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Ethics: Killing Animals for Food

In this video, Tyler asks why it is morally permissible to kill animals for food. He offers a few explanations that seem unsatisfactory. So, he asks you for help answering this question about animals ethics.

Speaker: Tyler Doggett.
Created by Gaurav Vazirani.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user mathlearner01
    I don't understand why something has to be "morally permissible" for someone to do it. Morality is not a matter of black and white, good and bad, right or wrong. Morality is a spectrum. Like most spectrums, there is not any one point that would be the deciding factor so anything to one side is "permissible" and anything to the other side is "not permissible". Can someone please explain why moral permission is in any way valid, and why it matters?
    (19 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Lyle Gonzalez
      You're questioning morality as a whole and not the permissibility of eating animals specifically. That means your objection applies equally to his premise that it's almost always wrong to kill humans to eat them. His argument is that if you DO agree with that premise (and nearly everyone does) then it should comport with the same ethic applied to animals. You're implying that you don't agree with that premise, which gets you out of his argument but it's at the cost of holding views that most people would find morally abhorrent on their face (and which it's doubtful you'd really follow in practice).
      (1 vote)
  • purple pi purple style avatar for user ScienceMon
    I am a vegetarian. My friend says that if she were to think about the ethics of killing animals for food, then she would probably become one too. So she doesn't think about it. Is it morally permissible to avoid thinking about moral issues?
    (10 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Hudjefa
      Nice question. Morality is exclusive to human beings. In a way, if you refuse to consider moral issues, you are missing out on what it is to be human. But, is it morally permissible not to think about moral issues? I don't think so. Take for example your friend. Her refusal to consider moral issues allows her to continue eating meat, supporting the continued killing of animals for food.
      (4 votes)
  • leafers seed style avatar for user Elizabeth
    the reason I eat meat is that it's the way life is, animals eat other animals, they don't think about the morals of it. We do but our ancestors didn't, besides everything dies anyway some way or another. however I do believe that living things shouldn't be killed for game and I make sure all my meat is wild or was raised humanly.
    (5 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user SMuscat92
      Animals don't think about the morals of it because they cannot. We as humans can, and that puts us in a distinctly different position than the other animals. Disease, cancer, death-in-childbirth, and other such horrors are also the way life is, but that doesn't stop us from trying our darndest to break free from those shackles. Just because something is natural does not make it right or desirable. Rape and murder also happen in nature and the animal kingdom, and probably some of our ancestors were okay with rape and murder (the Mongolians, after conquering another town, used to line up the townspeople and rape their women and girls in front of them and murder anyone who protested), but we are quite confident today that these acts are morally wrong. Nature doesn't prescribe ethics. If we got our ethics from the 'natural way of things', we'd be rather brutal creatures indeed.
      (8 votes)
  • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Angel Ebony-Runner
    Okay... that made me a vegetarian.
    (4 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Austin7264
      That's great to hear :). This is beyond the scope of this video, but in my opinion the dairy industry is much worse than the meat industry. About 90% of beef comes from the dairy industry actually, and dairy cows lives are much more drawn out and horrendous than your average cow raised just for beef. Since cows need to be pregnant to lactate, they're artificially inseminated annually to keep the flow going. After her child is born, the calf will either:
      1. if male, be killed on the spot, or sent to the veal industry where they're stuffed in cramped pins tired down by the neck and fed an iron-deficient diet
      2. if female, she'll become a dairy cow herself and the cycle continues.
      The most horrific screams I've ever heard are from cows crying for their children after being stolen away.

      At birth, chicks are sorted based on gender. The females go off to become egg layers and the males are either ground up alive, literally thrown away where they suffocate and get crushed to death, or at "humane" facilities, gassed. Even the most idyllic, stereotypical "old McDonald" farm gets their chicks from these facilities. The female chicks who weren't accidentally ground up alive are 90% of the time stuffed in battery cages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_cage). Battery cages are about the size of a milk crate and about 8 hens are stuffed in each one. After living a life without the ability to even spread her wings, they're sent to slaughter. Since hens are genetically modified to lay up to 10x the amount of eggs they naturally would, they often are missing entire legs, wings, etc. because all their calcium in their bodies is being used to form the hundreds of eggs they lay a year.

      Sorry for the wall of text, but I just want to keep people informed. For those reasons I'm vegan, I don't participate in the exploitation of any animals. Thanks for being open minded and have a great day :)
      (9 votes)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user Cyan Wind
    People will only see what they want to see. Humanity come up with moral and law because we don't want to get beat or to get killed. in other words, when our rights are violated, we react very hard. Therefore, we refuse to admit a natural law: The strong/capable will win; because if you are the weak one, moral and law are the tools which will protect your rights.

    IMO, the problem is not to kill or not to kill. It comes from our mind: We have intelligence, we have our morals. As I said above: The strong will win. However, is it possible to throw our ethical thoughts away (You are strong and you don't care anything else) when we are living in a normal society with orders? I don't think so.

    Good luck if you are a human looking for the right path.
    (8 votes)
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  • I don't understand why it has to be so complicated to explain theoretically. There is no objective basis for moral permissibility, so you could say it's either morally permissible or not morally permissible to kill pigs for food, and each answer would still be a matter of human opinion. What stops us from killing each other for food is not some objective law found within nature, but rather social constructs that we have developed over the millennia to ensure we stick together and survive as a species for as long as possible.
    (5 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Jamison Cleveland
    What would make eating a kale sandwich be a better solution than eating a pig? I'm wondering since both are valid sources of food, and are both living organisms, so what would make kale correct to eat?
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Saxon Knight
    At , to help figure out the answer, is it perhaps because we define morality in an organically democratic way? Because the majority of populations of humans which eat pigs want to eat pigs, and thereby agree that it is morally permissible? The difference I see is most people would disagree that it is morally permissible to kill a person for food. Yet, within a population of people wherein most enjoy eating pork and agree that it is not morally permissible to kill a person for food, it seems that most would agree that it is morally permissible to kill a pig for food. My personal conclusion is morality exists as sets of personal and socially-accepted beliefs. Each individual has full power to conclude one way or the other, and it is only within the context of a society that they could be considered incorrect. So, my question then is what is the purpose of morality, and should it be applied here? What are the benefits and detriments of applying morality to the killing of animals for food?
    (5 votes)
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  • stelly green style avatar for user Marissa.L.Medina
    Is it permissable to kill animals?
    I think that we should not kill for fun, but if necessary, we need to survive and therefore have the permission to kill animals!
    I am open to opposition!
    Have a BLESSED day!
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Angelica Chen
      So consider this: does humanity need to kill and eat animals in order to survive? I would argue that many of us, most in fact, could be vegetarians and still live happy lives. Only in few occasions do we need to kill animals to survive. So no, I don't think we have permission to kill animals unless there is no reasonable food to eat.

      Except for bugs. I don't like bugs.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Mikala Westbrook
    i feel that it is wrong to kill pigs, ( and other animals ) for food. If we weren't top of the food chain then how would you feel, scared, worried, afraid you might be slaughtered for some meat! Now picture yourself on a pig farm, you are a nice healthy pig, and quite big too. Now you know that one day that you will have to go into the slaughter house so you can be turned into some pork, ham, bacon, meat in general. Now you would be scared of dying for someone's selfish want for meat. Now think about your average everyday pig, not all the time they are killed, sometimes they are kept for pets, but you know majority die.
    (4 votes)
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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 Amara.org community