A universal ethics looks beyond our divisions, and beyond the self. It includes everyone, including sentient non-humans.
- Practice good-heartedness toward all beings. . . . This is true spirituality. [Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, Life in Relation to Death (Padma Publishing, 1987, p. 28.)]
- The just man takes care of his beast, but the heart of the wicked is merciless. [The Bible, Proverbs, 12:10.]
Not everyone is a PETA, AHA or ASPCA member but there is widespread agreement in the United States that non-human animals should be afforded some measure of respect. Laws against animal abuse are widespread throughout the United States and in many other countries. Laws vary widely and many jurisdictions do not have any but at least the protection of other sentient creatures is a norm in many places.
This is not an ethically simple issue. Killing of other species for food and other purposes was a necessary part of our evolutionary past and remains necessary for the survival of many creatures today. We still have not mastered the challenge of treating other humans fairly but we should not allow that to detain us from striving to become a more ethical culture. Ethical treatment of other sentient creatures is an important part of our story.
- Norm Phelps, The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to Peta (Lantern Books, 2007).
- Ted Kerasote, Merle's Door: Lessons From a Freethinking Dog (Harcourt Books, 2007).
- Dame Daphne Sheldrick, Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012): about a woman who reared newborn elephants, lovingly.
- Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). “The author has dedicated this book to ‘all those who work to protect the oceans.’”
- James M. Colby, Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator (Oxford University Press, 2018): an argument that captivity may have saved the orca from extinction
- Ted Genoways, The Chain: Farms, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2014): “ . . . Ted Genoways describes in appalling detail what goes into . . . Spam. The ingredients on the label — pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrite — may sound harmless. But Genoways argues that the industrial system behind those little cans is inextricably linked to a variety of social problems: animal cruelty, water pollution, food-borne illness, worker exploitation, a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, government corruption and largely unchecked corporate power.”
- Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, Wildhood: The Epic Journey From Adolescence To Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals (Scribner, 2019): “Traveling around the world and drawing from their latest research, they find that the same four universal challenges are faced by every adolescent human and animal on earth: how to be safe, how to navigate hierarchy; how to court potential mates; and how to feed oneself. Safety. Status. Sex. Self-reliance.”
- Jennifer Ackerman, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think (Penguin Press, 2020): “. . . more than a litany of trivia for your next ornithology-themed cocktail party. Ackerman takes a sledgehammer to the walls we’ve erected between ourselves and our fellow creatures.”
- Patrik Svensson, The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the World (Ecco, 2020): “A combination of natural history, memoir and metaphysical musing . . . (this book) won the August Prize, the country’s most prestigious literary award.”
- Ernest Freeberg, A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement (Basic Books, 2020): “The book is above all a compassionate, highly readable account of the 19th-century plight of animals, especially urban animals — and of those who tried to come to their rescue.”
- Carl Safina, Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace (Henry Holt and Company, 2020): “More compelling than facts about species are tales of individuals — characters, with personality — living among peers or kin. So it’s the stories of Safina’s days with these animals that move us: the distinctive rhythms of the whales’ 'vertical lives' (they travel from surface to depths to hunt, and sleep vertically); the social complexities of chimpanzee life; the sometime silliness of macaw life, as when the birds 'goof off' together, hanging upside down.”
- Elena Passarello, Animals Strike Curious Poses (Sarabande Books, 2017): “. . . biographies of famous animals from Yuka the mummified mammoth (37,000 B.C.) to Cecil the Lion (2015), taking in on the way a menagerie as various as Albrecht Dürer’s rhinoceros; Elizabethan fighting bears; Mr. Ed; a space-station spider; and the tortoise reputedly kidnapped by Darwin”.
- Peter Godfrey-Smith, Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020):”Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?”
- Jonathan Balcombe, Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects (Penguin Press, 2021): “. . . far from operating on autopilot, flies exhibit discerning social lives, idiosyncratic behavior and sensitivities to stimuli that are not dissimilar to our own.”
- Susan Orlean, On Animals (Avid Reader Press, 2021): essays from the point of view that “there is no human-animal relationship, for we are all animals, and what happens to the least among us on this crowded planet happens to us all.”
- Leila Philip, Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America (Twelve, 2022): “Despite all its hard work, the species known as Castor canadensis, or the North American beaver, commands too little respect.”
On the dark side:
Histories of zoos:
- Isobel Charman, The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of the London Zoo: 1826-1851 (Pegasus Books, 2017). “ . . . the founders’ aim was to dispel human ignorance about God’s creatures.” (Draw your own conclusions.)
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Cass R. Sunstein and Martha S. Nussbaum, Animal Rights, Current Debates and New Directions (Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Diane L. Beers, For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States (Swallow Press, 2006).
- Bernard E. Rollin, Animal Rights & Human Morality (Prometheus Books, Third Edition, 2006).
- Susan Armstrong and Neil Botzler, eds., The Animal Ethics Reader (Routledge, 2008).
- Peter Carruthers, The Animals Issue: Moral Theory in Practice (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
- Robert W. Lurz, ed., The Philosophy of Animal Minds (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- Frans de Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016): “ . . . cognition must be understood as an evolutionary product, like any other biological phenomenon; it exists on a spectrum, de Waal argues, with familiar forms shading into absolutely alien-looking ones.”
- Jennifer Ackerman, The Genius of Birds (Penguin Press, 2016): “Ackerman writes about birds’ genius for wayfinding; their memories; the neuro-scientific overlap of bird song and human language; avian architecture (a bird called the long-tailed tit builds a nest out of ‘roughly 6,000 pieces’); their canny, sophisticated social intelligence, their social learning and the evidence of their empathy.”
- Justin Gregg, If Nietszche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity (Little, Brown & Company, 2022): “Gregg’s clever and provocative book is full of irreverent notions and funny anecdotes — the creative upside to being a human animal. But our ability to abstract from our immediate experience means we can take that creativity too far.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History
- One Lucky Elephant: on the ethical problems of keeping wild animals captive
- Project Nim, on a chimpanzee, cleverly named Nim Chimpsky, who was used, often unethically, to study language development in non-humans: a documentary about a “collision between two species”
- Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry
- Echo and Other Elephants
- Echo: An Unforgettable Elephant
- Dolphins: The Ultimate Guide
- Dolphins: The Great Barrier Reef
- Private Lives of Dolphins
- A Life Among Whales
- In the Company of Whales
- Blue Whale documentaries
- Why We Love Cats & Dogs
- Dogs That Changed the World
- Dogs: Big and Small
- Man’s Best Friend
- Amazing Dogs
- Documentaries on various breeds of dogs
- Big Cats
- Pallas’s Cat: Master of the Plains
- Cats Caressing the Tiger
- The Secret Life of Cats
- Species of Cats
- The Wonderful World of Cats
- Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies
- Nature: Life of Rare Panda
- Nature: Bears
- Grizzly Bears
- Nature: Horses
- The Noble Horse
- Colorful Birds of the Rainforest
- Owl’s Nature
- A Chimpanzee’s Tale
- Among the Wild Chimpanzees
- Animal Minds
- Trophy: on hunting for sport, and on strategies for wildlife preservation
- Kedi, a documentary ode to cats in Istanbul, Turkey
- Pavel Filonov, Animals (1930)
- Pierre Bonard, Little Girl With a Cat (1899)
- Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals (1913)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- The Carpenters, “Bless the Beasts and the Children”
- Nawang Khechog, “Last Stand of the Wild Things”
- Nawang Khechog, “Universal Compassion”
- Yungchen Lhamo, “Compassion for All Beings”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Western “classical” works:
- Jennifer Higdon, Dark Wood (2001) (approx. 12’): in this chamber work for mixed instruments, the bassoon evokes an animal in a forest (violin, cello and piano).
- Leoš Janáček, Concertino for piano left hand & chamber ensemble, JWVII/11 (1925) (approx. 15-17’) “depicts the world of nature: the antics of a grumpy hedgehog, chattering squirrels, screeching owls.”
- Hamilton Harty, Ode to a Nightingale, for soprano & orchestra (1907) (approx. 23’)
- Einar Englund, Symphony No. 2, "The Blackbird" (1948) (approx. 30’)
- Malcolm Arnold, Carnival of Animals, Op. 72 (1960) (approx. 9’)
- Camille Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnaval des animaux), R. 125 (1887) (approx. 25’), “consists of 14 movements forming a suite, and utilizes two pianos, a xylophone, strings, glass harmonica, clarinet, and flute. The composer offers an amusing portrait of various animals by utilizing various instruments – either singularly or via combinations.” Because the work is comic in nature, we can best hear it as a celebration of animal species. An excellent recorded performance of the orchestral version with narrator features the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta conducting, in 1983. Neeme Järvi conducted the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in a version without narrator in 2015. The best chamber version performances, perhaps, are by Béroff, Collard, et. al., in 1977, and Braley, Dalberto, et. al., in 2003.
- Peter Warlock, The Curlew (1922) (approx. 24’): here are lyrics to the song cycle.
- Robert Carl, White Heron (2012) (approx. 9’)
- Carl, What’s Underfoot (2016) (approx. 16’)
- Elena Ruehr, String Quartet No. 7, “A Thousand Cranes” (2019) (approx. 14’)
- Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Gift of the Tortoise” (1993) (37’): “. . . is a children's album of Zulu songs and stories . . .”
- Imee Ooi, “The Chant of Metta” (1999) (53’), “is new age music of Buddhist chants and healing music.”
- Paul Winter, “Prayer for the Wild Things” (1993) (68’): “Paul Winter writes: 'I envisioned an imaginary journey through a day and night in the Northern Rockies, based on a series of vignettes about the animals . . .'”
- Peter Brötzmann, “Little Birds Have Fast Hearts No. 1” (1998)
- Ron Samworth, “Dogs Do Dream” (2017) (58’): “ Each track presents a coherent personality, but with so many being so different, the sum-total assumes a rather collage-like character.”
- Fred Frith & Darren Johnston, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Nobody” (2016) (46’) “They're not averse to co-opting rhythms (Frith) or melodic figures (Johnston), meaning that what we have here can be termed the accessible avant-garde.”
- The Smudges, “Song and Call” (2022) (53’): “The source material consists of bird songs and calls that have been slowed down up to 10 times normal speed, as well as bamboo wind chimes from the garden, and a Tibetan singing bowl.”
- Xochimoki, “Temple of the New Sun” (2021) (41’): an album evoking primordial animal spirits. “Xochimoki, which translates as ‘Flower of the ancient Ones’ was formed in 1984, by North American ethnomusicologist Jim Berenholz and Aztec descendant and Mexican wisdom keeper, Mazatl Galindo. Their specific goal was to bring together the North and South Americas, utilising the pre- Columbian instruments of the Aztecs, Mayans and other Mesoamerican civilizations.”
- “Simmerdim: Curlew Sounds” (2022) (103’), is an album “inspired by one of the UK’s most iconic and endangered birds, the Eurasian curlew . . . The curlew’s song, with sounds that seem to overlap between major and minor, makes them haunting, melancholic and strangely ecstatic, all at the same time.”
Open the links for lists of children’s books about animals.