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Home arrow Environment arrow Pets and People: The Ethics of Our Relationships with Companion Animals


This discussion shows that the degree and kind of admiration, mutuality, and reciprocity that can arise between humans and nonhuman companions are similar to those between human friends. If asymmetry were to rule out friendship, few cases would be left. Human friendships need not improve our ethical behavior, so an excessively high moral standard for nonhuman friendships is implausible. It is true that some human friendships involve interpretations, discussions, and explanations of a kind that nonhumans do not participate in. Yet these practices can lead us morally astray as well as encourage virtuous attitudes (Cocking and Kennett 2000). Articulate discussions of human character might be malicious gossip, might feed insecurities, and might encourage arrogance or superiority. So a high level of verbal articulation and reflection through “talking about” both seem to be inessential and ambivalent features of friendship, not reasons to exclude the possibility of nonhuman friendship.

If the core constituents of friendship are pleasure, loyalty, admiration, and the co-construction of a shared life or part of life, where the participants are mutually responsive to shaping their activities together, then we can be and often are friends, even best friends, with nonhuman animals. We humans can and do admire, delight in, and shape our lives to fit our animal friends, just as we do with other friendships.

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