I am not a vegetarian but I think I should be. I would not couch the issue in rights language but putting animals through suffering just so I can have my New York Strip Steak just seems wrong to me. Given human history, I cannot imagine what kind of arguments we humans could muster if aliens came down and proposed to us as a food source.
I suspect that at some level you do not really believe that the slaughter of animals is at quite the same level as the halocaust, though you seem to think you think that they are equivalent. There are pletny of evils in the world that we should be protesting but I 'm not sure that torturing yourself about not doing as much as you would like helps those causes.
Great question. Off hand, it seems that this would not make a difference. Presumably, it would be just as wrong to have a human child in order to harvest his organs whether or not the child had been engineered to want this fate. Sometimes wanting or consenting does make a substantial moral difference. Robbery, rape, and the like, crucially depend on a person not consenting to an act; if I want you to take something I own then (in a general sense) I am more or less giving it to you and a robbery (in the straight forward sense) has not taken place. But in the case you present, we do not think the cows are exercising their freedom; it appears they have no choice but to want to be eaten. In this case (unlike the robbery case) it seems their wanting this fate does not make a moral difference. If we assume (for the sake of argument) some form of moral vegetarianism (it is morally wrong to kill cows to eat them), then the presence of the 'want' would not seem to make a moral difference.
However, let us assume there are no compelling moral reasons for being a vegetarian and you have a choice between killing and eating a cow that has been bred to want this fate versus a cow that does not want to be killed and eaten. Although this is a bit of bizarre thought experiment, I suggest that it would be less worse to kill and eat the first, because you would not be directly violating a creature's preference (even if it had been bred to have that preference). Still, we might raise a different question: if cows are so advanced that they can have wants, maybe we should not want to kill and eat any of them.
Great question. A huge amount of thought is being devoted to the assessment of the mental life of nonhuman animal. Some (but I don't think a majority) philosophers still deny that we can rightly recognize (morally relevant) pain in beings without language, but I think it is quite reasonable to think that cows feel pain (given what appears to be pain-avoidance behavior, their brains and nervous system) even in the absence of language. So, let us grant that a human being and a cow can be hurt, they both can feel pain, and then ask whether if the hurt causes equal pain, then hurting the human and cow is equally wrong. There is some reason to think that we cannot draw that conclusion, because of factors that go beyond pain. Imagine a cow feels the same intensity of pain, you feel when someone slaps you (hard). The pain felt by the cow and you may be equal, but there could be more serious harms going on in your case (you have just been insulted or been betrayed by a friend or ..) that is not undergone by the cow. Being insulted or betrayed can be painful, but we often think of such harms in terms of suffering rather than, say, painful sensations. Similarly, compare another case in which harm has been done to a human and cow, there is equal pain, but not equal wrongness: imagine a human being robs someone and a policeman harms the wrong-doer in apprehending him (pain level L) and a cow experiences the same level of pain (L) through some accident (the cow receives a shock from an electric fens). In this case we might think that the pain inflicted on the robber was not morally wrong at all owing to the circumstances, but that the pain the cow experiences was worse (let's say the farmer should have used less voltage).
I think there is a difference between saying that all that matters is pleasure and pain, and thinking that pleasure and pain is a good place to start when looking at such issues. If it is an open question whether ants feel pain, then we should not kill them, if that might hurt them, it seems to me. As has been suggested, perhaps there are other reasons not to kill them also, and these should be investigated, but there is something very clear about the pain issue which is not present in the other approaches to the topic.
I remember growing strawberries once and each strawberry had bites in it, from slugs and birds, and I thought at the time that this was OK. The slug had had a bit, the bird had had a bit, and I could, after a bit of paring, have a bit also. This would not work for a commercial strawberry grower, of course, but I do not feed my family through my skill as an agriculturist, fortunately, so why kill animals who might suffer in order to have perfect strawberries? This strikes me as the first question to ask, and the more sophisticated considerations that arise here are significant but lack the perspicacity of the pain issue.
I understand. I believe you are making the point that (in the case of the boyfriend and the job) we do not always have duties to minimize the stress or pain of others. In the two cases you cite, I think we can even propose that you have zero obligation of any sort to relieve stress. In the case of raising nonhuman animals, however, the case is different (they are not suffering, if they are suffering at all due to the aftereffect of a fair competition, because of a romantic competition or competition on a job front; rather they are made the direct object of suffering for the sake of benefiting another party). So, I suggest that if we do have reason to believe that, say, chickens are the object of directly inflicted suffering, this is something to take seriously ethically. Two things can be said on behalf of your position: while I think chickens have feelings and plants do not (plants lack brains, nervous system...), it may be that by allowing them to be free range or not overly cramped, you are able to give them a decent life, without intense suffering. A second point follows the first, you may be allowing and bringing about more life than if we all went vegetarian. Assuming it is good for there to be chickens (they have the goods of motion, feeling, play...), it might be better for them to have lived and be eaten than never to have lived at all.
I've thought about this issue a lot, as a vegetarian with two children (now both 12). We decided it would be better to let them choose for themselves. My thinking was: if we raised them as vegetarians, they would inevitably come into contact with meat and feel curious, tempted, guilty. Out of concern for their wellbeing, I wanted to avoid that. I also thought they would experience vegetarianism as an imposition and eventually rebel against it. Plus, I wanted them to have the experience of confronting a moral issue for themselves.
This is how things have turned out (so far)--When my kids were very young, all the food I prepared was vegetarian, but I bought cold cuts for sandwiches, let them order meat in restaurants and at school. At age 6, my daughter decided to stop eating meat. I practically discouraged this, giving her permission to change her mind, give in to temptation, etc. In fact, she became steadily more consistent, resolute, and outspoken. At age 12, my son made the same decision.
I think it's better for my children that they've made their choices, and I suspect these choices will be more permanent for being their own, but we'll see. I'm proud of them for the choices they are making right now, but I continue to think it's up to them. I recognize that it's hard having a diet that reduces your options and puts you at odds with everyone else.
I'm inclined to think there is rudimentary morality in non-human animals. Rather than try to convince you, I'll suggest a good book on the matter (with "objections" at the back)--Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, by Frans De Waal. As to whether ethics (our ethics) is natural or made up (I'd say some of each, but it's crucial to explore what "natural" means), you might like to read: Russ Shafer-Landau, Whatever Happened to Good and Evil and (for a different view) Richard Joyce's The Evolution of Morality.
I really don't think there's an equivalent of Animal Liberation on the other side. That's a classic because it's very clear and philosophically acute, very accessible to the public, full of information, and broad in scope. There are books on the other side, but they tend not to have all those virtues. The book that Amy Kind suggests is a good option, though it's mainly about animal experimentation, not meat-eating. Another book on the other side is The Animals Issue, by Peter Carruthers. It's clearly written and some would say acute, but it's primarily oriented to the academic philosopher. It's nowhere near as readable as Animal Liberation and it's not a source for "real world" information about the treatment of animals. Carruthers wouldn't be interested in such things, since he argues animals don't suffer at our hands--they're not even conscious, on his view.
A very accessible and pretty interesting book on the other side by a non-philosopher is Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication by Stephen Budiansky. If you don't insist on a position diametrically opposed to Singer's, then another book that defends meat eating is The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Not a philosopher, but a clear thinker with a good grip on the animal ethics literature, he defends consuming meat produced on tiny humane farms, while excoriating modern industrial agriculture.
There is an answer excusing peoples fromagriculturally poor countries (and I would add the Inuit) yet, lackingsuitable abattoirs, their trapping and/or killing of animals would beseen as cruel by our delicate western standards. If this is morallyacceptable, what is "unacceptable suffering"? To whom is isunacceptable and what changes that it becomes acceptable?
Isn't it quite commonsensical to ask ourselves, when we are causing death and suffering, "Is it necessary or is it gratuitous?" Despite all the skepticism you express in your question, I'm going to bet you actually think that's a reasonable question.
I have read that in some parts of the world dogs are tenderized while still alive, and then killed and eaten. Basically, people beat dogs to produce meat with a special, delicious taste. (If it's not actually true, at least it makes a good thought experiment.) Now, I strongly suspect you would agree with me that causing suffering in that manner is not necessary. What's the thought here? Well, it's something to do with balance. My gut feeling (and I bet yours too) is that the loss to dogs here is excessive, compared to what humans gain.
Surely that's the sort of question we ought to bring to bear on our own issues about eating animals. The Inuit you mention did not have any way to survive, except to eat animals. Even if they had no humane methods of killing, they might have still answered the necessity question in the affirmative. Though they inflicted suffering, it was not gratuitous suffering.
On the other hand, if you watch some videos about how animals are treated in factory farms, I wouldn't be surprised if your own honest judgment is that the cruelty inflicted is gratuitous. You might make up your mind to at least buy cage-free eggs (for instance). But then you'll have to look at the way laying hens are treated in cage-free facilities. Again, the same sort of question has to be asked. If you keep asking the necessity question, it may make you at least appreciate the reasoning of a vegan, who says that killing animals for food is inevitably gratuitous, since we just do it for food pleasure in a society where we have abundant alternatives to eating animal products.
Perhaps your sense of balance is different, and you think the harm we impose is necessary. Maybe you think your food pleasure matters enormously. If you think about the "necessity" question long and hard, I suspect you will find it at least harder to defend using animals as food. At the very least, you'll find a vegan easier to understand.