Pathocentrism (Greek pathos: pain, suffering) is represented, among others, by Peter Singer, Ursula Wolf and Günther Patzig. Their opinions are however driven by different considerations.

  • Peter Singer's pathocentric approach is based on utilitarian considerations. He uses arguments of interest ethics, claiming that sentient animals have an interest in avoiding pain, which becomes manifest in observable behaviour. If interests or the ability to pursue interests represent a good, it follows that human activity should respect all interests, i.e. also those of higher animals. The alleviation of suffering of sentient beings thus has to be recognised as a moral obligation.
  • According to Ursula Wolf, the ability to suffer constitutes a common ground between (higher) animals and humans, and establishes the basis of their equality. This provides the foundation for a "generalised compassion" that can be found in all moral conceptions and that human beings owe to all sentient beings. All those beings "that are equal in their ability to suffer" should be treated with respect.
  • The pathocentric approach of Günther Patzig is based on ethics of justice arguments. As to the avoidance of pain, it cannot be rationally argued that pain in humans is to be avoided and pain in animals is to be tolerated. Patzig holds the view that humans, due to their rationality, feel pain in a different way (consciously) and therefore deserve a higher degree of protection; however, this protection should also be granted to animals, depending on the nature and the extent of their suffering. This approach is also named non-egalitarian pathocentrism.

Patzig, Günther (1996): Der wissenschaftliche Tierversuch unter ethischen Aspekten. (The scientific animal experiment under ethical aspects.) In: Hardegg, Wolfgang / Preiser, Gert (eds.): Tierversuche und medizinische Ethik. Beiträge zu einem Heidelberger Symposion. Hildesheim: Olms, 68–84. 

Patzig, Günther (1993): Ökologische Ethik - innerhalb der Grenzen bloßer Vernunft. (Ecological ethics - within the boundaries of mere reason.) In: Elster, H. J. / Studienzentrum Weikersheim et al. (eds.): Umweltschutz - Herausforderung unserer Generation. Mainz: v. Hase & Kochler, 63–81. 

Singer, Peter (1991): Animal Liberation. London: Thorsons. 

Singer, Peter (1994): Praktische Ethik. (Practical ethics.) 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Reclam. 

Wolf, Ursula (1990): Das Tier in der Moral. (The animal in ethics.) Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann. 

Wolf, Ursula (1997): Haben wir moralische Verpflichtungen gegen Tiere? (Do we have moral obligations towards animals?) In: Krebs, Angelika: Naturethik. Grundtexte zur gegenwärtigen Tier- und ökoethischen Diskussion. (Nature ethics. Fundamental texts on the current discussion on animal ethics and ecological ethics.) Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 47–75. 


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