I just received a comment on another post that expressed this view. I’ve found that many people hold onto this idea and use it to justify continuing to consume animal products. Here is how I responded.
First of all, there’s absolutely no way to know that animals don’t think. Just because they don’t communicate in any verbal human languages does not mean they don’t think. For all we know, cows are smarter than Einstein, but they choose to never talk and to instead eat grass all day. Anyhow, there is actually plenty of scientific evidence that animals do think. Pigs can play video games for a food reward. Rats can solve mazes. Gorillas can communicate with humans using sign language. And even if we could prove that animals couldn’t think, the important thing is that they certainly do feel. Babies and mentally handicapped people don’t think anything like human adults can. Should we kill and eat them too? The ability to think like a human should not be the grounds for moral consideration. What shapes most moral codes? Usually, they are tied in with feelings. They often have an ultimate goal of maximizing happiness and/or minimizing pain and suffering – both which deal with emotional or physical feelings. Let’s say there is someone who can only think and not feel at all (kind of like an android or complex computer) – no pain, no emotions, no desires – murdering this “person” wouldn’t be so bad (as long as they had no family who could feel emotions and grieve) precisely because there could be no fear, disappointment, or pain, but switch that hypothetical situation around – if someone could not think at the level of a human being but could feel 100%, death would still be a terrifying, painful experience. And that is why we base morals on feelings.
It is obvious that animals feel pain and emotions. This requires far less proof than the claim that animals can think. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat or dog knows that animals have emotions and can feel pain. Animals also have families and care for their offspring, just like humans do. They also show great distress when they or their offspring are in danger, just like humans do. There is even an account of a cat who kept returning into a burning building to carry each of her kittens to safety, even though she was already badly burned.
The thing is we don’t need meat to live. The only reason we kill is for taste. Is it truly worth putting a sentient being through hell (and I do mean hell – http://www.watchearthlings.com) just to have a few minutes of pleasure?
Here is an excellent post that elaborates on the issue of the value of human vs. nonhuman life – http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/peter-singer-and-the-welfarist-position-on-the-lesser-value-of-nonhuman-life/