This essay attempts to answer age-old questions about how the consumption of animals fits into our moral framework. Do animals suffer, and if so, does their suffering have any moral relevance? Is it immoral to eat meat, or immoral not to? What is the religious significance of butter? Should we be eating other primates?
Perhaps Rene Descartes was right when he made the compelling argument that animals don’t feel pain. After all, he was right about a lot of other stuff.
Descartes was a vegetarian for health reasons. He, did, however, skin dogs and rabbits alive for research purposes. He reasoned that if the animals felt pain then what was done to them would be so horrific that God would never allow it. Since God did, in fact, allow it, then it follows logically that dogs and rabbits don’t feel pain. There is no reason to think any other animals do, either. As Descartes went on to argue, animals don’t have souls, and without a soul, you can’t feel pain. Continue reading
Listen to the full debate
Gary Francione: I would suggest that our use of animals for the production of food involves torture.
Jan Narveson: I want to claim that the torture is justified. You want to claim it’s not.
The question is, is our interest in the taste of animal flesh such as to justify doing the things we do to them to get them into the frying pan? My answer is, yes.
Last month libertarian philosopher Jan Narveson debated vegan abolitionist Gary Francione about animal rights. Narveson’s view is that humans have no moral obligation to animals. He argues that it is morally acceptable for animals to suffer, even horribly, as long as it in is in our interests to use them. He also claims that torturing animals pointlessly or for entertainment is “weird” but of trivial significance morally.
For those who have been following the Twitter debates with @mattbramanti, his views seem to be quite similar to Narveson’s.
I thought there were two encouraging things that came out of this. One is that Francione said that there are still many people who honestly believe it is necessary for human health to eat meat. It makes me hopeful that, for some omnivores at least, changing their minds about that could lead to them considering a vegan lifestyle. The other thing Francione said was that the abolitionist position hasn’t “really hit the radar screen yet of a lot of people. But there is clearly a change occurring. It’s happening here in North America. It’s happening in Europe. The thinking about this issue is clearly in transition.” Continue reading