The Ethics of Hunting: Some Philosophical Questions to Consider

Photo Credit: Kelly Cox

In these two articles, some philosophical questions about the morality of hunting are explored.

Article 1

In the first article, “Is Hunting Moral?  A Philosopher Unpacks the Question,” Philosophy Ph.D. candidate, Joshua Duclos, discusses:

  • Some of the rationales for why people hunt — conservation, subsistence, and trophy/sport hunting
  • What bothers many people about hunting — harm, necessity, and character
  • The relationship between naturalness and virtue and the challenges associated with the naturalness-morally good argument.

As a nonhunter, I cannot say anything about what it feels like to shoot or trap an animal. But as a student of philosophy and ethics, I think philosophy can help us clarify, systematize and evaluate the arguments on both sides. And a better sense of the arguments can help us talk to people with whom we disagree. — Joshua Duclos

The author’s intent is not to argue in favor or against hunting…but, rather, to introduce some of the philosophical nuts and bolts of the “is hunting moral?” debate, as well as make clear various distinctions.  To read Article 1 in its entirety, click here.

Article 2

In the second article, “The Ethics of Hunting:  Can We Have Our Animal Ethics & Eat Them Too?,”  Michael P. Nelson, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife & the Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University, and Kelly F. Millenbah, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, discuss some of the the literature on both sides of the debate regarding the morality of hunting (as it concerns animal welfare)

“When confronted with articulate and reasoned arguments from animal welfare ethicists,” they state, “those interested in defending hunting have three [basic] choices”

  • Acquiesce and maintain that hunting is fundamentally incompatible with the direct moral standing of nonhuman animals
  • Deny nonhuman animals direct moral standing
  • Grant nonhuman animals direct moral standing and maintain that this is fundamentally compatible with hunting

[T]his third alternative suggests the challenge lies in articulating a position that unites hunting with a respect for life in its many forms.  A system where animals are respected but not hunted seems unacceptable to some in the wildlife community, while a system where animals are hunted but not respected seems unacceptable to nearly everyone.  The challenge is to answer the question: Can we both respect and hunt animals?  Can we have our animal ethics and eat them too? — Michael P. Nelson & Kelly F. Millenbah

Further, they say, the task ahead, is:

…to meld the philosopher’s’…grasp of ethics with the wildlife ecologists’ real-world and empirical knowledge…Certainly this conversation will be weird and uncomfortable at times….[But] given the limited progress in the debate over the ethics of hunting, we can no longer afford to avoid such discomfort.  It is hard to imagine a more appropriate way to honor the legacy of Aldo Leopold and Olaus Murie. — Michael P. Nelson & Kelly F. Millenbah

To read Article 2 in its entirety, click here.

Additional Resources to Explore

Some Articles & Books


Watch & listen to audio/video and view photos from each walk in our 3-Part Fall Philosophy Walk Series on environmental ethics, conservation, preservation, hunting & hunting ethics, wildlife management, governance/policy & community.

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