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Discussion 2 to Reflections on Ethics 61
The Moral Code of Animals

by: Dan Hendricks

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I am just going to address one question raised in Reflection 61, and that is this:

Does that mean that other animals also have moral codes?

To which my answer would be; yes, if they had the mental capacity to think of them as such.

In particular, I am thinking of large carnivore intra-group fighting.  Lions or wolves fighting over who will lead a pack immediately comes to mind.  In most large carnivore groups, fights are rarely to the death.  These animals tend to have offensive attributes far beyond their defensive ones.  A lion can easily do enough damage to kill another lion, but rarely does so.  Logically, from an evolutionary stand point, it makes sense for them to not do so.  You simply cannot have a death or two every time there is a question of pecking order.  Instead, if two lions are fighting for leadership, and one yowls in defeat, the other lets them go.  Fighting to the death could too easily result in both lions being killed.  The victor could very easily sustain wounds that would kill them over time.  Releasing an opponent who admits defeat allows both lions to continue contributing to the group.

Now, you could easily claim from this that lions have an almost chivalric moral code of not killing enemies who have surrendered.  Were lions capable of introspection they might agree.  But there is not any deep moral thought here.  It is simply a policy that helps their society (the pride's hierarchy) continue with the least amount of stress.  Just as a discouragement of murder, adultery, lies, and theft help our own human societies continue reasonably peacefully. 

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