I disagree with premise 2, that killing the animal causes it harm. Now hear me out, I'm not saying that it is not in the interest of the animals to live. My point is that the animals we consume have been so domesticated that they would be unable to survive as a species without us. If we were to stop eating them, they would cease to exist.
Why is it morally acceptable to kill a nonhuman animal if it is killed painlessly? Death is still a harm for an animal because such an event deprives it of future experiences and continued existence. Is it morally acceptable to kill a human if it is killed painlessly? I imagine your answer would be "no" for precisely the same reason: death is still a harm for a human because such an event deprives it of future experiences and continued existence. That said, there are special cases in which it may be in the best interest of a particular human or nonhuman to be euthanized because it is experiencing interminable pain and suffering; but in ordinary cases, no such consideration is available to justify killing (even if administered painlessly).
Okay, so in your view our exploitation of nonhuman animals is morally justified regardless of whether there is actual pain involved. Again, I'd ask the same questions I did in the previous response just above.
Having read through the thread carefully, and through the OP in particular, I can state with confidence that NM was not suggesting that we not eat anything living. According to his argument, sentient animals--those organisms with the capacity to experience pain and pleasure--have an interest in living their lives unfettered and free from human interference. In other words, possessing sentience is a sufficient condition for moral status, because only sentient beings can be harmed in the morally relevant sense. Plants are most certainly alive but not sentient, so humans starvation is not a consequence of NM's position.
The "appeal to nature" is a commonly committed logical fallacy (Appeal to nature - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), so it would be useful to explain in some detail why it represents an invalid form of reasoning. The appeal to nature is essentially a fallacy of relevance and consists of the claim that something is good or right simply because it is natural, or because it can be inferred from evolutionary principles, and so forth. Four main problems render this line of reasoning invalid.
First, there is no clear notion of what it means for something to be "natural," as the term itself is often vaguely defined or laden with cultural and religious contexts. Indeed, one could argue that predation, murder, rape, torture, and genocide are perfectly natural, but few would condone such behavior.
Second, it is worth noting that nearly every form of oppression and discrimination in human history has been defended as "natural." We have routinely justified as natural the sexism rooted in the notion that women should be disenfranchised and subservient to men. We have routinely justified as natural human enslavement on the ground that such social arrangements represent the "natural superiority" of one race or rank over another. And now, we routinely justify as natural the exploitation of other sentient species on the similar ground that it is only "natural" for us to do so--which is speciesist to the core.
Third, if one insists on taking the behaviors of wild animals as an ethical guide (and no one really ever suggests doing so until confronted with questions of animal rights, but we'll ignore that), it must be noted that many animals are actually vegetarians. Also, it just isn't morally relevant whether some animals eat other animals or not. Most carnivorous animals simply cannot live without eating meat, but we do not fall into that category. With very few exceptions, humans live fine without eating meat. Lastly, unlike nonhuman animals, humans are moral agents. That is, we don't take the behaviors of wild animals as our ethical guide. Furthermore, to say that nonhuman animals are no more innocent than we is to suggest that nonhuman behavior is morally culpable. However, nonhuman animals lack moral agency--they simply survive. Besides, if we really wanted to defy commonsense and insist that nonhuman animals are moral agents and thus are not above moral culpability, then we would have to accord basic moral rights to vegetarian species at the very least (the ones we happen to exploit the most).
Fourth, it is interesting to note that when it is convenient for us to do so, we attempt to justify our exploitation of animals by resting on our supposed "superiority." And when our supposed "superiority" gets in the way of what we want to do, we suddenly portray ourselves as nothing more than another species of wild animal.
"killing and eating animals is morally wrong" according to whos morals?
Moreover, in the US, at least, the law generally imposes on humans no "duty to aid" even when humans are involved. If I am walking down the street and see a person lying passed out, face down in a puddle of water and drowning, the law imposes no obligation on me to assist that person even if all I need to do is roll her over, something I can do without risk or serious inconvenience to myself.
Secondly, if we don't have the responsibility to prevent lions from killing animals in the wild, why do we have the responsibility to prevent people from killing animals in the wild?
"Moral agents" is just a phrase. As well as the rest of the righteous spiel. That being said, I was a vegetarian once. I don't think it's pretty, our mass slaughter. But it's not pretty the way we treat one another either. And I wonder if moralism in general isn't founded on the pleasure of righteousness, of playing the hero.
Yes, we do have sympathy, but is this genuine sympathy enough? Or does it need to be amplified by the idea of ourselves as heroes before we act, preach, focus on just one of many many possible righteous causes.
First, unlike human beings, lions have no choice in the matter. They eat to survive, period. If we were to "police nature" by preventing lions from eating their prey, we would be harming the lions. Nonhuman carnivores are no more guilty or innocent than nonhuman herbivores, since both simply do what they must to survive.
Second, human beings, as omnivores, have a choice. NewMysterian/CosmicHolist has already dealt with the misinformed nutritional objections, provided links, and so forth, so I'm not going to pursue the matter further. There's plenty of vegetarians out there whose limbs haven't fallen off yet.
Third, and most importantly, human beings are moral agents. We have the capacity to make informed ethical judgments and act accordingly. We can formulate moral principles and reference these in determining the consequences of our actions. As such, we can be held morally responsible. Nonhuman animals, however, cannot be held morally responsible because they cannot engage in moral reasoning. They are not moral agents.
I don't believe the "moral agents" part is significant to the argument. We feel the compunction to save people from non moral agents, even if they require food to survive. That is because peoples lives have special value for us. NewMysterian was arguing that animals also had a special value.
Valuing humans over nonhumans in rare situations of conflict is not inconsistent with the view that animals have the right to live their lives free from human ownership and exploitation.
Second, NewMysterian did not claim it was our moral responsibility to physically prevent abbatoir workers from killing animals. Rather, he suggested going vegetarian as a way in which to reduce the market demand for animal meat.
Yes, but saying that animals deserve protection only from humans seems like an odd view. It makes the "bad" part of an animal being killed the actions of the killer instead of the pain and death of the animal itself.
The basic right not to be treated as a thing means that we cannot treat animals exclusively as means to human ends-just as we cannot treat other humans exclusively as means to the ends of other humans. Even though we have laws that prevent people from owning other humans, or using them as unconsenting biomedical subjects, we generally do not require that humans prevent harm to other humans in all situations.
For example, we do not require that Jane risk serious harm by intervening to prevent Simon from killing Jones.
Similarly, the basic right of animals not to be treated as things means that we cannot treat animals as our resources. It does not necessarily mean that we have moral or legal obligations to render them aid or to intervene to prevent harm from coming to them.
Humans have more rights than just "not being treated as resources" (people would argue).
So animal rights aren't the same. What is the source of them then?
Back when food was scarce and we needed to fish or hunt to survive, I don't think you would object to us using animals as a resource. Now that we can choose not to, you say that we should choose not to. I'm curious why you say that because I don't have a real strong reason why not, it just doesn't feel right.
Humans certainly have more rights than nonhumans. For example, animals cannot vote or operate motor vehicles, so according them these rights would not be meaningful to them. The only claim I made was that both humans and nonhumans have the same fundamental right not to be regarded as property or treated exclusively as means to an end.
If I understand this question correctly, it could be rephrased as follows:
"Rights were devised by humans. How can they even be applicable to animals?" There are two ways to answer this question.
First, just as the moral status of a human or animal is not determined by who caused the human or the animal to come into existence, the application of a moral concept is not determined by who devised it. If moral benefits went only to the devisers of moral concepts, then most of humnankind would still be outside the moral community. Rights concepts as we currently understand them were actually devised as a way of protecting the interests of wealthy white male landowners; indeed, most moral concepts were historically devised by privileged males to benefit other privileged males. As time went on, we recognized that the principle of equal consideration required that we treat similar cases in a similar way and we subsequently extended rights (and other moral benefits) to other humans. In particular, the principle of equal consideration required that we regard as morally odious the ownership of some humans by other humans. If we are going to apply the principle of equal consideration to animals, then we must extend to animals the right not to be treated as a resource.
Second, it is irrelevant whether animals devised rights or can even understand the concept of rights. We do not require that humans be potential devisers of rights or understand the concept of rights in order to be beneficiaries of rights. For example, a severely retarded human being might not have the ability to understand what a right is, but that does not mean that we should not accord her the protection of at least the basic right not to be treated as a resource of others.
Do you consider the human right to life to be greater than an animals? Going back to the lion example, if a starving lion was attacking a giraffe you might not shoot the lion, but if it was attacking a human you would, correct?
Personally I would draw the line at "having a sense of self" which is much less inclusive than the the one mysteria used. I don't think pain, suffering, or life have any meaning to an organism without that sense, and we can't project our value system onto them.
In sum, in morally special cases, where there is a situation of genuine conflict, we may choose the human over the nonhuman. But here's the relevant point to be made: in recognizing that nonhumans have a basic right not to be treated as resources, we must apply the principle of equal consideration to their interests. Our routine slaughter of animals for food cannot be morally justified because our desire to satisfy our gustatory pleasures does not constitute a situation of genuine conflict.
I actually agree with NewMysterian that sentience (the capacity to experience pleasure and pain) is a sufficient condition for inclusion in the moral sphere (and equal consideration of interests). Consider: there are some mentally impaired human beings who lack reflective self-awareness. We don't regard this capacity as morally relevant, however, because we still accord these sentient humans the same right not to be treated as our resources.
Why don't we regard reflective self-awareness as morally relevant in such cases? Because mentally impaired humans, as sentient beings, can still be harmed. They have the same interest that normal humans and nonhumans have in avoiding harm and living their lives free from exploitation. Similarly, sentient beings like cows, pigs, and chickens (the ones we routinely exploit) may lack reflective self-awareness, but this is morally irrelevant when considering their interest in avoiding harm.
In sum, cognitive inferiority is not a relevant indicator of moral inferiority. We may, from a pragmatic standpoint, deny a mentally impaired human or nonhuman animal the right to vote or operate a motor vehicle, but what the equal consideration of interests requires is that we not exploit these sentient beings as our resources.