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    Eating Animals

    A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.1

    1. Eating Animals Introduction

    The British, and many other nations, have something of an odd relationship with animals. I have, for example, just returned to begin typing up this chapter after adding extra straw for my chickens — chickens that I care for on a daily basis and chickens in whose well-being I am invested. This, however, followed on from my enjoyable consumption of a chicken dinner last night, a fact that would seem to suggest I am far less invested in the well-being of chickens more generally. This oddness in terms of the relationship between myself and my chickens is not, however, peculiar to me. Few people in the UK are vegetarians — the data has consistently suggested between 2% and 3% in recent years — yet many more would claim to identify as animal lovers.In this chapter, the applied ethical issue of the moral acceptability of eating animals is considered; it remains to be seen what conclusions might be drawn to be either justify or condemn some aspects of our multi-faceted behaviour and attitude towards animals.

    2. Justifying Meat Eating

    It seems sensible to begin by considering on what grounds the eating of meat might be morally justified. To this end, two possible justifications are considered below.

    Comparative Justification

    It is hard to give a proper name to this oft-cited justification for the consumption of animal meat. When questioned as to why meat-eating is morally acceptable, a fairly common reply relates to the comparison between humans as meateaters and other animals as meat-eaters. So, just as lions eat gazelles, bears eat salmon and foxes eat chickens (if they can get their paws on them), so humans eat pigs/cows/sheep etc. Given that it would be odd, even for the most ardent vegetarian, for us to morally criticise the lion, the bear or the fox, then it might seem to follow that there is a moral equivalence between the actions of these different species that extends to the actions of non-vegetarian human beings, such that we too should be free from moral criticism in our consumption of meat.
        However, possible weaknesses in the above response should not be too challenging to identify. For one, we do not often base our moral judgments regarding the acceptability of certain actions on the behaviours of lions, bears and foxes etc. Indeed, the fact that lions sometimes eat human beings does not suggest to us that eating other humans may be morally acceptable. In addition, those who find eating some types of meat more acceptable than eating other types of meat (chicken as more acceptable than gorilla, for example) will find limited resource in this type of justification. If there is some merit in this blunt argument for meat-eating, it will very likely need to be brought out more precisely and sharply, perhaps within the context of a wider normative ethical theory.

    Dominion-Based Justification

    The second justification we will consider for meat-eating may have slightly more going for it, depending on your wider outlook on the world. According to the Bible, “[…] the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”.3 This verse is often interpreted as God providing man with a soul, and thus differentiating mankind from the rest of animal creation. In addition, after “the Flood”, God says that “[everything] that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything”.It is therefore apparently quite clear that God has no objection to the eating of animals, although a number of Christians do opt for a vegetarian lifestyle for a variety of other factors (the fact that something is allowable does not make it necessarily desirable).
        In the remainder of this chapter, however, we consider the ethical issues surrounding meat-eating from the perspective of Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics and Aristotelian Virtue Ethics; theories in which Biblical references are not central for deciding how to act. Thus, although a religious ethic focussing on Biblical teaching may seem to provide a clear answer on the justification of eating animals, students studying for the AQA exam must be familiar with the application of the three theories mentioned above in order to be well prepared for the exam. In the next section, we begin this process of applying the normative theories as previously outlined in Chapters 1, 2 and 3. The application of metaethical theories to this applied ethical topic can be understood from Chapter 6, and the discussion of Metaethics in an applied context in Chapter 11.

    3. Act Utilitarianism

    Utilitarianism, as explained in Chapter 1, comes in a variety of different forms — Act, Rule and Preference Utilitarianism as suggested by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Peter Singer respectively. It might seem that the views of Jeremy Bentham and other act utilitarians, when it comes to the acceptability of eating animals, would be fairly simple to ascertain. The act utilitarian of a Benthamite variety simply seeks to secure the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people. Although Bentham holds to the idea of equal consideration of interests — the pleasures of a queen should count no more than the pleasures of a peasant, irrespective of their social standing and societal power — this notion of equality might be thought of as applying to human beings only. If understood in this way, the view of the act utilitarian would be clear, as the pleasure of a human being when eating a beef burger would outweigh any morally relevant pain. After all, on this version of the equal consideration of interests, any pain that might be suffered by the cow would not have any moral weight in deciding how to maximise total pleasure.
        However, Bentham did not adopt this anthropocentric (human-centred) approach to the principle of equal consideration. In one of his most famous passages, he states that:

    The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been [withheld] from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the [pelvic bone] are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate […]. The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’5

    In this passage, Bentham makes it clear that animals cannot be excluded from the calculation of total pains and total pleasures associated with a particular act just because of their inability to talk or their deficient rational capacities in comparison to human beings. On the contrary, so long as an animal does experience some suffering or pain, then this suffering or pain must be factored into the calculation determining which act will produce the greatest pleasure for the greatest number; simply put, all suffering creatures — human or not — are part of the group of morally relevant beings.
        This idea of equality of consideration for animals is justified by Bentham in the initial section of the passage, where a comparison to the ethical failing of racism is drawn. Bentham says that skin colour is deemed to be a morally irrelevant feature of an individual and affords no reason to ignore their pains or pleasures. So, just as denying moral relevance based on skin colour or race is arbitrary, and just as we in the contemporary world believe that denying moral relevance based on gender is arbitrary, denying moral relevance based on species alone is also arbitrary. If what matters is pain and pleasure, then the species that acts as host to that pain and pleasure would seem to be irrelevant.
        Bentham’s openness to weighing the pains and pleasures of animals in utilitarian decision-making has made him a heroic figure in animal rights and animal welfare movements. Whether you agree with Bentham or not, his views were certainly somewhat out of kilter with many of his philosophical contemporaries. For example, just a little over a century earlier, one of the most respected philosophers of all-time — René Descartes — was, according to some accounts, cutting open his wife’s pet dog after nailing the poor creature to the wall in order to study its mechanistic movements. For Descartes, there was no moral issue in this type of action, since a soulless animal such as a dog could not feel pain and only mimicked the appearance of genuine pain. Bentham, had he known of Descartes actions, would have likely recoiled at the inability to recognise the morally relevant pains of the dog.
        By putting the individual pieces of his theorising together, we can come to the view that Bentham would count the pains and pleasures of animals as morally relevant when considering the acceptability of eating animals, and he would seemingly count those pains and pleasures as just as valuable as the pains and pleasures of human beings given his commitment to a principle of equality when counting pains and pleasures. Thus, if the total pain (including pain suffered by animals) associated with acts of meat-eating were to outweigh the total pleasure associated with such acts, then Bentham and Benthamite philosophers would be forced to conclude that those instances of meat-eating were morally wrong.
        Before moving on, it is worth noting that the language used in the paragraph above is important. Neither Bentham nor any other relativistic utilitarian would ever comment that eating animals is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. The ideas of relativism and absolutism are explored in more detail in Chapter 1, but for now it is worth reminding ourselves that the act utilitarian is interested only in working out how to bring about the good in each individual situation. Thus, meat-eating may be morally acceptable on this view if a research scientist, close to curing cancer, needs to eat a healthy dog in order to survive long enough to pass his research on. On the other hand, eating a turkey burger produced cheaply and with much suffering to the animal may not be justifiable because the pleasure associated with consumption is so minimal. These are, of course, “cardboard cut-out” cases, some distance from real-world ethical decision making in the context of Act Utilitarianism and eating animals. However, it will be of far greater benefit for you to consider the range of cases in which Act Utilitarianism may speak against eating animals, and the range of cases in which Act Utilitarianism will speak in favour of eating animals, in order for you to form either a robust critique or defence of the application of this theory in this applied context. Does Act Utilitarianism seem to provide the right sort of decision procedure, with the right sorts of conclusions?

    4. Challenges to Bentham

    One challenge to Bentham’s act utilitarian view may be based upon the idea that the making of a moral distinction between animals and human beings is far from arbitrary and that there is a difference between such a “speciesist” (Peter Singer made this term famous) distinction and discriminatory thoughtprocesses such as racism and sexism. Perhaps it is the case that the pleasures and pains of human beings are worth more, in virtue of our intellect or our capacity for higher-order thinking and experience.
        However, we should be cautious when responding to Bentham in this way. Consider an elderly human being who is suffering from dementia, or a twomonth-old baby, or a patient in a Persistent Vegetative State (as discussed in Chapter 7). All three of these individuals would seem to be lacking in rational capacity to fairly serious levels. To this end, in the portion of text removed from original Bentham quote, Bentham says that a “full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old”.6 Thus, those who seek to draw a line in the sand in terms of rationality, a line that separates human beings from animals, a line that might justify eating those below the line but not those above the line, are faced with a seemingly insurmountable dilemma — either rationality is morally relevant and so some humans lack moral standing, or rationality is not morally relevant and this attempt to separate humans from animals is a failure.
        In order to overcome this problem, a potentiality argument may be put forward. Since babies of two months have the potential to become more rational than they currently are, and since this applies to dementia patients and PVS patients also if successful treatment could be discovered and administered, then the morally relevant line in the sand between humans and animals may be redrawn on the basis that all humans have potentially higher rational skills that any non-human animal has.
        However, Singer has a clever response to this potentiality suggestion, which is clear if we consider the powers of Prince Charles. Whilst he is a potential king, Prince Charles is currently only a prince. This means that, at the moment, he has only the rights of a prince, not a king. He will not earn kingly rights until he actually becomes a king. Analogously, although a two-month-old is potentially more rational than a dog or a horse, they should not acquire any extra moral consideration until that potential is actualised. Therefore, any attempt to morally separate animals and humans on grounds of rationality or intellect is again seemingly confronted by the dilemma as stated in the previous paragraph.

    5. Utilitarian Reasons for Eating Animals

    The previous two sections should make clear that for utilitarians such as Bentham and Singer, there will be times when it is morally wrong to eat animals; when the pain associated with eating animals outweighs any corresponding pleasure. It is worth noting, however, that Singer is very clear that eating animals can be entirely morally justifiable, and not just in extremely unlikely situations. It is true that Singer is scornful of the moral acceptability of eating factory-farmed foods, as the following quote suggests:

    These arguments [relating to the moral relevance of pains afflicting animals] apply to animals who have been reared in factory farms — which means that we should not eat chicken, pork or veal, unless we know that the meat we are eating was not produced by factory farm methods.7

    Singer also objects to the consumption of eggs that are not sourced from freerange chickens; the same would presumably apply to the eating of the chicken itself. However, this type of objection to the eating of particular animals, in particular conditions, does point us towards the situations in which meateating may be morally acceptable to a preference utilitarian such as Singer.

    If chickens, for example, are allowed to roam freely, before being painlessly killed (something that seems entirely possible, even if this is not what is always achieved in reality), then the balance of preference satisfaction may swing in favour of the hungry family seeking a healthy diet and away from the continued existence of the chicken itself — chickens, as those who deal with them will know, are unlikely to have the mental capacity to have long running future preferences that will go unfulfilled if their lives are cut short.
        Indeed, even Bentham himself supported the idea of eating animals, despite all that was suggested earlier. Animals farmed and killed, thought Bentham, may suffer far less pain than animals left to die in the harsh reality of the unmanaged wilderness. Well-managed and quickly administered slaughter may lead to less pain than starvation, disease or violent death after the attack of a predator.
        In an ever changing world, where the practices associated with animal slaughter vary from company to company and culture to culture, the utilitarian cannot provide a clear-cut answer on the general acceptability of eating animals. Singer sums this up when he says that:

    […] the important question is not whether animal flesh could be produced without suffering, but whether the flesh we are considering buying was produced without suffering. Unless we can be confident that it was, the principle of equal consideration of interests implies that it was wrong to sacrifice important interests of the animal in order to satisfy less important interests of our own; consequently we should boycott the end result of this process.8

    The various criticisms applied to Utilitarianism in Chapter 1 — objections based on demandingness, or based on issues of calculation of pleasures or preferences, for example — are not irrelevant in this chapter. However, for the sake of avoiding repetition, you should consider the application of these criticisms yourself when coming to your view regarding the potential success of utilitarian (act and preference) responses to eating animals.
        Given the previous comments, it may be suggested that the lack of discussion of Mill and Rule Utilitarianism, as well as a discussion of higher and lower pleasures, is a critical omission from this chapter. In a sense, we agree. However, once the issues regarding the application of Utilitarianism to the act of eating animals have been set out as above, then applying ruleutilitarian-style thinking should be a far easier task. For now, the following issues are suggested for consideration.

    1. Is meat-eating a higher or lower pleasure? Does it make a difference if lamb is consumed in a greasy-spoon café, or if it is prepared by a world-renowned chef? Should the moral acceptability of eating an animal turn on the way in which an animal is prepared for consumption?
    2. Are animals worth less than humans because they cannot access higher pleasures?
    3. Would an outright ban on factory farming be a rule that, if universalised, would lead to the greatest good for the greatest number? What other rules might be advocated by a rule utilitarian in this applied ethical setting?

    Answering these questions, in the light of the discussion in both this chapter and Chapter 1, should provide a solid grasp of utilitarian thinking in this area.

    6. Kantian Ethics and Eating Animals

    According to Immanuel Kant, a human being is “[…] a being altogether different in rank and dignity from things, such as irrational animals, with which one may deal and dispose at one’s discretion”.9 Of course, the idea that humans have no responsibility to animals, and therefore may seemingly consume them at will, is open to the same objections as outlined in section 4. However, putting those concerns to one side, it may then seem as though Kant has given us a usefully clear statement of his ethical thinking as it may be applied in this context.
        Kant is clear that we have no Direct Duties towards animals because the eating of animals does not fall foul of the two formulations of the Categorical Imperative as explored in Chapter 2. The eating of animals can become a universal law, as there is no issue with either conceiving this action as being universalised or willing the universalising of this action. In addition, eating animals does not itself entail the treating of another person merely as a means to an end (and Kant is clear that animals exist themselves only as a mean to an end10). Of course, we may treat a person merely as a means to an end in seeking to secure food, but there is nothing necessary about this taking place when animals are consumed. Thus, eating animals will generally be permissible and will only be impermissible when we act wrongly towards a fellow human being in securing our food — the animal itself is not relevant to the assessment of our duty.
        Yet, for all of the above, Kant does encourage us to treat animals with care and concern rather than with no consideration at all, despite our lack of a direct duty to care for them. Kant says of a person that “[if] he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men”.11 Those who are needlessly cruel to animals, who kill wantonly or who treat animals with scant regard for their suffering, become familiar with this approach to life and will be, as a result, less likely to act in accordance with duty in their dealings with other human beings. Our duty to animals, says Kant, is therefore indirect rather than direct — it exists only in so far as it pays out in our dealings with our fellow humans.
        In terms of applying this line of thought to eating animals, Kant would have no objection so long as we were not cruel or unkind in our approach. Perhaps it is the case that the eating of factory-farmed foods could be considered an act, or an endorsement of, cruelty. In any case, it seems that, rather ironically, Singer and Kant end up in much the same position when it comes to advice regarding how to act in the sphere of eating animals.
        It is worthwhile noting, finally, that contemporary Kantians such as Christine Korsgaard (1952–) have objected to Kant’s own disregarding of the notion of Direct Duties towards animals. Korsgaard does not accept that it is permissible or acceptable to treat a pain-experiencing creature merely as a means to an end, since “[…] it is a pain to be in pain. And that is not a trivial fact”.12 It therefore may be an open question whether Kantians should allow for Direct Duties to animals, even if Kant himself did not.

    7. Virtue Ethics and Eating Animals

    Being an agent-centred moral theory, it would be a misunderstanding of Virtue Ethics to expect absolute moral answers on the ethical acceptability of eating animals. Rather than attempting to make ethical judgments on the morality of specific instances of eating animals, Virtue Ethics instead opts to discuss the dispositions and character traits associated with virtuous people, who then may provide guidance when it comes to whether or not the virtuous person would eat no animals at all, just some animals, or all animals on offer.
        From the explanation of Virtue Ethics offered in Chapter 3, we should draw the following important lesson from the outset. It is not possible that vegetarianism could be a virtue in and of itself, since vegetarianism is a way of life rather than a character trait or a disposition. Rather, if we are to follow virtue-ethical thinking, we should ask in what circumstances and at what times would a disposition to refrain from eating meat be virtuous, and when such a disposition might be labelled as a vice of excess or deficiency.
        Rosalind Hursthouse draws interesting comparisons between the arguments of Singer in this area and the approach of the virtue ethicist.13 Hursthouse suggests that Singer, in arguing against cruelty to animals from his preference utilitarian perspective, provides evidence in favour of the view that the eating of animals will often reflect a vice-like character trait rather than a virtuous character trait. Given that many of us are aware, when we purchase our meat, that the animal in question may have led a rather unpleasant existence, our willingness to ignore this information hardly coheres neatly with exercising the virtuous mean of compassion in the sphere of life of shopping or making dietary decisions; wilful ignorance may be viewed as vice of deficiency.
        The example above of shopping in the value aisle for our food puts the issue of eating animals into a particular setting, perhaps the choice of cheap chicken for dinner rather than a more expensive and less attractive vegetarian alternative. However, it is not difficult to conceive of a situation in which meat-eating might be considered to be the result of a virtuous characteristic, such as the eating of an animal in order to promote the health of your children when other options are unavailable (perhaps through economic factors). In this setting, a stubborn commitment to vegetarianism over and above a clearheaded recognition of the needs of your children may represent an action based on a vice of excess. (Roger Scruton is one virtue ethicist who speaks of the virtue of meat-eating; his ideas are worth exploring for a slightly different virtue-ethical response to this issue).14
        Of course, rather than the specific study of virtuous responses in two outlined cases, it would be useful to have more general guidance. Again, focussing on promoting compassionate rather than cruel decision-making when it comes to choosing whether or not to eat animals, Hursthouse says:

    […] we need a substantial change in our outlook to get any further — in virtue ethicists’ terms, a clearly seen and effective recognition of the fact that human beings, and thereby human lives, are not only interwoven with each other but with the rest of nature. Then, and only then, will we apply virtue ethics correctly to what we are doing.15

    Aristotle was more concerned with the application of the virtues as they pertained to human conduct, but human flourishing is supposed to be a whole-life process and it is therefore not without motivation to focus on our dispositions towards animals as Hursthouse does. Whether this guidance is an accurate interpretation of Aristotelian ideas, or whether it is an independently advantageous extension of Aristotelian ideas, is something that is worth reflecting on in the context of the virtues as actually outlined by Aristotle, and provided in Chapter 3. A key question to answer is whether or not Hursthouse’s reasoning is in line with core Aristotelian thinking, or has she created a rival version of Virtue Ethics?
        Of the criticisms that might be applied to Virtue Ethics, the objection from unclear guidance may seem highly troubling, even in spite of the ideas above. Considering the following three issues may help you to clarify your thoughts as to the practical usefulness of Virtue Ethics for deciding how to act in this setting.

    1. Who are the virtuous role models from whom we can learn when it comes to eating animals? TV chefs, who speak of “doing justice to the animal” when cooking it? Vegetarian campaigners? Peter Singer?
    2. TV presenters such as Bear Grylls and Ed Stafford are often dropped into inhospitable locations for our entertainment, and can only survive by killing animals for food. Does their killing reflect a virtue, or a vice?
    3. Angela is a vegetarian who is eating with a friend at a highly expensive restaurant. Angela’s friend has paid for dinner, and has chosen the courses to eat. One dish involves the eating of carefully prepared duck. Would it be virtuous for Angela to eat the duck, or to stand by her beliefs even in an extreme situation? (It is worth researching Singer’s idea of the “Paris Exemption” to develop your answer.)

    If you can answer these questions, you should feel more confident in terms of your ability to apply virtue ethical thinking to the issue of eating animals.

    8. Cora Diamond

    To conclude this chapter, we will briefly reflect on the ideas of Cora Diamond, who offers a perspective on the ethical acceptability of eating animals that stands apart from the normative ethical theory-based views hitherto discussed (AQA also recommend reading Diamond’s article).16 Much of the focus in this chapter has been on the question of whether animals are morally relevant, or whether they have rights to the same degree as humans when it comes to considering the ethical acceptability of consuming them. Diamond objects to this approach entirely and does not seek to criticise the morality of eating animals via talk of moral rights; she has a different kind of criticism altogether.
        For Diamond, the notion of “moral rights” for animals is irrelevant when it comes to explaining the moral acceptability of eating animals, because we make decisions in other spheres of life that eating certain entities is unacceptable without any associated talk of rights. Specifically, Diamond suggests that our aversion to eating the human dead is not based on the moral right of the dead body not to be eaten, but because we feel uncomfortable at the very mention of the possibility of consuming human dead bodies, or amputated human limbs. This uncomfortableness is explained not by talk of rights, but by the idea that “a person is not something to eat”. This is a thought that comes about because of the nature of our interactions with human beings and human body parts in our lives.17
        Extending this line of thinking to the issue of eating animals, Diamond takes issue with the following line of argument:

    You would not eat human beings
    You would not eat your pets
    You should not eat other animals (at least higher primates, perhaps) because there is no meaningful difference between such animals and things that you would not eat.

    For Diamond, such an argument is extremely unpersuasive. This is because it misses, in its cold and logical form, the fact that pets, like dead human bodies and amputated human limbs, are also not things to be eaten. As Diamond says, pets are given names, we let them into our houses and we interact with them in ways that we do not with wild animals. Wild animals may be things to eat, just as a chicken on display in a supermarket is something for me to eat whereas my own chickens in the garden are not.
        This approach may be appealing to a non-cognitivist, anti-realist interpretation of moral thought and moral talk (these theories are explained in Chapter 6). We might wonder if the cries of the campaigner regarding the moral status of certain animals as “things not to eat” are designed to pick up on genuinely existing moral properties in the world as the cognitivist or realist would like, or whether these calls reflect a non-cognitivist, perhaps an emotivist-style, attitude.
        However, Diamond herself holds a vegetarian position that she thinks can be advanced, not by cold and logical arguments as previously identified, and not by talk of moral rights, but by reshaping our relationship with animals to add to the list of things not to be eaten. To this end, Diamond offers a Jane Legge poem, Learning to be a Dutiful Carnivore, as an exemplar of tactics that may be far more effective for securing movements towards vegetarianism:

    Dogs and cats and goats and cows,
    Ducks and chickens, sheep and sows
    Woven into tales for tots,
    Pictured on their walls and pots.
    Time for dinner! Come and eat
    All your lovely, juicy meat.
    One day ham from Percy Porker
    (In the comics he’s a corker),
    Then the breast from Mrs Cluck
    Or the wing from Donald Duck.
    Liver next from Clara Cow
    (No, it doesn’t hurt her now).
    Yes, that leg’s from Peter Rabbit
    Chew it well; make that a habit.
    Eat the creatures killed for sale,
    But never pull the pussy’s tail.
    Eat the flesh from “filthy hogs”
    But never be unkind to dogs.
    Grow up into double-think
    Kiss the hamster; skin the mink.
    Never think of slaughter, dear,
    That’s why animals are here.
    They only come on earth to die,
    So eat your meat, and don’t ask why.18

    This poem, says Diamond, does not preach a form of behaviour, but instead challenges assumed beliefs regarding which animals are acceptable sources of food and which are not. If we view animals as fellow creatures rather than as objects for consumption, then we may change our relationship with them such that killing and eating them will seem as out of bounds as consuming a dead human being. Cannibalism is not always viewed as being morally wrong, of course, as difficult situations will change our perspective; most of the time, however, we recoil at this possible act without the need for formal utilitarian or Kantian justifications.
        Diamond’s paper is worth your careful attention, and she responds to a challenge that her line of argument opposing unethical treatment of animals might create unfortunate analogies with ways in which we should oppose sexism and racism. In cases of sexism and racism, we might hope that moral rights justify fair and equal treatment, rather than the mere fact that we might happen to see people as fellow creatures (a fact that appears to depend on us, and not the person who should have the moral right). We might suggest that our recoiling at racial discrimination follows from the moral right a person has, not that our recoiling is what makes such discrimination morally wrong. Whether you find Diamond’s approach compelling or not matters more, in all likelihood, than whether you agree with her conclusions; if her method is sound, then does this show a weakness in the approaches of the normative theories based on reference to rights or duties?


    Few moral theorists will claim that eating animals is absolutely and completely acceptable in all circumstances and at all times. Even Kant recoiled at the idea of cruelty to animals in spite of his expressed denial that humans possess any duty towards animals. This fact suggests that conclusions regarding the ethical acceptability of eating animals may often be determined by empirical and real-world data regarding the preferences, pains or pleasures of animals and the impact of the processes of rearing and then slaughtering animals for human consumption. The real-world situation is constantly in flux, but this chapter should provide you with the moral framework into which real-world research can be plugged, in order to explain the different key theories, as well as coming to your own viewpoint.


    • Over-simplifying Kant’s position on animals — no Direct Duties does not mean no duties at all towards animals.
    • Completely avoiding metaethical issues that may be relevant to criticising moral positions — such as the Open Question Argument against a naturalistic utilitarian who associates goodness with pleasure (see Chapter 6).
    • Claiming that the issue of eating animals must turn on the issue of equal consideration of interests and the rights of animals, without considering the argument of Diamond.
    • Failing to give due consideration to Emotivism and/or Prescriptivism as non-cognitive ways of interpreting this debate.
    • Falling into the total vegetarianism versus total meat-eating narrative without drawing deeper distinctions as to when meat-eating might be acceptable and when it might not be.


    Some questions are provided at the ends of sections 5 and 7.

    1. Moral statements regarding the acceptability of eating animals are often emotional. Does this mean the emotivist explanation is the best explanation?
    2. Do all animals deserve equal consideration of interests? Do only some animals? Which ones?
    3. Should we expect clear moral answers when it comes to the acceptability of eating animals?
    4. Does moral disagreement in this applied ethical area lend support to Anti-Realism?
    5. How much of this moral issue turns on empirical data regarding the treatment of animals before slaughter?
    6. Should you apply your favoured normative moral theory in order to find the correct conclusion in this ethical area, or should you check you favoured normative moral theory to see if it gets it right in this ethical area?



    Equal consideration of interests

    Direct Duties

    Indirect Duties


    Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, freely available at

    Bible, New International Version, freely available at

    Diamond, Cora, ‘Eating Meat and Eating People’, Philosophy, 53.206 (1978): 465–79,; freely available at

    Hursthouse, Rosalind, ‘Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals’, in The Practice of Virtue: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Virtue Ethics, ed. by Jennifer Welchman (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2006), pp. 136–55, freely available at

    Kant, Immanuel, ‘We Have No Duties to Animals’, in Ethical Theory, ed. by Russ Shafer-Landau (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), pp. 395–96.

    ―, Lectures on Anthropology, ed. by Allen Wood and Robert Loudon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

    Korsgaard, Christine, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),

    Scruton, Roger, ‘Eat Animals! It’s for Their Own Good’, Los Angeles Times (25 July 1991), freely available at

    Singer, Peter, ‘Equality for Animals?’, in Ethics, Humans and Other Animals: An Introduction with Readings, ed. by Rosalind Hursthouse (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 169–79.

    Tolstoy, Leo, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1988).

    1  L. Tolstoy, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence.

    2  Data available at 

    3  Genesis 2:7, New International Version, 2%3A7&version=NIV

    4  Genesis 9:3, New International Version, 9:3&version=NIV 

    5  J. Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham/bnthPML18.html 

    6  Ibid.

    7  P. Singer, ‘Equality for Animals?’, p. 174. 

    8  Ibid., p. 175.

    9  I. Kant, Lectures on Anthropology.

    10  I. Kant, ‘We Have no Duties to Animals’, p. 395.

    11  Ibid.

    12  C. Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity, p. 154.

    13 R. Hursthouse, ‘Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals’,

    14 R. Scruton, ‘Eat Animals! It’s for Their Own Good’,

    15 R. Hursthouse, ‘Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals’, p. 154,

    16  C. Diamond, ‘Eating Meat and Eating People’, pdf 

    17  Ibid., p. 468.

    18  Ibid., pp. 472–73.


    1.15: CHAPTER 14 EATING ANIMALS is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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