In many situations we try to perform actions in a way which do not harm others or are beneficial to them. This is called moral consideration. Moral consideration has to do with both, other individuals and ourselves. While making decisions, we have to weigh different alternative courses of action. However, in those decisions we may not take into account how it might affect a piece of paper or a sheep.
A morally considerable being is a being who can be wronged. It is often said that only humans are morally considerable because only they can recognize moral claims and this is known as ‘speciesism’. Richard Ryder coined this term in 1970s to denote a ubiquitous type of human centered prejudice which he considered as another form of racism. He objected the favoring of one’s own species and exploiting the other species for or one’s own interests. Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher, popularized the term speciesism and focused on how without any moral justification it favors the interests of humans.
Humans have always tried to justify their activities of exploiting other species without any moral justification. Everything revolves around what humans want in that moment, whether they want to watch a Dolphin perform a stunt or whether they want that spicy chicken wing. Humans have always tried to change the laws of the nature, ignore the emotions of other species co-existing with them just to satisfy their momentary needs. We can say that in recent times the awareness for this subject matter has increased and people have become a bit more sensitive towards animals and their rights, but still we see a great deal of hypocrisy involved in the way humans deal with this problem.
Humans enthusiastically champion animal rights when it comes to animals being caged in enclosures for entertainment. They deny the existence of a hierarchy and condemn the exercising of control over animals just because they are on top of that hierarchical pyramid due to their better ‘evolved’ intelligence. But they totally forget about animal rights when it comes to eating animals, because that affects them directly and they certainly do not want to let go of their transitory satisfaction. When it comes to non-vegetarianism, people conveniently forget animal rights and forget the atrocities we inflict upon them. They present arguments like – humans were hunter and gatherers before farming started, comparing animal eating to plant eating by saying that plants are also alive so why should we eat plants. This disparity in thinking of human beings for two aspects of the same coin reaffirms the fact that they are an extremely egoistic and self-centered species.
Our use of animals for food becomes questionable – especially when animal flesh is a luxury rather than a necessity. Eskimos living in an environment where they must kill animals for food or starve might be justified in claiming that their interest in surviving overrides that of the animals they kill. Most of us cannot defend our diet in this way. Citizens of industrialized societies can easily obtain an adequate diet without the use of animal flesh. The overwhelming weight of medical evidence indicates that animal flesh is not necessary for good health or longevity. Nor is animal production in industrialized societies an efficient way of producing food, since most of the animals consumed have been fattened on foods that we could have eaten directly. When we feed these grains to animals, only about 10 per cent of the nutritional value remains as meat for human consumption. Imagine if all that food went to poor instead of feeding animals. In considering the ethics of the use of animal flesh for human food in industrialized societies, we are considering a situation in which a relatively minor human interest must be put on a pedestal against the lives and welfare of the animals involved. The principle of equal consideration of interests does not allow major interests to be sacrificed for minor interests. The case against using animals for food is at its strongest when animals are made to lead miserable lives so that their flesh can be made available to humans at the lowest possible cost. Modern forms of intensive farming apply science and technology with the attitude that animals are objects for human usage. In order to have meat on the table at an affordable price, our society tolerates methods of meat production that confine sentient animals in cramped, unsuitable conditions for the entire duration of their lives. Animals are treated like machines that convert fodder into flesh, and any innovation that results in a higher ‘conversion ratio’ is liable to be adopted. Still, veganism is a subject of a big joke for many people.
Like speciesism, human exceptionalism can be grasped easily by understanding that there are distinct human capacities which shows only humans as the kinds of beings that can be wronged. Some proposed capacities include developing family ties, solving social problems, expressing emotions, starting wars, having sex for pleasure, using language, or thinking abstractly. As it turns out, none of these activities are unique to human. Both scholarly and popular work on animal behavior suggests that many of the activities that are thought to be distinct to humans occurs in animals. For example, many species of animals develop long lasting kinship ties, orangutan mothers stay with their young for eight to ten years and while they eventually part company, they continue to maintain their relationships. Less solitary animals, such as chimpanzees, wolves, and elephants maintain extended family units built upon complex individual relationships, for long periods of time. Meerkats in the Kalahari Desert are known to sacrifice their own safety by staying with sick or injured family members so that the fatally ill will not die alone.
Eating animals is wrong not because it is a violation of their rights or because it creates more suffering than other acts, but rather because in eating animals or using them in other harmful, violent ways, we don’t display kindness, sensitivity, compassion, maturity, and thoughtfulness which members of a moral community should. Even though it is challenging to understand what it is like to be an animal, and even though we are limited by our inevitable anthropocentric perspectives, being in respectful ethical relation involves attempting to understand another’s needs, interests, desires, vulnerabilities, and perspectives. Empathetic individuals imagine themselves in other’s situations while realizing the similarities and differences between them. This is why I feel that all of us should be more empathetic in general as it would help us enhance our own experiences, develop our own moral imagination and also helps us to become more sensitive as human beings overall.
Vedant Sharma is a student pursuing Philosophy from Hindu College, University of Delhi.
Edited by: Nuzhat Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.