Compassionate conservation holds that compassion should transform conservation. It has prompted heated debate and has been criticized strongly. We reviewed the debate to characterize compassionate conservation and to philosophically analyze critiques that are recurring and that warrant further critical attention. The necessary elements of compassionate conservation relate to the moral value of sentient animals and conservation and to science and conservation practice. Although compassionate conservation has several nontraditional necessary conditions, it also importantly allows a degree of pluralism in values and scientific judgment regarding animals and conservation practice. We identified 52 specific criticisms from 11 articles that directly critique compassionate conservation. We closely examined 33 of these because they recurred regularly or included substantial questions that required further response. Critics criticized compassionate conservation’s ethical foundations, scientific credentials, clarity of application, understanding of compassion, its alleged threat to conservation and biodiversity. Some criticisms, we found, are question begging, confused, or overlook conceptual complexity. These criticisms raise questions for critics and proponents, regarding, for example, equal versus differential intrinsic moral value of different sentient animals (including humans), problems of natural and human-caused suffering of wild animals and predation, and the acceptability of specific conservation practices within compassionate conservation. By addressing recurring and faulty critiques of compassionate conservation and identifying issues for compassionate conservation to address, this review provides a clearer basis for crucial ongoing interdisciplinary dialogue about ethics, values, and conservation.