This week’s question: “If you do not believe in the eternal human soul, why do you think it is okay to eat animals but not humans?”
This is absolutely the best question we’ve tackled. I won’t dodge it by just saying humans are too special or smart to be edible; humans are special because they matter to other humans. Yes, there is a moral difference between eating a rib eye and making a (tiny) steak out of the neighbor’s cat, but eating the cat is morally wrong not because cats are somehow better than any other animals but because the neighbor loves the little guy. In the same way, killing a person is wrong because society cares about people. The anthropologist’s ever-expanding moral circle explains the concept well; evolutionarily, genes are advantaged when people who are likely related help and protect each other. As human societies grow from tribe-sized groups to nations of billions of people, the flexible human brain adapts by expanding its moral circle. A time may come when society expands its moral circle to include all animal life, whereupon my morality would likely change as well. Anyone who claims an absolute view of morality will struggle to justify the point at which their absolute morality ends. After all, there are truly only superficial differences between animal and plant life, and mostly only differences in scale and complexity between me and the millions of bacteria that die and are born every day in my body. And what makes living matter special? Why is a rock undeserving of existence in its present form but you are?
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.
I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one. I’m totally fine with killing/eating animals, but not humans. Humans are simply more valuable than most animals. An animal’s right to protection from humans is not immediately deserved in the same way we aren’t afforded the same privilege from animals. I do not, however, condone needlessly killing animals. The level of justification for killing an animal is directly proportional to how much they contribute to society (pets count for love/being soothing), how much they need to be eaten and how delicious they are. These standards can be applied to anything. Humans just happen to contribute enough to society for it to not matter how delicious they are.
I personally believe that nothing deserves death at any time, for any reason that lies within intent and ability. I go out of my way to direct flies out the window or to carry a spider back outside and I would never approve of the death penalty, regardless of the crime, but I have absolutely no moral dilemma with eating beef, chicken and especially not pork. It has nothing to do with ill will or murderous intent. It may appear contradictory, but I’m very consistent. Animals raised as food simply don’t contribute anything greater than the meat on their bones, and it would be wasteful to use them as anything else. This exact same logic applies to plants in my opinion. I hold plants in extremely high regard, but each living creature should be afforded the same standard, and in practice, it works.
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.
I’d like to first point out, that it might very well be wrong for us to be eating animals in the first place, as I am aware of the incredible amount of needless suffering inherent in the process. But the question assumes two things: that the existence of a soul leads to a valid justification for the consumption of other animals and that there are no other valid arguments that could justify treating some animals differently from others.
I think we can all agree that there are several reasons why we believe some animals should be treated differently and why others should be treated the same. But perhaps that’s not the main thrust of the question. I think, that instead, what the question is trying to ask is what happens when you stop believing that human life is no longer “sacred.”
The answer is simple, nothing changes. The whole reason a belief in the afterlife or a soul is present in some religions is because they want leverage when they talk to us about how to lead a good life. Reincarnation, karma, paradise, inferno and purgatory are all constructs to help validate our existence as something more than just mere sentient animals. All of them constructs that give out rewards and punishments for “good” and “bad” behavior, respectively. How about we just behave for the sake of behaving?
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.
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