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If we consider the animals have a right to live, then killing them for consumption should be considered a violation of their rights. On the other hand, if we don't consider that animals have a right to live, then even killing them for no reason is not violating any right and so should not be considered as unethical.

Both of these positions seem too simple, and I can't find any middle ground between these two sides. What sort of philosophical resources and arguments are available for me to understand how to reason the ethics of killing animals?

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  • Are you seeking to justify an existing position, or are you researching various arguments both for and against in order to inform your own opinion on the matter? Also, what parameters are you considering, i.e. any and all killing, only for survival, factory slaughterhouses, ethical hunting practices, etc.? There is potentially a lot to unpack in this question, and it is a bit vague as it is. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 21:00
  • @MichaelHall I'm not in any of these sides, so no, I'm not seeking any justification. I'm seeking for clarification. Plus, theorically I don't see any difference between different purposes for killing animals. Killing them for edible purposes or killing for pleasure, both are killing them. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 21:24
  • I mean, if we consider the right to live for animals, then there would be no justification for killing them, regardless of the intent of the killer. I think the question is independent of the reasoning behind the killing. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 21:28
  • I disagree completely, the reason for killing DOES matter. Killing to protect other animals or humans, to eat for survival, euthanizing to prevent suffering, etc. are FAR different than wanton slaughter and waste for pure sport. North American plains tribes subsisted on bison for eons, European immigrants shot them from trains as if they were nothing more than targets and left the carcasses to rot. One practice is ethical and sustainable, the other is not, and almost drove them to extinction. Also, did you see the 4th paragraph I added to my answer? Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 22:43
  • @MichaelHall You're right, killing to save other lives may be different, but I think there's no different between killing for eating or killing for no reason (I'm assuming eating animals is not the only option for human survival, in that case, that's killing to save our lives, and may be considered different). Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 9:53

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Most vegans take more of a middle ground.

A prominent definition of veganism is to avoid causing animal exploitation or cruelty "as far as is possible and practicable".

Most vegans accept that it wouldn't be realistic to avoid harm to animals altogether, but rather seek to minimise the harm.

Vegans will also point out that non-vegans commonly aren't consistent in their views on animal rights, in that they would e.g. eat meat from an animal that lived in abhorrent conditions on a factory farm, but they'd also be disgusted if someone hurts a dog, and even may call for that person to be arrested, and there are various laws against animal cruelty. One might say one difference is whether animals are being hurt for pleasure, but is enjoying the taste of their flesh not also pleasure?


A "right" also generally isn't absolute and inviolable. A person may have a right to life, but if they threaten someone else's life, that invalidates their own right.

So accepting that animals have the right to life can be compatible with killing them for food where necessary, if we deem their rights to be superseded by humans' rights to do what's necessary to survive.

JD's answer does a good job of providing references.

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  • "Most vegans take more of a middle ground." Perception of "middle ground" is relative, and very ethnocentric. A good, and balanced answer otherwise. It earned my upvote. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 23:35
  • @MichaelHall It's a middle ground in the sense that it's between "any killing for food is immoral" and "no killing is immoral". There may also be other positions between those points.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 2:06
  • So you are claiming that vegans believe killing for food is moral? What is the source of this opinion? Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 15:56
  • @MichaelHall More like: killing for food is acceptable, if doing so is necessary. I don't have a source clearly saying this, but there are few moral positions that don't allow you to do what's necessary to survive, and that applies to veganism too. This is implied by the link in my question, which says "as far as is possible and practicable".
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:56
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    @MichaelHall Most vegans I've heard from say it would be acceptable to eat meat if there's no other option to survive (and are aware that life in society entails animal suffering), but they also say most people could get all necessary nutrients from plant-based products, and we should work to be less dependent on animal products.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:57
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Killing animals ranges from common place (I buy a dead chicken at least once a month) to abhorrent (I have two dogs I would place myself in harm's way to protect from coyotes in my neighborhood). The notion of animal rights is very complicated for us as people. The Stanford Encyclopedia has a number of articles on animals and rights starting with Rights (SEP). What is a right? How is determined what rights are? How do some rights apply to people and animals and other do not? This is quite a complicated topic in and of itself and is also a topic that Peter Singer is famous for discussing. From WP:

Peter Albert David Singer AC (born 6 July 1946)2 is an Australian moral philosopher and the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He specialises in applied ethics, approaching the subject from a secular, utilitarian perspective. He wrote the book Animal Liberation (1975), in which he argues for vegetarianism, and the essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", which favours donating to help the global poor.

A good start into animals and ethics is the IEP article Animals and Ethics. As for the various positions, one also has to know something about ethics and various dimensions of animals that might inform such a topic. The SEP also has some of the following articles:

While animal ethics is a very specific topic, we can note that the right to live is applied unevenly among human beings. In war, some people are given the right to live (civilians) in a combat zone and others are not (enemy combatants) unless they surrender in which they again earn the right to life. Why are pigs eaten when they are smarter than dogs? Why is animal cruelty a crime, but is generally not applied to insects? Peter Singer argues that animals rights should be commensurate with their degree of consciousness.

These resources should get you on the path of finding answers to your questions, and after you are introduced to some of the basic ideas, you can return and ask specific questions here. Good luck!

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  • Presumably this isn't what you meant, but it sounds like you're saying it's "abhorrent" to protect your pets from other animals. I'm not really sure how else to read that.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 20:30
  • @NotThatGuy "Killing animals ranges from common place (I buy a dead chicken at least once a month) to abhorrent (I have two dogs I would place myself in harm's way to protect from coyotes in my neighborhood)" grammatically reduces to "Killing animals ranges from common palce to abhorrent, as in the case of my two dogs I would place myself in myself in harm's way to protect."
    – J D
    Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 20:45
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There are many philosophical resources and arguments that can help you understand the ethics of killing animals, but I will try to give you a brief overview of some of the main ones.

One of the most influential philosophical theories that supports animal rights is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the view that the right action is the one that maximizes happiness or well-being for the greatest number of people. According to this theory, killing animals for consumption is wrong because it causes more suffering than happiness for both humans and animals. For example, some utilitarians argue that eating meat requires killing billions of animals every year, which causes immense pain and death to these creatures. Moreover, eating meat also contributes to environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, and water pollution, which harm not only animals but also humans and other living beings. Therefore, utilitarians would recommend reducing or eliminating animal consumption as a way of improving the overall welfare of society

Another philosophical theory that supports animal rights is deontology. Deontology is the view that the right action is the one that follows certain moral rules or duties, regardless of the consequences. According to this theory, killing animals for consumption is wrong because it violates their inherent dignity and worth as rational beings. For example, some deontologists argue that animals have rights such as life, liberty, and freedom from torture, which are derived from their rational nature and not from their usefulness to humans. Therefore, deontologists would require humans to respect these rights and not use animals as mere means to their own ends

A third philosophical theory that supports animal rights is virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is the view that the right action is the one that expresses a good character or virtue in a person. According to this theory, killing animals for consumption is wrong because it shows a lack of compassion and empathy towards other living beings. For example, some virtue ethicists argue that humans have a natural capacity for love and kindness towards all creatures, which should guide their actions and choices. Therefore, virtue ethicists would urge humans to cultivate virtues such as compassion, empathy, generosity, and justice towards animals

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  • This is a really good answer, but it is also very one sided. (and some opposing conclusions may be drawn from the examples given) Can you offer any examples that support ethical, sustainable, and humane farming and/or hunting practices? The question was neutral in it's wording, and I clarified with the OP that they were NOT looking to support a purely no-kill position. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 22:48
  • @MichaelHall I understand but didn't know any solid reason or discussion behind killing animals, humans are killing animals from ages so it's sort of normal, hence I think there is lack of genuine arguments from other side.
    – Junsui
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 4:04
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The middle ground you seek comes not from inward philosophical reflection or application of the ethics of modern human to human relationships, but from anthropology and observations of the natural world.

The lion has as much "right" to eat as the gazelle, and possesses a digestive system incompatible with savannah grasses or leaves. The lion therefore must kill other animals in order to survive.

Humans are omnivores, and have traditionally relied on a balanced diet of vegetation and animal protein for optimal health. Existing in harmony with the natural world is ethical.

FWIW, For perspective, the largest animal rights organization in world, (that has the word "ethical" in their name...) has an incredibly high kill rate. Therefore the act of killing must not be an ethical consideration for them.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 23:09
  • 1) would you provide source for your last paragraph? 2) I'm not advocating any idea or party in this debate, I'm just curiously presenting the contradiction that was in my mind for the sake of learning new ideas. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 9:58
  • @AmirrezaRiahi, run some internet searches using key words PETA, Kill Rate, etc. There are numerous articles exposing their record on this matter. Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 16:39

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