The Replaceability Argument in the Ethics of Animal Husbandry

Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics (2016)
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Most people agree that inflicting unnecessary suffering upon animals is wrong. Many fewer people, including among ethicists, agree that painlessly killing animals is necessarily wrong. The most commonly cited reason is that death (without pain, fear, distress) is not bad for them in a way that matters morally, or not as significantly as it does for persons, who are self-conscious, make long-term plans and have preferences about their own future. Animals, at least those that are not persons, lack a morally significant interest in continuing to live. At the same time, some argue that existence itself can be good, insofar as one’s life is worth living. For animals, a good life can offset a quick, if early, death. So, it seems to follow that breeding happy animals that will be (prematurely) killed can be a good thing overall. Insofar as slaughter and sale makes it economically sustainable to raise new ones, who would otherwise not exist, raising and killing animals for food who will have lives worth living is good overall. It benefits them as well as consumers, and makes the world better by adding to the sum of happiness. The process of raising and killing animals with positive welfare produces a sequence of replacement that maintains or increases overall welfare, all else being equal (assuming in particular no overall negative impact on the welfare of other parties). Call this the Replaceability Argument (RA) and the ensuing controversy the Replaceability Problem (RP). This is a problem at the crossroads of the ethics of killing, agricultural ethics, procreation ethics, and population ethics.

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Nicolas Delon
New College of Florida


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