Of course the amount of animal suffering incidental to our use of animals is horrendous, and we should not be using animals for “frivolous” purposes, such as entertainment, but how can you expect people to give up eating meat?
In many ways this is an appropriate question with which to conclude our discussion because the question itself reveals more about the history of the human/animal relationship than any theory, and it demonstrates our confusion about moral matters in general.
Many humans like to eat animal products. They enjoy eating them so much that they find it hard to be detached when they consider moral questions about animals. But moral analysis requires at the very least that we leave our obvious biases at the door. Animal agriculture is the most significant source of animal suffering in the world today, and there is absolutely no need for it. Indeed, animal agriculture has devastating environmental effects, and a growing number of health care professionals claim that meat and animal products are detrimental to human health. We could live without killing animals and could feed more of the world’s humans–the beings we always claim to care about when we seek to justify animal exploitation–if we abandoned animal agriculture altogether.
The desire to eat animal products has clouded some of the greatest minds in human history. Charles Darwin recognized that animals were not qualitatively different from humans and possessed many of the characteristics that were once thought to be uniquely human–but he continued to eat them. Jeremy Bentham argued that animals had morally significant interests because they could suffer, but he also continued to eat them.
Old habits die hard, but that does not mean they are morally justified. It is precisely in situations where both moral issues and strong personal preferences come into play that we should be most careful to think clearly. As the case of meat eating shows, however, sometimes our brute preferences determine our moral thinking, rather than the other way around. Many people have said to me, “Yes, I know it’s morally wrong to eat meat, but I just love hamburgers.”
Regrettably for those who like to eat animal products, this is no argument, and a taste for meat in no way justifies the violation of a moral principle. Our conduct merely demonstrates that despite what we say about the moral significance of animal interests, we are willing to ignore those interests whenever we benefit from doing so–even when the benefit is nothing more than our pleasure or convenience.
If we take morality seriously, then we must confront what it dictates: if it is wrong for Simon to torture dogs for pleasure, then it is morally wrong for us to eat animal products.