Applying Utilitarianism to Extermination of Wild Predators

1051 words | 4 page(s)

Part 1: Ethical Question
Should people be allowed to exterminate wild predators, such as wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions?

Part 2: Introduction
The food chain is one of the first things taught in schools. Children learn the distinction between predators and prey. The core concept of any food chain is fairly simple: predators attack the prey to keep the ecosystem in balance. The problem with a food chain becomes subtle if we add humans to the equation. Although humans are now on the top of the food hierarchy, there still exists a possibility of being preyed by wild predators, such as mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes. This paper seeks to resolve the aforementioned ethical question with the application of an ethical theory. When it comes to dealing with wild animals that pose danger, people have multiple options, including killing them, capturing, placing in a zoo, or leaving alone. The answer to the question at issue depends on the selected ethical theory. For the purpose of this paper, the utilitarian theory is selected. Under the utilitarian approach, people should not be allowed to exterminate wild predators, such as wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions. By contrast, under utilitarianism, people should protect the natural habitat of wild predators to keep the ecosystem in balance.

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Part 3: Explanation of the Ethical Theory
The ethical theory of utilitarianism was developed in the late 18th century and 19th century. The formulation of the theory is credited to John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Rachels and Rachels (2015) argue that David Hume should also be mentioned as a person who proposed the theory. The utilitarian theory arose at the time of emergence of nation-states, the French Revolution, the fall of Napoleon, the Civil War, end of slavery in Western civilization, and the industrial revolution. During that period, the ideas of liberty and equality become widely spread. The aforementioned events and new ideas of freedom created a demand for a new conception of morality. Bentham, for example, stated that morality is not a matter of pleasing God or following abstract rules (Rachels & Rachels, 2015). By contrast, it is an attempt to generate as much happiness as possible.

The core principle of utilitarianism is that an action is moral and ethical if it provides the greatest benefits to the largest number of people concerned. Under this principle, people should choose to do things that lead to the greatest happiness. The action is ethical if a certain state of affairs brought up by that action makes all sentient creations as happy and well-off as they can be (Rachels & Rachels, 2015). Utilitarianism, thus, is based on the assessment the utility of one action versus another, and choosing the action which generates the greatest utility.

The ethical theory of utilitarianism can be applied to answering moral questions. For example, it can be applied to the question of climate change. Under utilitarianism, governments around the world should take immediate actions to curb emissions to mitigate the negative effect of global warming. Although it may slow economic growth of some industries, this will have positive effects on society as a whole and the environment, not to mention future generations.

Part 4: Application of the Ethical Theory
The application of the ethical theory of utilitarianism to the question of whether or not people should be allowed to exterminate wild predators reveals that people should not exterminate wild predators. First of all, wild predators, such as mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes, are also sentient beings capable of feeling pain. As a result, the wellbeing of wild predators should also be taken into account when calculating the overall utility of different options. Since utilitarianism is about assessing the impact of various options, it is necessary to review at least one alternative to extermination.

The first option is to exterminate wild predators by capturing and killing them. This option brings positive utility for people living near the areas inhabited by these wild predators. Indeed, extermination will reduce the risks of being harmed or killed by a wild predator to a minimum. However, the number of people that are at constant risk of getting preyed by a wild predator is significantly lower because more people live in cities than in rural areas. In addition, only a portion of people living in the rural area is at risk of facing a wild predator. It means that the benefits of reduced risks and increased safety of extermination will be experienced only by a tiny portion of a population. At the same time, the negative effects of extermination will be experienced by all people because it will ruin the natural balance on the ecosystem. In an ecosystem that becomes unbalanced, some species become abundant and other species become scarce. This may disrupt the established process of getting food for every species, including humans. Myers et al. (2015) also argue that disruptions in the ecosystem threaten the access of humans and other species to ecosystem services, such as nutrition, water, protection from natural hazards. Duhaime-Ross, Grush, and Lopatto (2015) argue that people become more likely to be infected with diseases due to disruptions in the ecosystem. In addition, the extermination option brings about much suffering for wild animals.

The second option is to limit the possibilities for interaction between humans and wild animals. Under this option, the ecosystem balance will be protected because wild predators will live in their natural habitat with other animals in natural parks. This can be done by capturing wild predators that attack humans and placing them in restricted natural parks. This option creates a greater utility than extermination because it eliminates the risks of an unbalanced ecosystem, protects animals, and decreases human encounters with wild predators. Since the core principle of utilitarianism is to ensure that all sentient beings are happy and well-off, a person using this ethical theory to consider whether humans should exterminate wild predators would arrive at the conclusions that humans should not be allowed to do that.

  • Duhaime-Ross, A, Grush, L. Lopatto, E. (2015). Killing of Wild Predators is a Stupid Idea. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2015/9/10/9308195/killing-off-wild-predators-is-a-stupid-idea
  • Myers, S. S., Gaffikin, L., Golden, C. D., Ostfeld, R. S., Redford, K. H., Ricketts, T. H., … & Osofsky, S. A. (2013). Human health impacts of ecosystem alteration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(47), 18753-18760.
  • Rachels, J. & Rachels, S. (2015). The elements of moral philosophy. McGraw-Hill Education.

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