Do animals have morality?

( – Do animals have morality?

Akhandadhi das: There have been a number of scientific studies recently that try to analyze if animals have any form of morality. This is obviously complex since it is nigh impossible to get inside the mind of a poor dumb creature and there is always the accusation of anthropomorphizing.

The subject is important to many people because there seems to be various beliefs with vested interests in the interpretations. For instance, Charles Darwin believed that animals expressed morality and that what we understand as morality in humans was derived from the primitive form in lower creatures. This is important as the basis for evolutionary psychology.

This was in direct contrast with Biblical creationists who need to believe that there is a major moral distinction between humans and the animal kingdom. In their mind, morality is the prerogative of the soul which can only be found in humans.

I suppose I also need to mention my preconception informed by my interest in Vedanta philosophy. Vedanta asserts that all living beings are activated by the presence of the life force (atma or soul, if you like). Although there is no difference in the potency of the atma whichever type of body it inhabits, there is a limiting or conditioning effect when the soul is inside different species. The result is a hierarchy of conscious awareness from humans down through the species to a bacteria or whatever. So, Vedanta, in common with the evolutionary psychologists, would expect to see humanlike expressions in our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.

There are many examples of caring behavior in the animal world. Certainly, we see the care, even sacrifice, of mother animals for their children. But also, certain primates will share and feed other blind or indisposed members of their group, not their relatives. In one experiment, chimps were receiving food by placing tokens in a machine. One chimp was having problems inserting the tokens, so another chimp intervened and inserted the tokens for her and let her take the food. Bonobo apes have shown kindness in helping other species. A friend of mine, tells of being rescued by dolphins who swam between him and some circulating sharks. The dolphins remained by his side until he reached the shore.

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