Is hunting morally acceptable?


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Unarmed but dangerous critics close in on hunting.

Editor's note: The people she most wants to talk to are the men and women who stalk animals and shoot to kill - the people who make moral choices in a split second. She is Ann Causey, a botanist and zoologist who teaches philosophy at Auburn University in Alabama. In a 1989 essay in the journal Environmental Ethics, and in a later article in Bugle, the magazine of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, she asked a question that continues to reverberate: Is hunting moral?

She's still looking for answers:

Is hunting morally acceptable? Those who support hunting usually respond by citing data: acres of habitat protected by hunting-generated funds, how many game species have experienced population increases due to modern game management, how much the economy is stimulated by hunting-generated revenues, and so on. Hunters also assure the public that hunters, more than most citizens, care deeply about ecosystem integrity.

These statements may be true but they are almost totally irrelevant to the question. Anti-hunters are not asking whether hunting is an effective management tool or whether hunters appreciate nature. They are asking: "Is it moral to kill animals for sport? Are any forms of hunting morally right?"

The hunter answers what he or she perceives is a question about utility and prudence, but his opponent has intended to ask a question about morality. It is as if one asked what day it is and the other responded by giving the time.

Our obsession with "sound, objective science" in addressing our opponents has led many hunting proponents not only to avoid the crucial issues, but also to actually fuel the fires of the anti-hunting movement. Outsiders to hunting are primarily concerned about the pain and suffering and loss of life inflicted on hunted animals and about the motives and attitudes of those who hunt.

They are offended by references to game animals as "resources." They are angered by the sterile language, and by implication, the emotionally sterile attitudes of those who speak of "culling," "controlling," and "managing" animals.

Anti-hunters insist that non-trivial reasons be given for intentional human-inflicted injuries or deaths, or that these injuries and deaths be stopped.

This is, in my view, an eminently reasonable request.

To be ethical, we must do two things: We must act ethically, and we must think ethically. What's needed for truly moral hunting to flourish is not just a change of appearance or vocabulary but a change of mindset, a deepening of values.

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