Graceful animals like gazelles and antelopes spent their days in abject terror while lions and panthers lived out their lives in listless imbecility punctuated by explosive bursts of cruelty. They slaughtered weaker animals, dismembered and devoured the sick and the old before falling back into a brutish sleep where the only activity was that of the parasites feeding on them from within. Some of these parasites were hosts to smaller parasites, which in turn were a breeding ground for viruses. Snakes moved among the trees, their fangs bared, ready to strike at bird or mammal, only to be ripped apart by hawks. The pompous, half-witted voice of Claude Darget, filled with awe and unjustifiable admiration, narrated these atrocities. Michel trembled with indignation. But as he watched, the unshakable conviction grew that nature, taken as a whole, was a repulsive cesspit. All in all, nature deserved to be wiped out in a holocaust--and man's mission on earth was probably to do just that.
  • But [the human treatment of nonhuman animals is] nothing compared to the suffering doled out by Nature. It boggles the mind to consider the billions upon billions of animals stalked and killed or eaten alive by predators or who died slowly and painfully, decimated by disease, famine, or drought.
    So it is that we must face a sobering fact: the history of our planet is a history stuffed with undeserved, horrific evil and suffering.
  • The whole earth, believe me ... is cursed and polluted. A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures. Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and courageous: Fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life gives anguish to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent: Weakness, impotence, distress, attend each stage of that life: and it is at last finished in agony and horror.
  • Observe, too, says Philo, the curious artifices of nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are bred on the body of each animal, or flying about infix their stings in him. These insects have others still less than themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and destruction.
  • Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!
  • The first circumstance which introduces evil, is that contrivance or economy of the animal creation, by which pains, as well as pleasures, are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees, seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose. All animals might be constantly in a state of enjoyment: but when urged by any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger, weariness; instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they might be prompted to seek that object which is necessary to their subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid pain; at least they might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain. Why then is any animal ever rendered susceptible of such a sensation? If animals can be free from it an hour, they might enjoy a perpetual exemption from it; and it required as particular a contrivance of their organs to produce that feeling, as to endow them with sight, hearing, or any of the senses. Shall we conjecture, that such a contrivance was necessary, without any appearance of reason? and shall we build on that conjecture as on the most certain truth?
  • High on the topmost branches of the elm,
    In sable conversation sits the flock
    Of social starlings, the withdrawing beam
    Enjoying, supperless, of hasty day.
    Half starved and petrified, the pigeon mopes
    With bloated plumage on the dove-house tile,
    And seems forgetful of his amorous vow And note of love profound.
  • Natural selection, in fact, though like the mills of God in grinding slowly and grinding small, has few other attributes that a civilized religion would call Divine. It is efficient in its way—at the price of extreme slowness and extreme cruelty. But it is blind and mechanical; and accordingly its products are just as likely to be aesthetically, morally, or intellectually repulsive to us as they are to be attractive. We need only think of the ugliness of Sacculina or a bladder-worm, the stupidity of a rhinoceros or a stegosaur, the horror of a female mantis devouring its mate or a brood of ichneumon flies slowly eating out a caterpillar.
  • From the point of view of the moralist the animal world is on about the same level as a gladiator's show. The creatures are fairly well treated, and set to fight–whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day. The spectator has no need to turn his thumbs down, as no quarter is given. He must admit that the skill and training displayed are wonderful. But he must shut his eyes if he would not see that more or less enduring suffering is the meed of both vanquished and victor. And since the great game is going on in every corner of the world, thousands of times a minute; since, were our ears sharp enough, we need not descend to the gates of hell to hear [sighs and groans of pain like those heard by Dante]


  • Would an infinitely wise, good, and powerful God, intending to produce man, commence with the lowest possible forms of life; with the simplest organism that can be imagined, and during immeasurable periods of time, slowly and almost imperceptibly improve upon the rude beginning, until man was evolved? Would countless ages thus be wasted in the production of awkward forms, afterwards abandoned? Can the intelligence of man discover the least wisdom in covering the earth with crawling, creeping horrors that live only upon the agonies and pangs of others? Can we see the propriety of so constructing the earth, that only an insignificant portion of its surface is capable of producing an intelligent man? Who can appreciate the mercy of so making the world that all animals devour animals; so that every mouth is a slaughterhouse, and every stomach a tomb? Is it possible to discover infinite intelligence and love in universal and eternal carnage?
  • In nature I see, or seem to see, good and evil—intelligence and ignorance—goodness and cruelty—care and carelessness—economy and waste. I see means that do not accomplish the ends—designs that seem to fail.
    To me it seems infinitely cruel for life to feed on life—to create animals that devour others.
    The teeth and beaks, the claws and fangs, that tear and rend, fill me with horror. What can be more frightful than a world at-war? Every leaf a battle-field—every flower a Golgotha—in every drop of water pursuit, capture and death. Under every piece of bark, life lying in wait for life. On every blade of grass, something that kills,—something that suffers. Everywhere the strong living on the weak—the superior on the inferior. Everywhere the weak, the insignificant, living on the strong—the inferior on the superior—the highest food for the lowest—man sacrificed for the sake of microbes. Murder universal. Everywhere pain, disease and death—death that does not wait for bent forms and gray hairs, but clutches babes and happy youths. Death that takes the mother from her helpless, dimpled child—death that fills the world with grief and tears.
  • The wolf will live with the lamb,
    The leopard will lie down with the goat,
    The calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    And a little child will lead them.
    The cow will feed with the bear,
    Their young will lie down together,
    And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
    The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
    And the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
    They will neither harm nor destroy
    On all my holy mountain,
    For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
    As the waters cover the sea.
  • Documentary film of scenes of wild carnivores preying on other animals is usually edited so to not show the harsh reality of nature. A TV program I watched by chance 12 years ago reported the fact without concealing the details ... Five hyenas surrounded an animal like a deer at night and bit its abdomen. The animal had already lost the vigor to run away or to resist and was immobilized by terror at the persistent attack of the hyenas. In a moment, the skin of its abdomen was torn up and the bloody flesh was exposed throughout the abdomen. The animal's four legs staggered but it didn't fall; the legs stood and supported the body full of injuries. The hyenas bit the animal's exposed bloody flesh, bit by bit, and began to eat it. The animal didn't fall down yet and stood still with all its might, but no one saved this pitiful animal; it was eaten alive ...This occurrence is not special but repeated everywhere on the earth every day. I was deeply shocked, however, as if I had learned nature's true colors of cruelty for the first time. I had the intuition that such thing should absolutely not exist. Even if people permit it as natural law, I must deny it firmly. I wanted to drive away the hyenas to save the animals from being eaten alive ... If I had not seen the TV program by chance, I would have continued to eat meat and to hold a superficial philosophy ignorant of the cruelty of nature.
    • Naoki Iwasawa, For Being Happy in Life and Calm at Death: What We Can Do (2011), p. 178 ISBN 978-1457505737
  • It is not fair to sympathize only with livestock, and not with animals eaten by carnivores. Everyone would have wanted to help the animal attacked by the carnivores if he had actually observed the scene I described [documentary footage of a deer being attacked by hyenas].
    • Naoki Iwasawa, For Being Happy in Life and Calm at Death: What We Can Do (2011), p. 182 ISBN 978-1457505737


  • "The rat goes out for its food, and is clever in getting it, for it eats all animals inferior to it in strength", and in turn, it "has to avoid snakes and birds and serpents of prey, who look for it in order to devour it" and are stronger than the rat. Mosquitos "know instinctively that blood is the thing which makes them live" and when they see an animal, "they know that the skin has been fashioned to serve them as food". In turn, flies hunt the mosquito "which is the food that they like best", and predators eat the flies. "All animals, in short, can not exist without food, neither can the hunting animal escape being hunted in his turn. Every weak animal devours those weaker than itself. Strong animals cannot escape being devoured by other animals stronger than they.
    • Al-Jahiz, quoted in Conway Zirkle's "Natural Selection before the 'Origin of Species'", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 84, Iss. 1, pp. 71–123.
  • The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there yourself! To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic times is hard for our imagination—they seem too much like mere museum specimens. Yet there is no tooth in any one of those museum-skulls that did not daily through long years of the foretime hold fast to the body struggling in despair of some fated living victim. Forms of horror just as dreadful to the victims, if on a smaller spatial scale, fill the world about us to-day. Here on our very hearths and in our gardens the infernal cat plays with the panting mouse, or holds the hot bird fluttering in her jaws. Crocodiles and rattlesnakes and pythons are at this moment vessels of life as real as we are; their loathsome existence fills every minute of every day that drags its length along; and whenever they or other wild beasts clutch their living prey, the deadly horror which an agitated melancholiac feels is the literally right reaction on the situation.
  • The ground is cracked
    because there is no rain in the land;
    the farmers are dismayed
    and cover their heads.
    Even the doe in the field
    deserts her newborn fawn
    because there is no grass.
    Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights
    and pant like jackals;
    their eyes fail
    for lack of food.
  • Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
    when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
    Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?
    • Job 38:39–43 (NIV)



  • A while ago I watched a wildlife documentary about Komodo dragons poisoning, tracking for a week or so, and then, finally, when their victim became too weak to defend itself, disembowelling and eating alive, a water buffalo. The cameraman said this had been his first ever wildlife assignment, and it would probably also be his last, because he couldn't cope with the depth of suffering he had been forced to witness. That was just one poor creature. Each day, millions of animals are similarly forced to tear each other limb from limb to survive. And this has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. This is, in many ways, a beautiful world. But it's also a staggeringly cruel and horrific world for very many of its inhabitants.
  • [I]n nature, animals suffer a lot. They are constantly in search of food; they are little protected from extreme climatic situations; they do not receive any medical assistance if they are injured or sick; they are regularly attacked by other wild animals; And so on. Moreover, almost all animals brought into the world die before they can reproduce. It is indeed necessary to realize that a population remains stable if, on average, each animal gives life to a descendant which can also reproduce. The fact that the animals that do reproduce give birth to tens, hundreds, or even many more descendants means that very few survive. This massacre shows how trying the conditions in which they live are. Certain antispeciesists therefore believe that, faced with this situation, we should try to find ways of relieving wild animals of the evils that overwhelm them.
  • So flees the squirrel from the rattlesnake, and runs in its haste deliberately into the mouth of its tormentor. I am [Nature] that from which thou fleest.
  • I also naturally come to the conclusion that you are the avowed enemy of men, and all other creatures of your creation. Sometimes alluring, at other times menacing; now attacking, now striking, now pursuing, now destroying; you are always engaged in tormenting us. Either by habit or necessity you are the enemy of your own family, and the executioner of your own flesh and blood.
  • Thus I reply to you. I am well aware you did not make the world for the service of men. It were easier to believe that you made it expressly as a place of torment for them. But tell me: why am I here at all? Did I ask to come into the world? Or am I here unnaturally, contrary to your will? If however, you yourself have placed me here, without giving me the power of acceptance or refusal of this gift of life, ought you not as far as possible to try and make me happy, or at least preserve me from the evils and dangers, which render my sojourn a painful one? And what I say of myself, I say of the whole human race, and of every living creature.
  • So say all the philosophers. But since that which is destroyed suffers, and that which is born from its destruction also suffers in due course, and finally is in its turn destroyed, would you enlighten me on one point, about which hitherto no philosopher has satisfied me? For whose pleasure and service is this wretched life of the world maintained, by the suffering and death of all the beings which compose it?
  • Whilst they discussed these and similar questions, two lions are said to have suddenly appeared. The beasts were so enfeebled and emaciated with hunger that they were scarcely able to devour the Icelander. They accomplished the feat however, and thus gained sufficient strength to live to the end of the day.
  • It seems as though death were the essential aim of all things. That which has no existence cannot die; yet all that exists has proceeded from nothing. The final cause of existence is not happiness, for nothing is happy. It is true, living creatures seek this end in all their works, but none obtain it; and during all their life, ever deceiving, tormenting, and exerting themselves, they suffer indeed for no other purpose than to die.
  • [S]uch order cannot exist without evil ... Animals destined for the nourishment of other species. The inborn envy and hatred of living beings toward their fellows.
  • [H. G.] Wells' Utopia is not vegan — nor even vegetarian: the primary motive was to provide human beings with a paradise in which to live. However, there is no reason we should not envisage a vegan version of this Wellsian Utopia, a Garden Earth in which the harms that befall all beings have been eradicated, or at least reduced to a minimum. This might involve eliminating those creatures that are inimical to this project, such as carnivores. Would this be morally acceptable?
  • If, in order to discharge our moral duties, we are obliged to act to prevent harm, then we ought to interfere with nature to stop the suffering and death that occur there. Given the power to create a world free of suffering, or at least in which the amount of suffering is vastly reduced (eg by doing away with hyenas), then we ought to utilize that power. Failure to do so is a culpable omission on our part.


Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their prey. Agonized suffering and violent death are ubiquitous and continuous ~ Jeff McMahan
  • The terrible pain, suffering, and untimely death caused by events like fire, flood, landslide, hurricane, earthquake, tidal wave, and famine and by diseases like cancer, leprosy and tetanus—as well as crippling defects and deformities like blindness, deafness, dumbness, shriveled limbs, and insanity by which so many sentient beings are cheated of the full benefits of life.
  • In the immense sphere of living things, the obvious rule is violence, a kind of inevitable frenzy which arms all things in mutua funera. Once you leave the world of insensible substances, you find the decree of violent death written on the very frontiers of life. Even in the vegetable kingdom, this law can be perceived: from the huge catalpa to the smallest of grasses, how many plants die and how many are killed! But once you enter the animal kingdom, the law suddenly becomes frighteningly obvious. A power at once hidden and palpable appears constantly occupied in bringing to light the principle of life by violent means. In each great division of the animal world, it has chosen a certain number of animals charged with devouring the others; so there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fish of prey, and quadrupeds of prey. There is not an instant of time when some living creature is not devoured by another ... Thus is worked out, from maggots up to man, the universal law of the violent destruction of living beings. The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.
  • A strong duty to relieve suffering that does not discriminate between species would require radical changes in the ways that we relate to other animals. It would, for example, require an end to the practice of factory farming, in which billions of animals are annually subjected to extreme suffering in order to supply humans with meat and other products at the lowest possible cost. It would also raise difficult questions about the practice of experimenting on animals to obtain medical benefits for humans. These cases, much discussed in the literature on animal ethics, involve suffering that is inflicted by human beings. But a species-blind duty to relieve suffering would also make it a prima facie requirement to save animals from suffering brought upon them by natural conditions and other animals.
  • The lioness sinks her scimitar talons into the zebra's rump. They rip through the tough hide and anchor deep into the muscle. The startled animal lets out a loud bellow as its body hits the ground. An instant later the lioness releases her claws from its buttocks and sinks her teeth into the zebra's throat, choking off the sound of terror. Her canine teeth are long and sharp, but an animal as large as a zebra has a massive neck, with a thick layer of muscle beneath the skin, so although the teeth puncture the hide they are too short to reach any major blood vessels. She must therefore kill the zebra by asphyxiation, clamping her powerful jaws around its trachea (windpipe), cutting off the air to its lungs. It is a slow death. If this had been a small animal, say a Thomson's gazelle (Gazella thomsoni) the size of a large dog, she would have bitten it through the nape of the neck; her canine teeth would then have probably crushed the vertebrae or the base of the skull, causing instant death. As it is, the zebra's death throes will last five or six minutes.
  • Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their prey. Agonized suffering and violent death are ubiquitous and continuous.
  • Suppose that we could arrange the gradual extinction of carnivorous species, replacing them with new herbivorous ones. Or suppose that we could intervene genetically, so that currently carnivorous species would gradually evolve into herbivorous ones, thereby fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. If we could bring about the end of predation by one or the other of these means at little cost to ourselves, ought we to do it?
  • [I]f suffering is bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for them when other animals cause it. That suffering is bad for those who experience it is not a human prejudice; nor is an effort to prevent wild animals from suffering a moralistic attempt to police the behavior of other animals. Even if we are not morally required to prevent suffering among animals in the wild for which we are not responsible, we do have a moral reason to prevent it, just as we have a general moral reason to prevent suffering among human beings that is independent both of the cause of the suffering and of our relation to the victims. The main constraint on the permissibility of acting on our reason to prevent suffering is that our action should not cause bad effects that would be worse than those we could prevent.
  • It would be good to prevent the vast suffering and countless violent deaths caused by predation. There is therefore one reason to think that it would be instrumentally good if predatory animal species were to become extinct and be replaced by new herbivorous species, provided that this could occur without ecological upheaval involving more harm than would be prevented by the end of predation. The claim that existing animal species are sacred or irreplaceable is subverted by the moral irrelevance of the criteria for individuating animal species. I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species.
  • It seems, moreover, that my argument has some relevance to choices we must make even now. There are some species of large predatory animals, such as the Siberian tiger, that are currently on the verge of extinction. If we do nothing to preserve it, the Siberian tiger as a species may soon become extinct. The number of extant Siberian tigers has been low for a considerable period. Any ecological disruption occasioned by their dwindling numbers has largely already occurred or is already occurring. If their number in the wild declines from several hundred to zero, the impact of their disappearance on the ecology of the region will be almost negligible. Suppose, however, that we could repopulate their former wide-ranging habitat with as many Siberian tigers as there were during the period in which they flourished in their greatest numbers, and that that population could be sustained indefinitely. That would mean that herbivorous animals in the extensive repopulated area would again, and for the indefinite future, live in fear and that an incalculable number would die in terror and agony while being devoured by a tiger. In a case such as this, we may actually face the kind of dilemma I called attention to in my article, in which there is a conflict between the value of preserving existing species and the value of preventing suffering and early death for an enormously large number of animals.
  • The suffering that animals undergo while being caught and eaten may be intense and the process by which they are killed may last for a quarter of an hour or more. Because the number of predators worldwide is enormous, and because, like us, many of them must eat with considerable frequency, the aggregate amount of suffering in the world at any time that is caused by predation is unimaginably vast.
  • [I]f animal suffering matters and that is the basis of our reason not to cause animal suffering, then it seems that animal suffering that is caused not by us but by other conditions is also bad and there must, therefore, also be a reason why it should be prevented if at all possible. It just seems to me a quite clear inference.
  • [T]here are problems with using any of these definitions of biodiversity as a proxy for animal welfare. Biodiversity is essentially a measure of variety, even if different definitions of biodiversity involve different types of variety. Variety is not the same thing as flourishing. Among humans, this is very clearly true: I can work in a very diverse department (in terms of nationality, gender, philosophical style, etc.) where everyone is miserable. We see the same thing among nonhumans. A region with high biodiversity is full of lots of different kinds of individuals. They might be suffering; their lives might be barely worth living. But if they are alive, they count positively toward biodiversity. The only time welfare will affect biodiversity at all is when it affects either reproduction or mortality to such an extent that the relevant kind of variability in the population is diminished—for example, when a species goes extinct. However, significant effects on welfare happen to species members long before their species goes extinct. To care about biodiversity, then, is to care about the existence or presence of the kinds, not about the welfare of the individuals belonging to those kinds.
  • Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
  • [E]ven if all 7.3 billion human beings on this planet were turned into vegan Buddhas, the problem of wild animal suffering would remain—we would still be surrounded by an ocean of self-conscious creatures that probably even a superintelligence could not liberate.
  • In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature's every day performances. ... The phrases which ascribe perfection to the course of nature can only be considered as the exaggerations of poetic or devotional feeling, not intended to stand the test of a sober examination. No one, either religious or irreligious, believes that the hurtful agencies of nature, considered as a whole, promote good purposes, in any other way than by inciting human rational creatures to rise up and struggle against them.
  • If there are any marks at all of special design in creation, one of the things most evidently designed is that a large proportion of all animals should pass their existence in tormenting and devouring other animals. They have been lavishly fitted out with the instruments necessary for that purpose; their strongest instincts impel them to it, and many of them seem to have been constructed incapable of supporting themselves by any other food. If a tenth part of the pains which have been expended in finding benevolent adaptations in all nature, had been employed in collecting evidence: to blacken the character of the Creator, what scope for comment would not have been found in the entire existence of the lower animals, divided, with scarcely an exception, into devourers and devoured, and a prey to a thousand ills from which they are denied the faculties necessary for protecting themselves! If were not obliged to believe the animal creation to be the work of a demon, it is because we need not suppose it to have been made by a Being of infinite power. But if imitation of the Creator's will as revealed in nature, were applied as a rule of action in this case, the most atrocious enormities of the worst men would be more than justified by the apparent intention of Providence that throughout all animated nature the strong should prey upon the weak.
  • Death introduc'd through fierce antipathie:
    Beast now with Beast gan war, & Fowle with Fowle,
    And Fish with Fish; to graze the Herb all leaving,
    Devourd each other
  • The suggestion that we should take wild animal suffering seriously as an ethical issue runs contrary to many of our most powerful biases. It concerns animals for which we, instinctively, feel very little sympathy, and whose suffering we humans did not cause and thus do not feel obliged to help alleviate. The suffering is also far removed from our daily lives and it exists on a scale of magnitude so large that it is hard for us to grasp it. Finally, wild animal suffering challenges a romantic view of nature, which is deeply held by many, and since all large-scale solutions lie far in the future, it is easy for us simply to disregard it.
  • One way to increase the chances that the suffering of wild animals will be taken into account in research and development is to challenge the biases and assumptions that make it so difficult for us to address it. Most important, perhaps, is the pre-Darwinian fiction that life in nature is harmonious, and that without human intervention, all is fine and good. The truth is quite the opposite. If we imagined that from now on, animals started emitting a red light every time they suffered, then from space, Earth would no longer be a blue planet, but a red and glowing one.
  • All over the non-human world, with few exceptions, each being seeks the satisfaction of his own desires, if not with positive disregard for the happiness and misery of the rest of the universe, at least with sincere unconcern. There is no courtesy, sympathy, or amenity there—a cold, heartless, implacable world of strangers.
  • The chief activities of beings, both human and non-human, are put forth, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of procuring food. The suppression, entire or partial, of one being by another for nutritive purposes is, therefore, the form of the most frequent and excessive egoism. The lowly forms of life—the worms, echinoderms, mollusks, and the like—are, for the most part, vegetarians. So, also, are prevalently the insects, birds, rodents, and ungulates. These creatures are not, as a rule, aggressively harmful to each other, chiefly indifferent. But upon these inoffensive races feed with remorseless maw the reptilia, the insectivora, and the carnivora. These being-eaters cause to the earth-world its bloodiest experiences. It is their nature (established organically by long selection, or, as in the case of man, acquired tentatively) to subsist, not on the kingdom of the plant, the natural and primal storehouse of animal energy, but on the skeletons and sensibilities of their neighbors and friends. The serpent dines on the sparrow and the sparrow ingulfs the gnat; the tiger slays the jungle-fowl and the coyote plunders the lamb; the seal subsists on fish and the ursus maritimus subsists on seal; the ant enslaves the aphidae and man eats and enslaves what can not get away from him. Life riots on life—tooth and talon, beak and paw. It is a sickening contemplation, but life everywhere, in its aspect of activity, is largely made up of the struggle by one being against another for existence—of the effort by one being to circumvent, subjugate, or destroy another, and of the counter effort to reciprocate or escape.
  • Hardships have come. They have come from the inanimate universe in the form of floods, fires, frosts, accidents, diseases, droughts, storms, and the like; from other species, who were competitors or enemies; and from unbrotherly members of the same species. Some have survived, but the great majority have perished. Only a fraction, and generally an appallingly small fraction, of each generation of a species have lived to maturity.
  • The preponderance of egoism in the natures of living beings is the most mournful and immense fact in the phenomena of conscious life. It has made the world the kind of world it would have been had the gods actually emptied their wrath vials upon it. Brotherhood is anomalous, and, even in its highest manifestations, is but the expression of a veiled and calculating egoism. Inhumanity is everywhere. The whole planet is steeped in it. Every creature faces an inhospitable universeful, and every life is a campaign. It has all come about as a result of the mindless and inhuman manner in which life has been developed on the earth. It has been said that an individual of unlimited faculties and infinite goodness and power made this world and endowed it with ways of acting, and that this individual, as the world's executive, continues to determine its phenomena by inspiring the order of its events. But one cannot help thinking sometimes, when, in his more daring and vivid moments, he comes to comprehend the real character and condition of the world, what a discrepancy exists between the reputation of this builder and his works, and cannot help wondering whether an ordinary human being with only common-sense and insight and an average concern for the welfare of the world would not make a great improvement in terrestrial affairs if he only had the opportunity for a while.
  • There is, in fact, but one great crime in the universe, and most of the instances of terrestrial wrong-doing are instances of this crime. It is the crime of exploitation—the considering by some beings of themselves as ends, and of others as their means—the refusal to recognize the equal, or the approximately equal, rights of all to life and its legitimate rewards—the crime of acting toward others as one would that others would not act toward him. For millions of years, almost ever since life began, this crime has been committed, in every nook and quarter of the inhabited globe.
  • Yes, do as you would be done by—and not to the dark man and the white woman alone, but to the sorrel horse and the gray squirrel as well; not to creatures of your own anatomy only, but to all creatures. You cannot go high enough nor low enough nor far enough to find those whose bowed and broken beings will not rise up at the coming of the kindly heart, or whose souls will not shrink and darken at the touch of inhumanity. Live and let live. Do more. Live and help live. Do to beings below you as you would be done by beings above you. Pity the tortoise, the katydid, the wild-bird, and the ox. Poor, undeveloped, untaught creatures! Into their dim and lowly lives strays of sunshine little enough, though the fell hand of man be never against them. They are our fellow-mortals. They came out of the same mysterious womb of the past, are passing through the same dream, and are destined to the same melancholy end, as we ourselves. Let us be kind and merciful to them.


  • A failure to help that polar bear – or any individual animal in a comparable condition, regardless of our responsibility (direct or indirect) for that suffering – is callous and morally wrong. Nor can lack of action be defended by some alleged concern for the course of nature ('We must not interfere!') or the gene pool of the species ('Let the weak die!'). Consider someone who would use those same arguments to justify not intervening to help relieve the suffering of particular human beings during a famine or after a tsunami, or someone who would use such arguments to say that we should not give antibiotics to a child with pneumonia. Such an attitude, reminiscent of various Charles Dickens characters, would be rejected out of hand as immoral. If the only morally relevant factor is 'can they suffer?', there is no relevant moral difference when animals suffer pain that we can alleviate.
  • At least one distinguished ecologist, Ivar Mysterud, and a friend of the reindeer, thinks that even if there were an ecologically very innocent way of heavily reducing the population of a certain parasite that causes extreme pain to the reindeer, or of altering its habits, it should nevertheless not be carried out. The reason: it might disturb a relevant ecosystem. We know too little (the docta ignorantia of a field ecologist!). I agree that there is a presumption against it, but I disagree with his conclusion. The very prolonged, cruel sufferings of the reindeer count more. I am for radically reducing the population of the parasite even if it may be wrong according to L. If an ecosystem is dominated by pain-producing parasites, perhaps we might say its "beauty" diminishes? I am somewhat uncertain about how to interpret the term, and also about the possibility that human beings could preserve or enhance beauty by interfering.
  • Every day some animals become weak and ill and enter a process of dying that involves prolonged pain as far as we can judge from their behavior. When wild reindeer smell large carnivores like bears, wolves, or dogs, they run away quickly. Old and tired reindeer find it more and more exhausting to keep up with the others. The same holds of some of the young ones. If they are caught quickly by carnivores, they tend to get a rapid, merciful death and not a slow, "cruel" one. Some reindeer experience the latter. Having been badly attacked by a winged insect (Cephenomyia trompe), they may die very slowly from suffocation from the growing larvae in their noses.
  • The parasitology of mammals tells us about parasites that kill or maim in ways that elicit intense alarm, disgust, and great negative feelings in us. Evolution specialists tell us that such parasites are not among the most successful and highly developed ones, which thrive without inflicting intense suffering or death on their hosts.
  • This admission of the imperfection of some parasites does not console their victims, however. The situation is relevant in assessing the adequacy of unconditional positive, sometimes highly emotional utterances about nature. What do human beings do when witnessing animals in what they think is unnecessary and prolonged pain? Those who intensely identify with the victims try to rescue them, provided it is not too late and a practical way is seen. The rescue may involve merciful killing by human hands. Generalized, and made into a policy, rescue attempts would amount to an attempt to reform nature. Not everybody studying the consequences of such a policy will accept it as desirable. Because it is totally out of our reach completely to eliminate prolonged extreme suffering, it is of no practical value to discuss its ethical status, but its existence makes general glorification of nature strange to many of us.
  • In Ecosophy T there is an ultimate norm "Self-realization!" and an ultimate hypothesis "The higher level of self-realization reached by a living being, the more further increase requires others to reach self-realization." In simple words, it is not a question of acceptance of any kind of life but of "live and let live!" Thanks to the capacities of the human brain, full realization of our potentialities—if there is any limit—cannot be anything like an ego trip but must be a joint venture with other beings, both human and nonhuman. The higher the level of realization, the more the realization is a joint venture, a Self-realization without loss of the individuality of each living being. We have sometimes the potentiality of relieving extreme suffering, human and nonhuman—and we make use of that privilege.
  • A likely objection to my proposed long-term attempt to alleviate animal suffering is that it is very risky; the ecological system is too dangerous to tamper with. At our current levels of scientific and technological capabilities, I fully agree with this objection and do not advocate actions in the near future. However, this should not prevent us from aspiring to understanding more and hope to be able to help alleviate animal suffering in the future. Some people may believe that we should never think about tampering with the ecosystem, This may well suit the purpose of our lucky species which appears to enjoy positive welfare. But what if I am right that most other sentient species are suffering enormously? If and when we can confidently reduce their suffering enormously at a small cost and very small risk to ourselves, should we cautiously proceed to help them or should we postpone indefinitely? Analogously, if people in poor countries are suffering enormously from their poverty, and if people in the rich countries can help them develop out of their poverty at a very small risk of aggravating the global environment, should the help be extended? What if you were one of the suffering poor? What if we were one of the suffering species? Let us at least agree that more resources be put into the study of welfare biology.
  • The death of a gazelle after painful torture is just as bad for the gazelle when torture is inflicted by a tiger as when it is done by a human being. That does not mean that death by tiger is as blameworthy; obviously it is not. But it does suggest that we have similar reasons to prevent it, if we can do so without doing greater harms. The capabilities approach is entitlement-based and outcome-oriented. One way of preventing gruesome deaths of animals at the hands of other animals is to put all vulnerable animals (or, alternatively, all predators) in protective detention, so to speak.
  • It seems plausible that we have less responsibility to protect gazelles than we do to protect domestic dogs and cats, since we are the guardians of the latter and they have evolved in symbiosis with us. But where we can protect gazelles without the type of massive intervention that would be harm-producing, perhaps we should do so. The problem is that the needs of the predatory animal must also be considered, and we do not have the option of giving the tiger in the wild a nice ball on a string to play with.
  • Whatever we say about [wild animal suffering], it shows us once again that the positive/negative distinction cannot be maintained in anything like its classical form. Humans are intervening in animals' lives all the time, and the question can only be what form this intervention should take. An intelligently respectful paternalism is vastly superior to neglect.


  • I oppose the ecologists because for them, the fox that eats the hare is good, as long as it "preserves the natural balance", while I see the suffering of the hare. You have to have a fairly closed mind to what it represents in reality to find it "good". Environmentalists see in nature only species; without human intervention, these species vary little, at least not visibly; the resulting impression of stability gives a vague feeling of rest and security; and they speak then of the harmony of nature.
  • Torture is permanent in Latin America; is it harmonious? Environmentalists find it good that the fox kills the hare, because that preserves an order. Torture also preserves order.
  • It is easy to have an ethics that, instead of questioning things that are difficult to change, decides to call them "good". My ethics, I want to consider it built on real things; happiness and suffering are for me real things, like water or stones, even if current physics does not know them. I cannot then, by convention, baptize anything "good". And also, this implies living in uncertainty, in ethical insecurity. Is it good to kill a snake, to save a large number of frogs? While these eat so many insects? They eat each other or harm plants. I don't know if they suffer, the plants, if they hurt when they choke on each other, poison themselves, get sick shade each other. In many cases, I do not know what is right. Or, what is right is too hard to assume: with each step I risk crushing ants. Maybe I should delete myself, to save ants? I will not do it.
  • Faced with the massive destruction of the environment by humans, environmentalists cling to the myth of Mother Nature to be preserved. I am revolted by the extermination of the foxes; this may seem contradictory to my revolt against what hare foxes do. I have a problem there that I cannot solve. And I have others, even more difficult. Why should I, in order to call a problem a problem, be able to suggest a solution, if possible within an hour? No one knows how to beat AIDS, but that does not prevent us from being aware that AIDS is a problem. And above all to seek solutions.
  • This discussion may seem purely abstract; neither the lions' vegan diet nor the fight against their predation is still on the agenda. It is undoubtedly preferable, strategically, to concentrate our efforts on the predation committed by the humans, i.e. on their consumption of meat. However, the way we see predation and the solutions we allow ourselves to imagine are not without consequences. There is a strong symbolic value, it seems to me, to affirm that it would be right to prevent predation, even at the cost of the life of the predator. It can also help us to feel more comfortable with the limited interventions that we can now practice in the wild, for example to protect a mouse from an owl. We may feel uncomfortable asking ourselves in Kant's way if we can want the maxim of our act to be a universal law, which would imply that the owl is starving. Accepting that indeed we may want to universalize this maxim can allow us to act more serenely.


  • [F]rom an antispeciesist view, which takes the interests of all sentient animals into account, whether they are human or not, what matters most is how their well-being is affected by our actions and omissions. It follows from this view that we have decisive reasons against performing negative interventions in nature (those with an expected net negative value for nonhuman animals). Similarly, it implies that, whenever it is in our power to do so, and if the intervention is expected to bring about more benefits than harms, we have decisive reasons to intervene in nature with the aim of helping the animals that live there.
  • These properties of animals, wherever they are found, must, I think, be referred to design; because there is, in all cases of the first, and in most cases of the second, an express and distinct organization provided for the producing of them ... the fangs of vipers, the stings of wasps and scorpions, are as clearly intended for their purpose, as any animal structure is for any purpose the most incontestably beneficial. And the same thing must ... be acknowledged of the talons and beaks of birds, of the tusks, teeth, and claws of beasts of prey, of the shark's mouth, of the spider's web, and of numberless weapons of offence belonging to different tribes of voracious insects. We cannot, therefore, avoid the difficulty by saying, that the effect was not intended. The only question open to us is, whether it be ultimately evil. From the confessed and felt imperfection of our knowledge, we ought to presume, that there may be consequences of this economy which are hidden from us: from the benevolence which pervades the general designs of nature, we ought also to presume, that these consequences, if they could enter into our calculation, would turn the balance on the favorable side.
  • These are the natures appropriated to the situation. Let [the wild beasts] enjoy their existence; let them have their country. Surface enough will be left to man, though his numbers were increased a hundred fold, and left to him, where he might live exempt from these annoyances.
  • Now, according to the established order of Nature, (which we must suppose to prevail, or we cannot reason at all upon the subject,) the three methods by which life is usually put an end to, are, acute diseases, decay, and violence. The simple and natural life of brutes is not often visited by acute distempers; nor could it be deemed an improvement of their lot, if it were. Lot it be considered, therefore, in what a condition of suffering and misery a brute animal is placed, which is left to perish by decay. In human sickness or infirmity, there is the assistance of man's rational fellow-creatures; if not to alleviate his pains, at least to minister to his necessities; and to supply thee of his own activity. A brute, in his wild and natural state, does every thing for himself. When his strength, therefore, or his speed, or his limbs, or his senses fail him, he is delivered over, either to absolute famine, or to the protracted wretchedness of a life slowly wasted, by the scarcity of food. Is it, then, to see the world filled with drooping, superannuated, half-starved, helpless, and unhelped animals, that you would alter the present system of pursuit and prey?
  • But then this superfecundity, though of great occasional use and importance, exceeds the ordinary capacity of nature to receive or support its progeny. All superabundance supposes destruction, or must destroy itself. Perhaps there is no species of terrestrial animals whatever, which would not overrun the earth, if it were permitted to multiply in perfect safety; or offish, which would not fill the ocean: at least, if any single species were left to their natural increase without disturbance or restraint, the food of other species would be exhausted by their maintenance. It is necessary, therefore, that the effects of such prolific faculties be curtailed. In conjunction with other checks and limits, all subservient to the same purpose, are the thinnings which take place among animals, by their action upon one another.
  • [T]he system of destruction amongst animals holds an express relation to the system of fecundity; that they are parts indeed of one compensatory scheme; is, that in each species the fecundity bears a proportion to the smallness of the animal, to the weakness, to the shortness of its natural term of life, and to the danger and enemies by which it is surrounded. An elephant produces but one calf: a butterfly lays six hundred eggs. Birds of prey seldom produce more than two eggs: the sparrow tribe, and the duck tribe, frequently sit upon a dozen. In the rivers, we meet with a thousand minnows for one pike; in the sea, a million of herrings for a single shark. Compensation obtains throughout. Defencelessness and devastation are repaired by fecundity.
  • [T]he subject ... of animals devouring one another, forms the chief, if not the only instance, in the works of the Deity, of an economy, stamped by marks of design, in which the character of utility can be called in question.
  • It is easy to romanticise, say, tigers or lions and cats. We admire their magnificent beauty, strength and agility. But we would regard their notional human counterparts as wanton psychopaths of the worst kind.
  • Much more seriously, in those traditional eco-systems that we chose to retain, millions of non-human animals will continue periodically to starve, die horribly of thirst and disease, or even get eaten alive. This is commonly viewed as "natural" and hence basically OK.
  • If we already lived in a cruelty-free world, the notion of re-introducing suffering, exploitation and creatures eating each other would seem not so much frightful as unimaginable – no more seriously conceivable than reverting to surgery without anaesthesia today.
  • Humans already massively intervene in Nature, whether through habitat destruction, captive breeding programs for big cats, "rewilding", etc. So the question is not whether humans should "interfere", but rather what ethical principles should govern our interventions.
  • The irrationality of the "appeal to Nature" is illustrated by a simple thought-experiment. Imagine, fancifully, if starvation, disease, parasitism, disembowelling, asphyxiation and being eaten alive were not endemic to the living world — or such miseries have already been abolished and replaced by an earthly paradise. Would anyone propose there is ethical case for (re)introducing them? Even proposing such a thought-experiment can sound faintly ridiculous.
  • More controversially, technology can accelerate the transition from harming to helping free-living sentient beings: mankind's fitfully expanding "circle of compassion". The civilising process needn't be species-specific but instead extend to free-living dwellers in tomorrow's wildlife parks. Every cubic metre of the biosphere will soon be computationally accessible to surveillance, micro-management and control. Fertility regulation via immunocontraception can replace Darwinian ecosystems governed by starvation and predation. Any species of obligate carnivore we choose to preserve can be genetically and behaviourally tweaked into harmlessness. Asphyxiation, disembowelling, and agonies of being eaten alive can pass into the dustbin of history.
  • Sound good? Nice parrots. However, they are merely postponing the point at which the red teeth and claws come into the picture. These parrot parents produce more than two offspring. What do you think happens to most of them? They go off and found happy egalitarian parrot families of their own? Maybe for a little while. But a species can't expand indefinitely. Most of these new parrots will get eaten or starve to death. The lucky few will go on to put dozens of new parrots into the world, for natural selection to claw apart and eat alive. r is evil, but K is not so great either.
    • Sarah Perry, Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide (2014) ISBN 978-0989697293
  • The moralistic fallacy is that what is good is found in nature. It lies behind the bad science in nature-documentary voiceovers: lions are mercy-killers of the weak and sick, mice feel no pain when cats eat them, dung beetles recycle dung to benefit the ecosystem and so on.
  • On top of all the miseries inflicted by predators and parasites, the members of a species show no pity to their own kind. Infanticide, siblicide, and rape can be observed in many kinds of animals; infidelity is common even in so-called pair-bonded species; cannibalism can be expected in all species that are not strict vegetarians; death from fighting is more common in most animal species than it is in the most violent American cities ... Perhaps biology would have been able to mature more rapidly in a culture not dominated by Judeo-Christian theology and the Romantic tradition. It might have been well served by the First Holy Truth from [Buddha's] Sermon at Benares: "Birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful..." As soon as we recognize that there is nothing morally commendable about the products of evolution, we can describe human psychology honestly, without the fear that identifying a "natural" trait is the same as condoning it. As Katharine Hepburn says to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."
  • It's no mystery why organisms sometimes harm one another. Evolution has no conscience, and if one creature hurts another to benefit itself, such as by eating, parasitizing, intimidating, or cuckolding it, its descendants will come to predominate, complete with those nasty habits. All this is familiar from the vernacular sense of "Darwinian" as a synonym for "ruthless" and from Tennyson's depiction of nature as red in tooth and claw.
  • I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I'm sure you'll agree. And even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.


  • Nature, it is urged, is cruel, and careless of the happiness of her millions of subjects. The woods where the poet found refreshment are a battlefield and a slaughter-house for other creatures. [That] pain and fear and bloodshed are a part of the law of life.
    • Walter Raleigh, Wordsworth (1903), p. 141
  • The suffering and death I saw seemed to me in some meaningful respect lamentable—that is, unfortunate, regrettable, worthy of sadness, the kind of thing it would be better if the world did not involve. What can be said for such a response, and what against it? Can my lamentation be rationally defended as appropriate, or must it be viewed as nothing more than mawkish sentimentalism? How should we view the fact that some animals need to kill other animals in order to live? Can a world in which animals did not kill each other, and indeed did not need to do so in order to live, plausibly be called a better one?
  • The great outer oceans teem with fish, reptiles, turtles, shellfish, worms and other creatures, as numerous as the grains of malt in the bottom of a beer-barrel. There are serpents and monsters so big that their bodies can wind many times around Mount Meru. Other creatures are as small as particles of dust or the tip of a needle.
    They all undergo immense sufferings. The bigger ones swallow up the smaller ones. The small ones burrow into the big ones and eat them alive in their turn. The big animals all have many tiny ones living inside them, feeding on their flesh. Some of these creatures are born between the continents, where the sun does not shine and where they cannot even see whether their limbs are bent in or stretched out. Stupid and ignorant, they have no comprehension of what to do and what not to do. They are reborn in places where suffering knows no bounds.
  • The wild animals that share our human world, in particular, live in constant fear. They cannot eat a single mouthful of food without being on their guard. They have many mortal enemies, for all animals prey on each other and there are always hunters, beasts of prey and other threats to life. Hawks kill small birds, small birds kill insects, and so on, continually amassing evil actions in an endless round of killing and being killed.
  • In our guardianship of the rights of animals, must we not protect the weak among them against the strong? Must we not put to death blackbirds and thrushes because they feed on worms, or (if capital punishment offends our humanitarianism) starve them slowly by permanent captivity and vegetarian diet? What becomes of the 'return to nature' if we must prevent the cat's nocturnal wanderings, lest she should wickedly slay a mouse? Are we not to vindicate the rights of the persecuted prey of the stronger? Or is our declaration of the rights of every creeping thing to remain a mere hypocritical formula to gratify pug-loving sentimentalists.
  • When we try to use psychologically based ethics to protect the flora or even the insentient fauna, to protect endangered species or ecosystems, we can only stammer. Wild nature is prolific, but not very compassionate, and what does it mean to respect life at the same time that we value natural processes? A bison fell through the ice into a river in Yellowstone Park; the environmental ethics there, letting nature take its course, forbade would-be rescuers from either saving or mercy killing the suffering animal. When the bighorn sheep of Yellowstone caught pinkeye, were blinded, injured, and starving as a result, 300 bighorns perished, over half the herd. Wildlife veterinarians wanted to treat the disease, but the Yellowstone ethicists left them to suffer, seemingly not respecting their life. Had they no mercy? No respect for life?
  • The Yellowstone ethicists let the bison drown, callous to its suffering; they let the blinded bighorns die. But in the spring of 1984 a sow grizzly and her three cubs walked across the ice of Yellowstone Lake to Frank Island, two miles from shore. They stayed several days to feast on two elk carcasses, when the ice bridge melted. Soon afterward, they were starving on an island too small to support them. This time the Yellowstone ethicists promptly rescued the grizzlies and released them on the mainland, in order to protect an endangered species. They were not rescuing individual bears so much as saving the species.
  • Letting nature take its ecosystemic course is why the Yellowstone ethic forbade rescuing the drowning bison, but rescued the sow grizzly with her cubs, the latter to insure that the big predators remain. After the bison drowned, coyotes and magpies, foxes and ravens fed on the carcass. Later, even a grizzly bear fed on it. All this is a good thing because the system cycles on, and the great bear, like the wolves, is a sparkling gem in the network. On that account rescuing the whales trapped in the winter ice seems less of a good thing, when we note that rescuers had to drive away polar bears that attempted to eat the dying whales.
  • The national park ethic has concluded that a simple extension of compassion from human, and Christian, ethics to wildlife does not appreciate their wildness. Perhaps we are beginning to see the trouble with rescuing those whales. Or maybe we are carrying this let-nature take-its-course ethic to extremes. We are beginning to worship nature. Has ethics here somehow gone wild in the bad sense, blinded by a philosophy of false respect for cruel nature? Can this indifference be the right ethics for wild animals? Can it be godly to say, "Let them suffer!"?
  • The rescue of individual animals—a couple of whales, a bison, a few deer—is humane enough and does not seem to have any detrimental effects, but that may not be the end of moral considerations, which ought to act on principles that can be universalized. Perhaps it brings these duties into clearer focus to consider populations, herds with hundreds of animals.
  • What we ought to do depends on what is. The is of nature differs significantly from the is of culture, even when similar suffering is present. A human being in a frozen river would be rescued at once; a human attacked by a wolverine would be flown by helicopter to the hospital. Bison and deer are not humans and we cannot give them identical treatment; still, if suffering is a bad thing for humans, who seek to eliminate it, why is suffering not also a bad thing for bison? We cannot give medical treatment to all wild animals; we should not interrupt a predator killing its prey. But when we happen upon an opportunity to rescue an animal with the pull of a rope, or mercy-kill it lest it suffer, why not? If we can treat a herd of blinded sheep, why not? If we can feed the deer, starving in the winter, why not? That seems to be what human nature urges, and why not let human nature take its course? That seems to be what Jesus urges, doing to others as you would have them do to you, and why not follow the golden rule?
  • [W]hether we look to animal pleasures or to animal pains, the result is alike just what we should expect to find on the supposition of these pleasures and pains having been due to necessary and physical, as distinguished from intelligent and moral, antecedents; for how different is that which is from that which might have been! Not only might beneficent selection have eliminated the countless species of parasites which now destroy the health and happiness of all the higher organisms; not only might survival of the fittest, in a moral sense, have determined that rapacious and carnivorous animals should yield their places in the world to harmless and gentle ones; not only might life have been without sickness and death without pain;—but how might the exigences and the welfare of species have been consulted by the structures and the habits of one another! But no! Amid all the millions of mechanisms and habits in organic nature, all of which are so beautifully adapted to the needs of the species presenting them, there is no single instance of any mechanism or habit occurring in one species for the exclusive benefit of another species—although, as we should expect on the non-theistic theory, there are some comparatively few cases of a mechanism or a habit which is of benefit to its possessor being also utilised by other species. Yet, on the beneficent-design theory, it is impossible to understand why, when all mechanisms and habits in the same species are invariably correlated for the benefit of that species, there should never be any such correlation between mechanisms and habits of different species. For how magnificent, how sublime a display of supreme beneficence would nature have afforded if all her sentient animals had been so inter-related as to minister to each other's happiness! Organic species might then have been likened to a countless multitude of voices, all singing to their Creator in one harmonious psalm of praise. But, as it is, we see no vestige of such correlation; every species is for itself, and for itself alone—an outcome of the always and everywhere fiercely raging struggle for life.
  • [S]upposing the Deity to be ... omnipotent—and there can be no inference more transparent than that such wholesale suffering, for whatever ends designed, exhibits an incalculably greater deficiency of beneficence in the divine character than that which we know in any, the very worst, of human characters. For let us pause for one moment to think of what suffering in nature means. Some hundreds of millions of years ago some millions of millions of animals must be supposed to have been sentient. Since that time till the present, there must have been millions and millions of generations of millions of millions of individuals. And throughout all this period of incalculable duration, this inconceivable host of sentient organisms have been in a state of unceasing battle, dread, ravin, pain. Looking to the outcome, we find that more than half of the species which have survived the ceaseless struggle are parasitic in their habits, lower and insentient forms of life feasting on higher and sentient forms; we find teeth and talons whetted for slaughter, hooks and suckers moulded for torment—everywhere a reign of terror, hunger, and sickness, with oozing blood and quivering limbs, with gasping breath and eyes of innocence that dimly close in deaths of brutal torture! Is it said that there are compensating enjoyments? I care not to strike the balance; the enjoyments I plainly perceive to be as physically necessary as the pains, and this whether or not evolution is due to design.
  • Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn's intense suffering is pointless. For there does not appear to be any greater good such that the prevention of the fawn's suffering would require either the loss of that good or the occurrence of an evil equally bad or worse. Nor does there seem to be any equally bad or worse evil so connected to the fawn's suffering that it would have had to occur had the fawn's suffering been prevented. Could an omnipotent, omniscient being have prevented the fawn's apparently pointless suffering?


  • The ways in which creatures in nature die are typically violent: predation, starvation, disease, parasitism, cold. The dying animal in the wild does not understand the vast ocean of misery into which it and billions of other animals are born only to drown. If the wild animal understood the conditions into which it is born, what would it think? It might reasonably prefer to be raised on a farm, where the chances of survival for a year or more would be good, and to escape from the wild, where they are negligible. Either way, the animal will be eaten: few die of old age. The path from birth to slaughter, however, is often longer and less painful in the barnyard than in the woods. Comparisons, sad as they are, must be made to recognize where a great opportunity lies to prevent or mitigate suffering. The misery of animals in nature—which humans can do much to relieve—makes every other form of suffering pale in comparison. Mother Nature is so cruel to her children she makes Frank Perdue look like a saint.
  • The principle of natural selection is not obviously a humanitarian principle; the predator-prey relation does not depend on moral empathy. Nature ruthlessly limits animal populations by doing violence to virtually every individual before it reaches maturity; these conditions respect animal equality only in the darkest sense.
  • When our interests or the interests of those we care for will be hurt, we do not recognize a moral obligation to "let nature take its course," but when we do not want to be bothered with an obligation, "that's just the way the world works" provides a handy excuse.
  • Where we can prevent predation without occasioning as much or more suffering than we would prevent, we are obligated to do so by the principle that we are obligated to alleviate avoidable animal suffering. Where we cannot prevent or cannot do so without occasioning as much or more suffering than we would prevent, that principle does not obligate us to attempt to prevent predation.
  • On the the other hand, refusing to accept and affirm, avoidable suffering, unfair distributions of of goods, uninhibited aggression, and and so forth, are refusals which have long been and continue to be part of everyday morality. As such, they they are are a well-established part of life as it is. Animal liberation extends such concerns, which have traditionally been focused on the human world and on human life, to include equal consideration consideration for animals. In this way, animal liberation is simply carrying on the business of everyday moral practice. Therefore, it does not loathe or deny life as it is. Rather, unlike Callicott's proposed retreat to the wilderness, animal liberation is participating in life and, hopefully, in its continuing moral evolution.
  • Baldner contends that is "arrogant" and "paternalistic" morally to condemn something as definitive of the natural order as predation. However, it is in the nature of morality to devise ideals of a better world and to work toward realizing them. This entails judging this world to be less than ideal and working to change it. One could restrict moral evaluations to the products of human activity, but that would be arbitrary: what makes suffering (prima facie) morally bad is not that it is the result of human activity but that it is suffering. Our commitment to making the world a morally better place impels us to make moral evaluations of the natural order. There need be nothing either arrogant or paternalistic in making and acting on such evaluations, provided we recognize the very limited nature of our understanding and our power to make improvements.
  • It is of the utmost importance to emphasize the fact that, whatever the legal fiction may have been, or may still be, the rights of animals are not morally dependent on the so-called rights of property; it is not to owned animals merely that we must extend our sympathy and protection. ... To take advantage of the sufferings of animals, whether wild or tame, for the gratification of sport, or gluttony, or fashion, is quite incompatible with any possible assertion of animals' rights.
  • Something rustled in front of them, close to the ground. The fern fronds and wood-lettuce concealed something that advanced in violent motion. A threadlike, little cry shrilled out piteously; then all was still. Only the leaves and the blades of grass shivered back into place. A ferret had caught a mouse. He came slinking by, slid sideways, and prepared to enjoy his meal.
  • Winter dragged on. Sometimes it was warmer, but then the snow would fall again and lie deeper and deeper, so that it became impossible to scrape it away. It was worst when the thaws came and the melted snow water froze again in the night. Then there was a thin slippery film of ice. Often it broke in pieces and the sharp splinters cut the deer's tender fetlocks till they bled.
  • It was silent in the woods, but something horrible happened every day. Once the crows fell upon Friend Hare's small son who was lying sick, and killed him in a cruel way. He could be heard moaning pitifully for a long while. Friend Hare was not at home, and when he heard the sad news he was beside himself with grief.
  • Another time the squirrel raced about with a great wound in his neck where the ferret had caught him. By a miracle the squirrel had escaped. He could not talk because of the pain, but he ran up and down the branches. Everyone could see him. He ran like mad. From time to time he stopped, sat down, raised his forepaws desperately and clutched his head in terror and agony while the red blood oozed on his white chest. He ran about for an hour, then suddenly crumpled up, fell across a branch, and dropped dead in the snow. A couple of magpies flew down at once to begin their meal.
  • Another day a fox tore to pieces the strong and handsome pheasant who had enjoyed such general respect and popularity. His death aroused the sympathies of a wide circle who tried to comfort his disconsolate widow.
    The fox had dragged the pheasant out of the snow, where he was buried, thinking himself well hidden. No one could have felt safer than the pheasant for it all happened in broad daylight. The terrible hardship that seemed to have no end spread bitterness and brutality. It destroyed all their memories of the past, their faith in each other, and ruined every good custom they had. There was no longer either peace or mercy in the forest.
  • The future really didn't look very bright for Gobo. He was weak. He had always been much more delicate than Bambi or Faline and remained smaller than either of them.
    He was growing worse from day to day. He could not eat even the little food there was. It made his stomach ache. And he was quite exhausted by the cold, and by the horrors around him. He shivered more and more and could hardly stand up. Everyone looked at him sympathetically.
  • "Did you see him?" the midges asked each other.
    "That's the old may-beetle," some of them hummed.
    Others said, "All of his offspring are dead.
    Only one is still alive. Only one."
    "How long will he live?" a number of midges asked. The others answered, "We don't know. Some of his offspring live a long time. They live forever almost...
    They see the sun thirty or forty times, we don't know exactly how many. Our lives are long enough, but we see the daylight only once or twice."
  • [A]nimals are not just subject to suffering like man, but subject to much more suffering; their existence is considered to be extremely unhappy, not only because they are exploited and tortured by man but also in nature itself, where the weaker one is threatened and devoured by the stronger, and, moreover, because at least many of them live on disgusting food or in uncomfortable places.
  • The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other.
  • If you try to imagine, as nearly as you can, what an amount of misery, pain and suffering of every kind the sun shines upon in its course, you will admit that it would be much better if, on the earth as little as on the moon, the sun were able to call forth the phenomena of life; and if, here as there, the surface were still in a crystalline state.
  • [T]he life of most insects is nothing but ceaseless labour to prepare food and an abode for the future brood which will arise from their eggs, and which then, after they have consumed the food and passed through the chrysalis state, enter upon life merely to begin again from the beginning the same labour; then also how, like this, the life of the birds is for the most part taken up with their distant and laborious migrations, then with the building of their nests and the collecting of food for the brood, which itself has to play the same rôle the following year; and so all work constantly for the future, which afterwards makes bankrupt;—then we cannot avoid looking round for the reward of all this skill and trouble, for the end which these animals have before their eyes, which strive so ceaselessly—in short, we are driven to ask: What is the result? what is attained by the animal existence which demands such infinite preparation? And there is nothing to point to but the satisfaction of hunger and the sexual instinct, or in any case a little momentary comfort, as it falls to the lot of each animal individual, now and then in the intervals of its endless need and struggle. If we place the two together, the indescribable ingenuity of the preparations, the enormous abundance of the means, and the insufficiency of what is thereby aimed at and attained, the insight presses itself upon us that life is a business, the proceeds of which are very far from covering the cost of it. This becomes most evident in some animals of a specially simple manner of life.
  • Take, for example, the mole, that unwearied worker. To dig with all its might with its enormous shovel claws is the occupation of its whole life; constant night surrounds it; its embryo eyes only make it avoid the light. It alone is truly an animal nocturnum; not cats, owls, and bats, who see by night. But what, now, does it attain by this life, full of trouble and devoid of pleasure? Food and the begetting of its kind; thus only the means of carrying on and beginning anew the same doleful course in new individuals. In such examples it becomes clear that there is no proportion between the cares and troubles of life and the results or gain of it. The consciousness of the world of perception gives a certain appearance of objective worth of existence to the life of those animals which can see, although in their case this consciousness is entirely subjective and limited to the influence of motives upon them. But the blind mole, with its perfect organisation and ceaseless activity, limited to the alternation of insect larvæ and hunger, makes the disproportion of the means to the end apparent. In this respect the consideration of the animal world left to itself in lands uninhabited by men is also specially instructive.
  • [I]n the simple and easily surveyed life of the brutes the emptiness and vanity of the struggle of the whole phenomenon is more easily grasped. The variety of the organisations, the ingenuity of the means, whereby each is adapted to its element and its prey contrasts here distinctly with the want of any lasting final aim; instead of which there presents itself only momentary comfort, fleeting pleasure conditioned by wants, much and long suffering, constant strife, bellum omnium [all war], each one both a hunter and hunted, pressure, want, need, and anxiety, shrieking and howling; and this goes on in secula seculorum [for eternity], or till once again the crust of the planet breaks.
  • [H]e saw in Java a plain far as the eye could reach entirely covered with skeletons, and took it for a battlefield; they were, however, merely the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long and three feet broad, and the same height, which come this way out of the sea in order to lay their eggs, and are then attacked by wild dogs , who with their united strength lay them on their backs, strip off their lower armour, that is, the small shell of the stomach, and so devour them alive. But often then a tiger pounces upon the dogs. Now all this misery repeats itself thousands and thousands of times, year out, year in. For this, then, these turtles are born. For whose guilt must they suffer this torment? Wherefore the whole scene of horror? To this the only answer is: it is thus that the will to live objectifies itself.
  • Certainly we know no higher game of chance than that for death and life. Every decision about this we watch with the utmost excitement, interest, and fear; for in our eyes all in all is at stake. On the other hand, nature, which never lies, but is always straightforward and open, speaks quite differently upon this theme, speaks like Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. What it says is: The death or the life of the individual is of no significance. It expresses this by the fact that it exposes the life of every brute, and even of man, to the most insignificant accidents without coming to the rescue. Consider the insect on your path; a slight, unconscious turning of your step is decisive as to its life or death. Look at the wood-snail, without any means of flight, of defence, of deception, of concealment, a ready prey for all. Look at the fish carelessly playing in the still open net; the frog restrained by its laziness from the flight which might save it; the bird that does not know of the falcon that soars above it; the sheep which the wolf eyes and examines from the thicket. All these, provided with little foresight, go about guilelessly among the dangers that threaten their existence every moment. Since now nature exposes its organisms, constructed with such inimitable skill, not only to the predatory instincts of the stronger, but also to the blindest chance, to the humour of every fool, the mischievousness of every child without reserve, it declares that the annihilation of these individuals is indifferent to it, does it no harm, has no significance, and that in these cases the effect is of no more importance than the cause. It says this very distinctly, and it does not lie; only it makes no comments on its utterances, but rather expresses them in the laconic style of an oracle. If now the all-mother sends forth her children without protection to a thousand threatening dangers, this can only be because she knows that if they fall they fall back into her womb, where they are safe; therefore their fall is a mere jest. Nature does not act otherwise with man than with the brutes. Therefore its declaration extends also to man: the life and death of the individual are indifferent to it. Accordingly, in a certain sense, they ought also to be indifferent to us, for we ourselves are indeed nature. Certainly, if only we saw deep enough, we would agree with nature, and regard life and death as indifferently as it does. Meanwhile, by means of reflection, we must attribute that carelessness and indifference of nature towards the life of the individuals to the fact that the destruction of such a phenomenon does not in the least affect its true and proper nature.
  • And to this world, to this scene of tormented and agonised beings, who only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; and in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man, a degree which is the higher the more intelligent the man is; to this world it has been sought to apply the system of optimism, and demonstrate to us that it is the best of all possible worlds. The absurdity is glaring. But an optimist bids me open my eyes and look at the world, how beautiful it is in the sunshine, with its mountains and valleys, streams, plants, animals, &c. &c. Is the world, then, a peep show? These things are certainly beautiful to look at, but to be them is something quite different.
  • Nature itself contradicts itself directly, according as it speaks from the individual or the universal, from within or from without, from the centre or the periphery. It has its centre in every individual; for each individual is the whole will to live. Therefore, even if this individual is only an insect or a worm, nature itself speaks out of it thus: "I alone am all in all: in my maintenance everything is involved; the rest may perish, it is really nothing." So speaks nature from the particular standpoint, thus from the point of view of self-consciousness, and upon this depends the egoism of every living thing. On the other hand, from the universal point of view,—which is that of the consciousness of other things, that of objective knowledge, which for the moment looks away from the individual with whom the knowledge is connected,—from without then, from the periphery nature speaks thus: "The individual is nothing, and less than nothing. I destroy millions of individuals every day, for sport and pastime: I abandon their fate to the most capricious and wilful of my children, chance, who harasses them at pleasure. I produce millions of new individuals every day, without any diminution of my productive power; just as little as the power of a mirror is exhausted by the number of reflections of the sun, which it casts on the wall one after another. The individual is nothing."
  • Predation itself, the intrinsic evil in nature's design of creatures devouring and absorbing one another to survive, is among the hardest of all things to fathom. One falls back in the end on the idea that it was not God's design at all.
    • Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (2003), p. 318
  • After Singer's talk, I began thinking through the consequences of his morality. A question occurred to me: "Should we also stop animals from eating each other?" I was sure others had made such arguments as reductio ad absurdums of vegetarianism, but I thought I might be the first to be genuinely interested in it from a moral perspective.
    "Of course not," said my friend. "It's not our fault if the animals kill each other." "You mean," I said, "that you think it's perfectly moral to let that guy" — I pointed at a random guy nearby — "go around killing people?" "Well, OK," he said. "But it's different with animals, because they don't know any better." "You mean it would be OK to let him go around killing people if he was mentally ill and didn't realize he was doing it?" "You should go ask Singer," he said.
    So I did — he was signing books outside the lecture hall and as the line ended I asked him my question. His answer was even better than I imagined: "We would if we knew how to do so without making things worse and disturbing the ecosystems and so on." "Thanks!" I said, impressed.
  • I cannot help but feel the suffering all around me, not only of humanity but of the whole of creation. I have never tried to withdraw myself from this community of suffering. It seemed to me a matter of course that we should all take our share of the burden of pain which lies upon the world.
  • The fact that in nature one creature may cause pain to another, and even deal with it instinctively in the most cruel way, is a harsh mystery that weighs upon us as long as we live. One who has reached the point where he does not suffer ever again because of this has ceased to be a man.
  • Nature is often perceived as an idyllic, beautiful and peaceful place, where wild animals live in freedom. This romanticized view conceals the fact that wild animals suffer in horrible ways. Far from being idyllic and peaceful, nature is actually "red in tooth and claw": at its heart it's all about competition. Animals are frequently eaten by predators – a horrific, extremely painful death. Food scarcity often leads to starvation, and wild animals endure injury and painful diseases without relief. Nature's cruelty knows no boundaries: For example, gulls peck out the eyes of baby seals, leaving them to die so they can later eat their remains. Some animals use venom to paralyze their prey and eat them piece by piece. Wild animals certainly also experience moments of happiness, but gruesome fates as described above are by no means exceptional. On the contrary, they are rather commonplace in nature, and even if a wild animal manages to avoid them, his or her life is for a large part a constant struggle for survival in a harsh and relentless environment.
  • For whatever praise you may hear, whatever love you may profess for the sea and mountains, the desert or marshes, plants and animals, nature doesn’t behave as a friend to humans or even as their symbiont. By means of waves, fire, typhoons, poisoning or devouring, it kills as calmly as bodies fall and eagles eat lambs. It doesn’t pardon any mistake.
  • A beastly ambition, which the gods grant thee t' attain to! If thou wert the lion, the fox would beguile thee; if thou wert the lamb, the fox would eat three: if thou wert the fox, the lion would suspect thee, when peradventure thou wert accused by the ass: if thou wert the ass, thy dulness would torment thee, and still thou livedst but as a breakfast to the wolf: if thou wert the wolf, thy greediness would afflict thee, and oft thou shouldst hazard thy life for thy dinner: wert thou the unicorn, pride and wrath would confound thee and make thine own self the conquest of thy fury: wert thou a bear, thou wouldst be killed by the horse: wert thou a horse, thou wouldst be seized by the leopard: wert thou a leopard, thou wert german to the lion and the spots of thy kindred were jurors on thy life: all thy safety were remotion and thy defence absence. What beast couldst thou be, that were not subject to a beast? and what a beast art thou already, that seest not thy loss in transformation.
  • In the wild, plagues of excess population are a rarity. The seas are not crowded with sunfish; the ponds are not brimming with toads; elephants do not stand shoulder to shoulder over the land. With few exceptions, animal populations are remarkably stable. On average, of each pair's offspring, only sufficient survive to replace the parents when they die. Surplus young die, and birth rates are balanced by death rates. In the case of spawners and egg layers, some young are killed before hatching. Almost half of all blackbird eggs are taken by jays, but even so, each pair usually manages to fledge about four young. By the end of summer, however, an average of under two are still alive. Since one parent will probably die or be killed during the winter, only one of the young will survive to breed the following summer. The high mortality rate among young animals is an inevitable consequence of high fecundity. Of the millions of fry produced by a pair of sunfish, only one or two escape starvation, disease or predators. Half the young of house mice living on the Welsh island of Skokholm are lost before weaning. Even in large mammals, the lives of the young can be pathetically brief and the killing wholesale. During the calving season, many young wildebeeste, still wet, feeble and bewildered, are seized and torn apart by jackals, hyenas and lions within minutes of emerging from their mothers' bellies. Three out of every four die violently within six months.
  • [F]or practical purposes I am fairly sure, judging from man's past record of attempts to mold nature to his own aims, that we would be more likely to increase the net amount of animal suffering if we interfered with wildlife, than to decrease it. Lions play a role in the ecology of their habitat, and we cannot be sure what the long-term consequences would be if we were to prevent them from killing gazelles. ... So, in practice, I would definitely say that wildlife should be left alone ... The remaining question is purely hypothetical, and perhaps it would be politic to refuse to answer it. Nevertheless, philosophers are supposed to answer hypothetical questions, so I will risk it. If, in some way, we could be reasonably certain that interfering with wildlife in a particular way would, in the long run, greatly reduce the amount of killing and suffering in the animal world, it would, I think, be right to interfere.
  • It must be admitted that the existence of carnivorous animals does pose one problem for the ethics of Animal Liberation, and that is whether we should do anything about it. Assuming that humans could eliminate carnivorous species from the earth, and that the total amount of suffering among animals in the world were thereby reduced, should we do it?
  • After long pondering, I believe that I can define good and evil in terms to which even a biologist of the mechanical school can hardly take exception. At least, I fancy that I can do so for evil.
    The great evil of life is parasitism.
  • I have come to view vegetarianism as a standing protest against predation, which is life's greatest evil. If there were no other argument in its favor, that would be sufficient.
  • [Predation is] a great evil that a wise or benevolent creator would have avoided.
  • Earth has no more distressing spectacle than that of a predator suddenly striking down some defenseless creature innocently singing or attending its young, no sight more pitifully repulsive than the hideously mangled remains of what, a few hours before, was a beautiful animal enjoying its life.
  • The evolutionary impulsion to increase fecundity, technically known as fitness, at whatever cost is responsible for most of the ugliness, strife, and suffering that afflict the living community on the fairest planet illuminated by the Sun.
  • [If evolution had been guided, the Earth would have become] the abode of a vast diversity of creatures dwelling in concord (instead of) a place of mixed character, where beauty and ugliness, peace and fear, happiness and horror, mingle together in the most perplexing contrasts.
  • That evolution has accomplished much that is splendid and admirable, it would be ungrateful to deny. That the means it has employed have often been ruthlessly harsh is a proposition to which every compassionate person will attest.
  • The wild life of nature, regarded simply as woodland glades, murmuring brooks, fragrant flowers and songful birds, or the tranquil emptiness of a seascape in calm weather, is restful and refreshing after the clangor and turmoil of human existence, especially in the crowded centers of population. Its myriad shapes and colors divert the fevered mind from its too-absorbing problems. But viewed with a more penetrating and philosophic eye, what spectacle could be more hideously revolting than that of countless animals, each busily stuffing itself with as many other living things as its maw can hold? Were this all that we could detect beneath the seemingly tran-quil face of nature, some who now turn to it for spiritual comfort and refreshment might shrink away in horror.
  • Sometimes, especially in inclement weather, incubating birds continue to cover their eggs while hungry, and even when they would appear to be suffering acutely from a long-continued fast. Many marine birds, especially of the penguin and petrel families, remain on their nests for days or even weeks without eating; and some Emperor Penguins, who incubate single eggs on the ice in the frigid gloom of midwinter at the edge of the Antarctic continent, pass about two months in an absolute fast. Must not birds at times experience gnawing pangs of hunger, while they slowly become emaciated from lack of nourishment?
  • Animals more obviously violate the concept of goodness, for none can live without tearing and devouring other organized beings, whether vegetables or other animals, or else sapping their strength as noxious parasites. The larger ambulatory animals can hardly move without crushing the herbage and multitudes of small creeping things; and all compete with each other for space and nourishment in the same manner as plants, but often far more violently. Moreover, they struggle for mates in a fashion wholly unknown among vegetables, even the milder herbivores sometimes exhibiting in their quarrels with rivals a fury that astounds us. Thus none is wholly good; yet those which devour only vegetation seem to be endowed by nature with a capacity for goodness lacking in those which kill and tear for food creatures more akin to themselves; while the fiercest kinds, which destroy living things that they do not require to sustain their own lives, fall most conspicuously short of goodness.
  • Beyond the limits of the most comprehensive actual society are living creatures whom our moral impulse bids us to include within our system of organized, reciprocal relations, although up to the present we have found this impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, we can at least reach out to help them when in distress, as by rescuing them from the pools and pits into which they sometimes fall, feeding them when hungry as far as our means allow, perhaps at times curing their wounds. Such charity is the truest sort, because we can never expect any extrinsic recompense nor even an indirect economic advantage from it. When we contemplate the vast amount of mutilation, suffering, and death which hourly occurs among the living creatures on this planet, and the complex relations among them which make it impossible for us to help one of them without perhaps indirectly injuring another, we sometimes suspect that our most devoted effort on behalf of nonhuman creatures is scarcely more than a gesture. Yet it is a gesture which symbolizes the comprehensive society that we aspire to create.
  • Not long ago I was sleeping in a cabin in the woods and was awoken in the middle of the night by the sounds of a struggle between two animals. Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs. One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another. [I]t seems to me that the horror I experienced on that dark night in the woods was a veridical insight. What I experienced was a brief and terrifying glimpse into the ultimately evil dimension of a godless world.
  • Although disease and suffering in animals are unpleasant and, perhaps, regrettable, biologists recognize that conservation is engaged in the protection of the integrity and continuity of natural processes, not the welfare of individuals. At the population level, the important processes are ultimately genetic and evolutionary because these maintain the potential for continued existence. Evolution, as it occurs in nature, could not proceed without the suffering inseparable from hunger, disease, and predation.
    For this reason, biologists often overcome their emotional identification with individual victims. For example, the biologist sees the abandoned fledgling or the wounded rabbit as part of the process of natural selection and is not deceived that "rescuing" sick, abandoned, or maimed individuals is serving the species or the cause of conservation. (Salvaging a debilitated individual from a very small population would be an exception, assuming it might eventually contribute to the gene pool.) Therefore, the ethical imperative to conserve species diversity is distinct from any societal norms about the value or the welfare of individual animals or plants. This does not in any way detract from ethical systems that provide behavioral guidance for humans on appropriate relationships with individuals from other species, especially when the callous behavior of humans causes animals to suffer unnecessarily. Conservation and animal welfare, however, are conceptually distinct, and they should remain politically separate.
  • [C]onsider the sea-hare Tethys, a shell-less, flabby sea-slug, actually a marine snail, which may be seen crawling about in tidal estuaries, somewhat resembling a rabbit crouched over. A California biologist estimated the number of eggs produced by a single animal during a single breeding season to be more than 478 million. And the adults sometimes occur by the hundred! Obviously all these eggs cannot mature, all this potential cannot, must not, become reality, else the ocean would soon be occupied exclusively by sea-hares. There would be no kindness in that, even for the sea-hares themselves, for in a few generations they would overflow the earth; there would be nothing for the rest of us to eat, and nothing for them unless they turned cannibal. On the average, probably no more than the biblical one or two attain full maturity. Somewhere along the way all the rest will have been eaten by predators whose life cycle is postulated upon the presence of abundant larvae of sea-hares and other forms as food—as all life itself is based on such a postulate.
  • Is there not a teaching of nature very apt to suggest horror and despair rather than a complacent brooding over soothing thoughts?
    • Leslie Stephen, "Wordsworth's Ethics", Cornhill Magazine, Vol. 34 (Aug. 1876)
  • Hobbes clearly proves that ev'ry Creature
    Lives in a State of War by Nature.
    The Greater for the Smallest watch,
    But meddle seldom with their Match.
    A Whale of moderate Size will draw
    A Shole of Herrings down his Maw.
    A Fox with Geese his Belly crams;
    A Wolf destroys a thousand Lambs.
  • So, Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
    Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
    And these have smaller Fleas to bite 'em,
    And so proceed ad infinitum


  • Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation's final law —
    Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek'd against his creed —
  • For nature is one with rapine, a harm no preacher can heal;
    The Mayfly is torn by the swallow, the sparrow spear'd by the shrike,
    And the whole little wood where I sit is a world of plunder and prey.
  • The Gods! but they, the shadows of ourselves,
    Have past for ever. It is Nature kills,
    And not for her sport either. She knows nothing.
    Man only knows, the worse for him! for why
    Cannot he take his pastime like the flies?
    And if my pleasure breed another’s pain,
    Well—is not that the course of Nature too,
    From the dim dawn of Being—her main law
    Whereby she grows in beauty—that her flies
    Must massacre each other? this poor Nature!
  • What happens in wildlife is indeed of moral concern, according to utilitarianism. When there is famine among the antelopes, the utilitarian sees a problem. It is as bad when wild animals suffer from natural causes, as it is when they are treated badly in the food industry. To the moral rights theorist ... it is not a moral problem when the wolf kills the lamb. It is a problem from the point of view of utilitarianism, however. If there is anything one can do about it, one should not hesitate to do it.
  • Is there anything we can do about animal suffering in wildlife? There was a time when many said that nothing should be done to obviate human suffering, since attempts to establish a welfare state would either be in vain, jeopardise what kind of welfare there happens to exist, or produce perverse (even worse) results. We rarely meet with that reaction any more. However, many seem to be ready to argue that wildlife constitutes such a complex system of ecological balances that any attempt to interfere must produce no good results, put into jeopardy whatever ecological 'balances' there happen to exist, or perversely make the situation even worse. This is not the place to settle whether they are right or not, but, certainly, there must exist some measures we could take, if we bothered to do so, rendering wildlife at least slightly less terrible. If this were so, we should do so, according to utilitarianism.
  • If we humans could 'civilize' wildlife, and provide better living and dying conditions to non-human animals, then we ought to do so. We ought to side with the lamb against the wolf.
  • Why did I feed these animals against all advice? Because we live in the same place, because they were individuals, because they had relatives, experience, a past, and desires, because they were cold and hungry, because they hadn't found enough to eat in the fall, because each had just one life.
  • The ignorant creature knows nothing of the wise doctrines of Malthus, but spawns forth as many children of all sorts as ever she can, without the least prudential restraint. She has consequently far more than she can properly feed and rear; so that a large part perishes in infancy (and we are told that none of these except the human sucklings will rise to another life; poor bereaved monkey and donkey mothers, for instance, being altogether without the precious consolations of immortality); a considerable part is eaten up by mankind and other hungry animals, and the remainder can seldom get food enough.
  • Just within the edge of the wood there, I see a small painted turtle on its back, with its head stretched out as if to turn over. Surprised by the sight, I stooped to investigate the cause. It drew in its head at once, but I noticed that its shell was partially empty. I could see through it from side to side as it lay, its entrails having been extracted through large openings just before the hind legs ... Such is Nature, who gave one creature a taste or yearning for another's entrails as its favorite tidbit!!


  • Man and animals are really the passage and the conduit of food, the sepulchre of animals and resting place of the dead, one causing the death of the other, making themselves the covering for the corruption of other dead [bodies].
  • [O mighty and once living instrument of formative nature. Incapable of availing thyself of thy vast strength thou hast to abandon a life of stillness and to obey the law which God and time gave to procreative nature.]
    Ah! how many a time the shoals of terrified dolphins and the huge tunny-fish were seen to flee before thy cruel fury, to escape; whilst thy fulminations raised in the sea a sudden tempest with buffeting and submersion of ships in the great waves; and filling the uncovered shores with the terrified and desperate fishes which fled from thee, and left by the sea, remained in spots where they became the abundant prey of the people in the neighbourhood.
  • Why did nature not ordain that one animal should not live by the death of another? Nature, being inconstant and taking pleasure in creating and making constantly new lives and forms, because she knows that her terrestrial materials become thereby augmented, is more ready and more swift in her creating, than time in his destruction; and so she has ordained that many animals shall be food for others. Nay, this not satisfying her desire, to the same end she frequently sends forth certain poisonous and pestilential vapours upon the vast increase and congregation of animals; and most of all upon men, who increase vastly because other animals do not feed upon them; and, the causes being removed, the effects would not follow. This earth therefore seeks to lose its life, desiring only continual reproduction; and as, by the argument you bring forward and demonstrate, like effects always follow like causes, animals are the image of the world.
  • Animals will be seen on the earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malignity; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the trees of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and, when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and wars and fury to every living thing; and from their immoderate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the too great weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth or in the waters which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed into another. And their bodies will become the sepulture and means of transit of all they have killed.
    O Earth! why dost thou not open and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven such a cruel and horrible monster?
  • I am a puny part of the great whole.
    Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
    All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
    Suffer like me, and like me also die.
    • Voltaire, "Poem on the Lisbon Disaster", Toleration and Other Essays (1912), p. 258
  • The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
    And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
    All's well, it seems, for it. But in a while
    An eagle tears the vulture into shreds;
    [...] Thus the whole world in every member groans:
    All born for torment and for mutual death.
    • Voltaire, "Poem on the Lisbon Disaster", Toleration and Other Essays (1912), pp. 258–259


  • There is, perhaps, no way in which one can obtain a more vivid idea of the intensity of the struggle for existence among organic beings than by the study of the inhabitants of a freshwater pond of long standing. Every inch of space in such a situation is teeming with life, both animal and vegetable, and the chief delight of most of the animals present is to wage a ceaseless warfare upon their weaker fellows.
  • It seems the insect kinds were at least one degree above the inhabitants of the waters. Almost all these too devour one another, and every other creature which they can conquer. Indeed, such is the miserably disordered state of the world at present, that innumerable creatures can not otherwise preserve their own lives than by destroying others. But in the beginning it was not so. The paradisiacal earth afforded a sufficiency of food for all its inhabitants; so that none of them had any need or temptation to prey upon the other. The spider was then as harmless as the fly, and did not then lie in wait for blood. The weakest of them crept securely over the earth, or spread their gilded wings in the air, that wavered in the breeze, and glittered in the sun, without any to make them afraid.
  • When it comes to wild animals, though, only the last [expression of normal behaviour] is guaranteed. They have to struggle to survive on a daily basis, from finding food and water to another individual to mate with. They don't have the right to comfort, stability, or good health. ... By the standards our governments have set, the life of a wild animal is cruelty.
  • The simple facts are that both predation and starvation are painful prospects for deer, and that the lion's lot is no more enviable.
  • Once Darwin fathomed natural selection, he surely saw how deeply his ethics were at odds with the values it implies. The insidious lethality of a parasitic wasp, the cruelty of a cat playing with a mouse — these are, after all, just the tip of the iceberg. To ponder natural selection is to be staggered by the amount of suffering and death that can be the price for a single, slight advance in organic design. And it is to realize, moreover, that the purpose of this "advance" — longer, sharper canine teeth in male chimpanzees, say — is often to make other animals suffer or die more surely. Organic design thrives on pain, and pain thrives on organic design.
  • I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than "Mother Nature" was ever perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation. One thinks of wild animals as savage, but the fiercest of them begins to look almost domesticated when one considers the viciousness required of a survivor in the sea; as for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by 'Mother Nature.' Each species must strive to survive, and that will do, by every means in its power, however foul—unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.


  • Why is so much of Nature at war with other parts of Nature? Because there isn't one Evolution directing the whole process. There's as many different "evolutions" as reproducing populations. Rabbit genes are becoming more or less frequent in rabbit populations. Fox genes are becoming more or less frequent in fox populations. Fox genes which construct foxes that catch rabbits, insert more copies of themselves in the next generation. Rabbit genes which construct rabbits that evade foxes are naturally more common in the next generation of rabbits. Hence the phrase "natural selection".
  • Why is Nature cruel? You, a human, can look at an Ichneumon wasp, and decide that it's cruel to eat your prey alive. You can decide that if you're going to eat your prey alive, you can at least have the decency to stop it from hurting. It would scarcely cost the wasp anything to anesthetize its prey as well as paralyze it. Or what about old elephants, who die of starvation when their last set of teeth fall out? These elephants aren't going to reproduce anyway. What would it cost evolution—the evolution of elephants, rather—to ensure that the elephant dies right away, instead of slowly and in agony? What would it cost evolution to anesthetize the elephant, or give it pleasant dreams before it dies? Nothing; that elephant won't reproduce more or less either way.
  • In a way, Darwin discovered God—a God that failed to match the preconceptions of theology, and so passed unheralded. If Darwin had discovered that life was created by an intelligent agent—a bodiless mind that loves us, and will smite us with lightning if we dare say otherwise—people would have said "My gosh! That's God!"
    But instead Darwin discovered a strange alien God—not comfortably "ineffable", but really genuinely different from us. Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn't be Jehovah. It would be H. P. Lovecraft's Azathoth, the blind idiot God burbling chaotically at the center of everything, surrounded by the thin monotonous piping of flutes.
    Which you might have predicted, if you had really looked at Nature.

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