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M any people are opposed to factory farming because of the terrible suffer- ing it inflicts on animals, yet see no ob- jection to eating animals that are killed painlessly after having been reared in conditions that are at least no worse, and are perhaps even better, than typi- cal conditions in the wild. Let us refer to this latter practice, in which animals are reared for human consumption but in humane conditions, as ‘benign car- nivorism.’ When philosophers discuss the morality of this practice, they some- times argue that, unlike animals killed by hunters, animals that are raised to be killed and eaten would never have exist- ed if we had not created them in order to eat them. If benign carnivorism enables these animals to have contented lives that they would otherwise not have had, it seems better for the animals as well as for the people who get to eat them. How, then, could such a practice be objection- able? Those who object to eating factory- farmed animals but accept benign car- nivorism generally believe that while an- imal suffering matters, animal lives do not –or at least not as much. They think that there is a strong moral reason not to cause animals to suffer, and even to try to prevent them from suffering, but not a comparably strong reason not to kill them, or to ensure that they have longer rather than shorter lives. One possible basis for this view is the difference between how well off and how badly off it is possible for animals to be. Although animals are incapable of the depths of psychological misery to which most human beings are suscepti- ble, their capacity for physical suffering rivals our own. Yet their highest peaks of well-being are signi½cantly lower than those accessible to most human beings. While some animals–dogs, for instance –experience exuberant joy more readi- ly and frequently than many adult hu- man beings do, animals lack other di- mensions of well-being that are argu- ably more important, such as achieve- ment, creativity, deep personal relations, knowledge, aesthetic appreciation, and so on. There is another, possibly even more important, reason why animal lives mat- ter less than animal suffering. Not only do animals’ future lives promise less in terms of both quality and quantity of Dædalus Winter 2008 1 Jeff McMahan is Professor of Philosophy at Rut- gers University and author of “The Ethics of Kill- ing: Problems at the Margins of Life” (2002). © 2008 by the American Academy of Arts Jeff McMahan Eating animals the nice way McMahan:Shinner.qxd 11/27/2007 4:35 PM Page 1
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2 Dædalus Winter 2008 Jeff McMahan on life good than those of most human beings, but animals are also less strongly con- nected to themselves in the future in the ways that make it rational to be concerned about an individual’s future well-being for that individual’s own sake now. Because they are not self-con- scious, or are self-conscious only to a rudimentary degree, they are incapable of contemplating or caring about any-
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