Our panel of 91 professional philosophers has responded to

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Question of the Day

I am not one who thinks that concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) and other practices of raising, killing, and eating non-human animals are justified. Where possible (and it's not for all human possible) veganism is morally preferable. Now, Jane Goodall isn't really a pain scientist, but I think most would agree with her that chimps feel pain, and as a philosopher I think sufficient pain to make it morally wrong to kill them for food (at least in painful ways) when there is no necessity in doing so. (I also resist the idea that they should be used in medical research.) I think pain a strong criterion for moral discrimination, but it does seem to become difficult to know where the experience of pain shades of into non-sentience. Insects, mollusks, single-cell or simple animals, plants, fungi. There are clear cases (like chimps) but also gray areas. Same with intelligence and also consciousness. I emphasize, again, that the existence of hard cases does nothing to undermine the clear ones. Now, if I were to argue for non-human animals as a food source, I'd do it this way. First, rather than property, I'd argue that non-humans generally don't share the forms of life we value. Our social lives are complex and involve all kinds of dimensions unavailable to non-humans--some trivial and others profound. Going to prom, bowling, writing poems, practicing the sciences, inventing electronics, singing folk songs, telling stories, playing baseball, doing philosophy, going to Catholic mass. We value humans because we value the forms of human life we share with one another. So it's not so much intelligence, e.g., but intelligence as it is enacted in forms of life. Dogs have come to share in our forms of life, and we value them for it. Related to that is, second, our living as historical beings. One can speak of ancient, medieval, Renaissance, etc., periods of our history, and our histories inform the way we project ourselves into the future. Iguanas have a past, but not history. Today's blue crabs and salmon live in pretty much the same way they have for as long as the species has existed. Chimps seems to have rather limited cultures, but think of the changes that have taken place since ancient Babylon in terms of slavery, government, morality, commerce, religion, clothing, warfare, etc. Third is something a bit more animal about us, and that's our capacity for sympathy. Our moral life is based in part on conceptual considerations of the sort you raise, but it's also in part rooted in what David Hume and others have recognized – namely, our emotional architecture. There are some beings that I think humans just have a hard time sympathizing with – e.g., mollusks and fish. Some do, but those sympathies are limited, and as a consequence I think it implausible that humans can be expected to develop strong prohibitions against eating them – especially given the customs and histories that inform our lives.