Peter Singer & Vegetarian Dogs (was Re: The Heiress and the

Gordon Fitch gcf at
Sun Mar 5 07:53:09 PST 2000

> ...
> Just because chimps are aware of their minds doesn't mean they're able to
> use this awareness the way we do. Only humans can reflect on their
> socially-ingrained habitual patterns of thought and learn to overcome them,
> in the process defining themselves individually. Only humans can attain
> autonomy and free will.

I disagree with this, but it is a metaphysical issue. Except for quantum-mechanical processes, I believe it's always possible to construe behavior as determined; so one can claim that non-human animals, or all animals including humans, are merely complex machines. It appears to me, however, than non-human animals are willful and I take them to be such until they are proved otherwise.

> So there's no philosophical basis for the idea that
> it's wrong to keep animals, even chimps, as pets. Obviously they should be
> treated with the same respect that's due to all living things. Of course,
> living things are prone to eating other living things, so it is not
> disrespectful to eat the flesh of animals. ...

This rule would permit us to kill and eat the flesh of cannibals, so I think it might be questionable, although there is a certain justice in it. To be perfectly fair, however, only practicing carnivores could be consumed, and only if they were taken by the same means they themselves employ, that is, bodily force rather than the paid employment of abattoirs and butchers, and only if there were no alternative meal, as is the case with most practicing carnivores. One might note as well that carnivores do not usually imprison their prey -- but maybe that's what you mean by "disrespect".

The fact is, the meat industry is a Sierra Nevada of misery, torture, and death for innumerable beings who may be as capable of suffering as you or I, but who almost certainly lack our capacity to mitigate immediate pain by telling ourselves fables about better worlds and benevolent gods. It is probably better not to think about it if one values one's tranquility; but one might also tolerate, if not support, those who can take up the monstrous burden.


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