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Introduction According to the first chapter of the Genesis God gave man the dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth1 Throughout history the view that man can arbitrarily dispose of not only animals but also plants and the whole environment has persisted and was never questioned It was only in the last century that some philosophers were starting to rethink the traditional moral standing of non-human creatures Especially in the last two decades an intensive discussion of this matter arose In what follows I will try to give a picture of what is currently thought to be the moral status of non-human entities concentrating on animals but also considering plants Historical development In Western ethics non-human animals were until quite recent times accorded a very low moral status 2 if any at all The medieval philosopher St Thomas Aquinas for instance argued that because of animals lacking rationality we do not have any duties of charity or beneficence towards them One of the few reasons we could have for not being cruel to them is as Aquinas puts it to remove mans thoughts from being cruel to other men lest trough being cruel to animals one become cruel to human beings 3 Sharing Aquinas opinion that animals are non-rational but expressing it in a more extreme way R Descartes believed that animals are like machines or automata able to move and emit sounds but not being sentient Modern science has proven Descartes view wrong all higher animals such as mammals or birds do feel pain at least as acute as we do for many of their senses are far better developed than ours eg vision in birds of prey hearing in dogs etc Because of their not being conscious and autonomous the German philosopher Immanuel Kant asserted
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