Thought provoking quote : Charles Darwin
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Although Darwin was never an animal rights advocate his theory of evolution has profound implications for the way in which we consider our relationship to non human animals and the way we treat them.
In The Descent of Man Darwin points out that the “lower animals”, even insects, feel pain, are capable of play, and experience emotions such as pleasure and misery just like human beings.
“… the lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. Happiness is never better exhibited than by young animals, such as puppies, kittens, lambs, etc., when playing together, like our own children. Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber (7. ‘Recherches sur les Moeurs des Fourmis,’ 1810, p. 173.), who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies.”
Darwin sees similar attributes in animals as those present in man such as terror and deceit, he writes:
“The fact that the lower animals are excited by the same emotions as ourselves is so well established, that it will not be necessary to weary the reader by many details. Terror acts in the same manner on them as on us, causing the muscles to tremble, the heart to palpitate, the sphincters to be relaxed, and the hair to stand on end. Suspicion, the offspring of fear, is eminently characteristic of most wild animals. It is, I think, impossible to read the account given by Sir E. Tennent, of the behaviour of the female elephants, used as decoys, without admitting that they intentionally practise deceit, and well know what they are about.”
Darwin points out that animals are capable of love by using the example of dogs, the animal with whom most humans are familiar :
“The love of a dog for his master is notorious; as an old writer quaintly says Quoted by Dr. Lauder Lindsay, in his ‘Physiology of Mind in the Lower Animals,’ ‘Journal of Mental Science,’ April 1871, p. 38.), “A dog is the only thing on this earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
In the agony of death a dog has been known to caress his master, and every one has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection, who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless the operation was fully justified by an increase of our knowledge, or unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life.”
Darwin states the human sense of morality can be traced back to instinctive social behaviour in animals which leads them to feel sympathy for one anothers plight, find pleasure in association with each other and to perform acts of service and kindness and the offering of mutual assistance to their fellow creatures.
Along with anecdotes Darwin goes on to cite many examples of the emotions and characteristics of animals that are the same as those in man, such as wonder, curiosity, memory, imagination, reason, the faculty of attention, language and so on. In addition Darwin discusses self-consciousness and mental individuality in animals.
It is clear from his writings in The Descent of man that Darwin considered that animals were thinking feeling sentient beings.
For a free copy of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex:
In his book ‘The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals’ Darwin again challenges the idea that animals have no conscious thought and act in a machine-like way, as was claimed by some philosophers, such as Descartes. It is obvious that Darwin thought that a lot more was going on in the minds of animals than human beings generally give them credit for and in the aforementioned book Darwin again deals with the parallels between human and non human animals.
For a free e-copy of The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals:
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin – Project Gutenberg
Even though Charles Darwin was not an advocate for animal rights in the literal sense of the term and was never a vegetarian, he had however much to say concerning our relationship with animals which may have relevance for the way in which animals are treated.
Read more about Darwin and what he had to say about our relationship with animals including more quotes from the Descent of Man:
Animal Rights, A history, Charles Darwin: