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Do ecosystems thrive on the survival of the fittest?

This is a philosophical and practical question. Recently the concept of animal rights has been hanging over my head. Conventional wisdom tells us animals are not moral agents but moral patients; therefore we should extend rights to animals. Namely, the right not to be harmed or eaten. But if we truly consider them as moral patients, then the morally appropriate thing to do would not be to leave them alone to their own savagery. Instead, we should proactively create a benign environment for all organisms to thrive in harmony.

But this ethical judgement should be tempered by reality. Is it true that ecosystems thrive on the survival of the fittest? What keeps ecosystems running? What role does a food chain play in keeping an ecosystem running? Is it even possible to have a harmonious environment for all creatures where no food chain is necessary? If the practical answer is no, then I find myself thinking that the whole ethical argument for animal rights cannot hold.

Philosophically, animals hunt one another. You cannot stop carnivores from killing and eating other animals since it is a necessary part of their diet, but at the same time it is your moral duty to extend rights to those animals. There can be no moral solution to this unless you are prepared to call for the extermination of carnivores. While you may not need to harm animals, you cannot go as far as to say that special rights should be extended to them the way we extend it to all human beings.

In fact, the above premise can be applied to humans as well.

What do you think?

Edit: The recent debate titled "Do not eat anything with a face" offered some insights for me. To check it out, visit

  • Dec 9 2013: If you practically look through the lens of nature , then there is not ethics or morality.Nature functions in its own ways according to its own laws.Ethics and Morality is the creation of human beings to live together in a civilized way.

    Food chain is the creation of Nature , it is not the creation of human beings.Animals do have the right to live.Also you cannot expect that carnivores become herbivores.

    The animal rights can only be extended towards the better treatment of animals and minimizing the reckless killing of animals in the name of food chain.
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      Dec 9 2013: Hey, thanks for commenting. I know this is a really old topic to debate, but the recent IQ2 debate on animal rights rekindled my attention.

      I see you agree with my present conclusion that animal rights can only be enforced within the existing framework of the global meat industry to minimize the suffering of farm animals rather than to grant all animals the right to live - it is simply impractical. I suspect this is also the reason animal rights activists tend to emphasize the health benefits of vegetarianism instead of the economics of the global food industry.

      Beyond the practicality, though, I still think the whole concept of "moral patient" as somewhat fuzzy and open to debate. Do bugs have animal rights? Are neural systems really so crucial in deciding animal rights?

      Most importantly, I cannot accept that animals that kill one another can enjoy moral patienthood. Where is the moral accountability in all of this? If there is none for animals, it seems to me that all these lost lives are taken for granted as lost simply because animals are moral patients. Something just doesn't quite add up here though I cannot elaborate. I just get the feeling that this concept of moral patienthood simply grants non-human species a pass to free ride on moral laws.
      • Dec 11 2013: Your example of Bug is interesting. And if we extended this list to flies,
        mosquitoes,cockroaches,rodents,lice,insects,bacteria and virus then what will be the moral and ethical outcome.

        Let us have some philosophical talk now.

        We human beings believe and think that we are the Actors who act on their own instincts, but it is not so, but we are the actors who are merely the instruments in the hands of nature.When we think that we are actors who act on their own instinct then using the morality and ethics we will make us to remain hungry and after some time we will die out.

        But, when we accept and appreciate that we are just instruments in the hands of nature and then when we apply morality and ethics then it will be a balance way.

        During the time of Mahabharata(Indian Mythology) on the battle field when Arjuna was emotionally low due to the morality and ethics because he has to fight with his own mentor,guru and master.At that time he decided to flee away from the battle field. It is then Krishna motivated him and said that to take active participation in the war is his moral and ethical duty.And even if he has to fight with his own master,mentor and guru because he(Arjuna) is just an instrument in the hands of nature . He is not fighting own his own but he is acting as per the play of nature.

        Now, if you look at your own conversation then the question is why have started the conversation. Then why I have and others have commented on your conversation.If you look through the lens of science the answer will be different.If you look through the lens of psychology you get different answer. And if you look through the lens of nature then it will be different answer.

        There is some unknown , unseen force , energy which is working behind the scene due to which we are interacting with each other.
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    Dec 9 2013: The only right any living being seem to have is freedom in its own habitat. If we choose not to be cruel with animals, it is not an animal right, it is a human right of anti cruelty to animals. Humans cannot grant rights to non humans.
    But what exactly is the eco-system connection here?
  • Dec 9 2013: Morality is an artificial human invention, that's so relative you get even get two people to fully agree on exactly what's right and what's wrong.
    There is no morality in nature. The vast majority of animals lead short and brutal lives, and most don't have the intelligence to appreciate their situation regardless.

    Survival of the fittest isn't there to get ecosystems to thrive, its simply how it works. Its like how gravity keeps the solar system in one piece--its not thriving, that's just the way it is.