This was published in the Spring 2008 edition of Food Ethics. Email me and I’ll send you the PDF of the issue(s).
The fundamental and most challenging ethical question regarding eating meat is not whether it should be done more sustainably, consumed at decreased rates, or even whether animals should be treated more humanely. It is whether animals should be raised and killed to be eaten by humans at all. This dilemma was not much addressed in the latest issue of Food Ethics.
Since ethical thinking requires subjecting one’s views to critical scrutiny, we should remember that none of the common defenses of eating animals pass critical thinking. Is it moral to eat chickens, pigs and cows because they can’t reason abstractly and lack concepts of right and wrong? Many humans are likewise unable, but we recognize that eating them would be wrong. Is it because (some) animals eat other animals? Surely animals should not be our moral exemplars. Is it because of tradition, and that money is to be made from it? But not all traditions and employments are moral either. And insisting that animals have no rights needs defense if it is to be anything other than a statement of the assumption that it’s moral to kill animals for food.
Ethics sets forth an ideal. When this ideal is defended with impartial moral reasons, it’s hard to see how raising and killing animals for the pleasure and convenience of eating them is ethically defensible. Animals raised for food are, like us, conscious, feeling beings whose lives matter from our points of view. Like us, they too should not be eaten.
Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA USA
Nathan.Nobis @ gmail.com