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Ethics: Killing Animals for Food

Video transcript

(intro music) My name is Tyler Doggett. I teach at the University of Vermont, and I'm going to talk about[br]whether it's morally permissible to kill animals for food. One thing I'm not going to talk about is whether it's morally permissible[br]to eat animals for food. I'm also not going to talk[br]about whether it's okay, morally okay, to buy animals for food. What I want to talk about[br]is whether it's morally permissible to kill animals[br]for food in the first place. And we do kill a lot of[br]animals for food each year. Millions of pigs are[br]killed for food each year. Is that permissible? Over twenty million pigs were[br]killed last year for food. Is that morally permissible? In particular, is it morally[br]permissible to kill pigs for food that we don't need to eat? I'm not talking about a situation where you're all alone on a desert island, and if you don't kill that[br]pig, you're going to die. I'm talking about the[br]situation where in right now, which is we don't have[br]to kill pigs to eat. We could all eat kale sandwiches. But instead, because they're delicious, we kill millions of pigs each year. Is that morally permissible? That's what I want to talk about. But let's talk about a[br]different question first. Is it morally permissible[br]to kill people for food? Again, I'm not talking about a situation like the Donner Party, or situations where people crash land[br]on a deserted island, and if they don't eat each[br]other, they're going to die. I mean, would it be[br]permissible for you to keep some stranger in your house[br]and kill that stranger for food, rather[br]than eat a kale sandwich. We don't have to talk about[br]that question for very long That has an easy answer: no! It is morally impermissible to kill people for food you don't need to eat. So let me ask you this. If it is permissible to kill pigs for food but not permissible to[br]kill people for food, there must be some difference[br]between pigs and people that explains why it's permissible to kill the pig but not the person. So what's the difference? Here's an idea. The pig is a pig. The person is a person. So this difference, I think, is supposed to be a difference in genetic makeup, the type of DNA the pig has that's different from our genetic makeup. So is that the kind of[br]difference that explains why it's morally[br]permissible to kill the pig but not morally permissible to kill us? Let me ask you this. There's a Twilight Zone[br]episode called "To Serve Man." If you want to see that episode, you should skip this part of the video, because I'm going to give[br]away something very important. In the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man," aliens come to earth and, to make a long story short,[br]they're farming us for food. Is that morally permissible? You might think, "No! "It's not permissible for[br]me to eat people for food "I don't need. Neither is it[br]permissible for aliens to eat us." But then imagine the alien[br]says, "But don't you see? "You're a different sort of[br]creature than we are. "We have totally different[br]genetic makeups." That does not seem like a very good answer the alien's given. One thing you might say is, "Yes, I see "that we have different genetic makeups "but I'm still the kind of[br]thing you shouldn't kill." But a pig might say that to us[br]if we say, "It's permissible "for us to kill you because[br]you're a pig and we are people." But maybe what you're getting[br]at when you say, "A pig's a pig; a person, a person" is people are special because, well, for one thing, we're quite a bit smarter than pigs which isn't to say pigs are dummies. Pigs are pretty smart. People are just smarter. Okay. One thing you might ask is, "Why does that make it okay to kill the pig?" But that's not what I want to ask, because while I think[br]you're smarter than a pig, you're watching a philosophy video. Not everyone is smarter than a pig. In fact, we all know some creatures, some people even probably,[br]who are not smarter than pigs. Is it okay to eat those people? No! That's not a hard question. Now, one reason it might be[br]you shouldn't eat people who have mental lives as pigs:[br]we care about those people. It might be that my brother[br]has the mental life of a pig, but it would be wrong to kill him for food, because I care about him. But let me ask you two things about this. First, why does caring about[br]my brother make a difference? If the reason it's wrong to[br]kill my severely mentally handicapped brother for food[br]is because I care about him, then what you're saying[br]is the reason it's wrong doesn't have to do with my brother, so much as it has does to do with me. And that does not seem correct. It seems like there's something[br]about what you're doing to my brother when you kill him for food that's objectionable. that has nothing to do with[br]what you're doing to me. Now let me ask you a different question: what if no one cared about my brother? What if my brother, with the[br]mental life of a pig or a hermit, no one cared about him? No one even knew about him? Would it be permissible[br]to kill him for food then? I don't think so. I still think this is not a hard question. What we're looking for is a difference between people and pigs that explains why it's morally permissible[br]to kill pigs for food but not permissible to kill people. And we've tried some differences out. They're different species, but that doesn't really[br]seem to explain it. People are smarter in general than pigs. That doesn't seem to explain it either. We care about people,[br]don't care about pigs. That doesn't seem to explain it either. What else? Well, here's something people say sometimes when you talk about this: "The pig would do it to us." Put a person with a pig. The pig might eventually eat the person. Does that show it's morally permissible for the person to eat the pig? Let me ask you a different question. Have you ever been punched[br]by a very small child? I have. Do you think it was permissible for[br]me to punch the child back, reasoning, "He did it to me; therefore, it's permissible for me to do it to him"? I think that would not be[br]very good reasoning. It would be wrong to punch the child, even though the child would do it to me. In fact, I think the child,[br]if the child is young enough, doesn't do anything wrong[br]if it does it to me. The child is not the kind[br]of thing that does anything right or wrong, but still,[br]we might do wrong to it. Last difference: we're at the top of the food chain. where we live in places where[br]we can watch philosophy videos. Obviously, if we lived in the ocean, we wouldn't be at the[br]top of the food chain. But where we are, we're the[br]top of the food chain, so isn't it morally permissible[br]for us to take advantage of that and kill whatever[br]we want for food? It might be that we're in a[br]position to do various things to other animals because we're[br]the top of the food chain, but that doesn't mean it's morally permissible for us to do it. I'm a very small person, so I'm constantly dealing with people who are much bigger than I am, who are much stronger than I am, who could pound me to a pulp very easily. Well, imagine they did. And I said, "You shouldn't have done that! "That was morally wrong." And they say, "But don't you see? "I'm stronger than you." That's terrible reasoning. Of course, they're stronger than me. What I wanted to know is why it was okay for them to express their[br]strength in that way. Similarly, it might be that we're above the pig on the food chain, and as you get ready[br]to kill the pig to eat it, the pig might say, "Why[br]are you eating me?" We just say, "We can. "We have control over you." That does not seem like[br]a very good answer. Sometimes people say something related which is "That's just the way nature is. "That's why it's morally permissible." But it's natural to do all sorts of things that are morally wrong. If you're listening to this video and getting really frustrated, it's natural to want to punch me. It might be natural to punch me. But that doesn't mean you should do it. So I'm perplexed. I started off asking whether it's okay to kill pigs for food. To answer that question, I asked,[br]first, a very easy question: whether it's okay to kill people for food. That's an easy question. The answer is "No." Then I asked, "What's the[br]difference between people and pigs, "such that it's permissible[br]to kill pigs for food "even though it's not[br]permissible to kill people?" And I've gone through[br]a bunch of differences. None of them seem like they[br]do the work that's required. None of them seem like they[br]explain why it's okay to kill pigs for food but it's not[br]okay to kill people for food. So I hope you'll help me[br]figure out the answer, or decide it's morally[br]wrong to kill pigs for food. Thanks. Subtitles by the community