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Eating Meat: What Do Philosophers Say?

Animals can reason, communicate with one another, possibly use language in some cases and behave morally. Thus, excluding animals from moral consideration and eating animals cannot be justified.

JOAN McGREGOR: ‘WeWork, a co-working and office space company, recently made a company policy not to serve or reimburse meals that include meat… His moral arguments are based on the devastating environmental effects of meat consumption… Indeed, for centuries philosophers have argued against consuming animals… Ancient Greek philosophers made their arguments based on the moral status of animals themselves. Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras made the case against eating animals on grounds of their having souls like humans. Philosopher Plato, in Book 2 of the “The Republic,” thought of meat as a luxury that would lead to an unsustainable society, filled with strife and inequality, requiring more land and wars to acquire it.

Two thousand years later, in 1789, Jeremy Bentham, father of the theory of utilitarianism, pointed to the animal suffering as morally concerning and therefore implicated meat consumption… Other philosophers reject the attention to just the suffering of animals and argue that it is simply wrong to treat animals as our resources whether or not it involves suffering. Just as it would be wrong to treat humans as resources for harvesting organs, it is immoral to raise animals for meat.Animal rights philosopher Tom Regan, for example, argued that animals are “the subject of a life,” just as humans are. What he meant was that they too—like humans—are beings who have rights, with their own preferences, wants and expectations…

Indeed, there are those philosophers who believed that animals do not have moral status equal to humans. Human exceptionalism is based on the premise that humans have superior abilities compared to other animals… Sixteenth-century French philosopher René Descartes, known for his dictum, “I think, therefore, I am,” thought that animals were not conscious, did not have minds and, consequently, did not experience pain… German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that it was personhood that distinguished humans from animals. For Kant, humans set their own moral rules based on reason and act upon them. This is something that animals cannot do…

More astute observations and scientific studies, however, have shown that animals do experience pain analogous to humans and have feelings. For example, elephants have complex emotional lives, including grieving for loved ones, and complex social and family relationships. Animals can reason, communicate with one another, possibly use language in some cases and behave morally. Thus, excluding animals from moral consideration and eating animals cannot be justified on the grounds that they lack these characteristics’. SOURCE…

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