Handling tensions between natural and utility purpose of farm animals and crop plants

Paul C. Struik*, Arie Bos, Jan Diek van Mansvelt, Diederick Sprangers, Kees Zoeteman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We analyze the extent to which humans respect farm animals and crop plants and whether humans provide them adequate care. Concerns are justified, since many farm animals and crop plants have become completely dependent on humans for their survival. We explore whether the concept of 'telos' can be useful. From a biocentric and ecocentric custodian position, an animal or a plant possesses a telos, a nature of its own and a natural, species-specific purpose, but also a telos through its destination imposed by humanity because of its usefulness and service to human beings. Based on both forms of telos farm animals and crop plants deserve respect and have a moral value. Both forms of telos seem to oppose each other: the more humans domesticate the animal or plant, the more it must sacrifice its 'natural telos' to serve its 'utility telos'. Humans should enable the animal or the plant to realize its natural telos in harmony with its utility telos. Both forms of telos could be reconciled if humans fulfil their moral duty to support farm animals and crops in completing their production cycle in a respectful manner. We formulate some guidelines to operationalize, and give meaning to, the concept of telos.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1019
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019


  • Food ethics
  • Integrity
  • Intrinsic value
  • Naturalness
  • Respect
  • Telos

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