Those who defend the raising and killing of animals for humansâ€™ consumption sometimes say that such practices benefit the animals by providing them existence. Leslie Stephen, the father of Virginia Woolfe, wrote: â€œThe pig has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for bacon. If all the world were Jewish, there would be no pigs at all.â€
Imagine a world with no pigs. Now, consider a world with plentiful pigs, where each one lives a life of pain and suffering. (The second world doesnâ€™t quite resemble the real world, but factory farm conditions arenâ€™t too far off from this picture.) Is the second world really better for pigs than the first? I donâ€™t think so.
First, an observation about what can be valuable for us: Nothing can be good or bad for the nonexistent. Who could you say is better or worse off? If no pigs existed, it couldnâ€™t be better for them to have existed even in dour conditions â€” thereâ€™s no â€œthemâ€ to be worse off by comparison!
But then, you might think the pigs are better off being raised and killed after all. At least theyâ€™re living, right? Unfortunately, this cuts both ways. If the nonexistent arenâ€™t worse off for never coming into existence, the living arenâ€™t better off for merely existing at all. And surely itâ€™s not the bare survival of a species that matters. What matters is living a good life.
Besides, the important matter isnâ€™t that being brought into existence canâ€™t be good for you, itâ€™s that being brought into existence to live a life of suffering is decidedly bad for you. In fact, itâ€™s bad for all sentient beings. Chickens, cows, fish, pigs and pretty much every animal with a central nervous system has an interest in avoiding pain and suffering. There are more issues to consider, but on the face of it, I take this as a pretty strong reason to doubt the permissibility of raising and killing animals.
On an unrelated note, the Trinity Philosophy Club meets every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in Chapman 045. Join us for drinks, snacks and thoughtful discussions about topics like this!