I'm stuck thinking that Both are similar and thus equivalent. Am I wrong?

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    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Feb 5, 2019 at 18:09
  • See related question philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/43673/… Feb 5, 2019 at 20:46
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    Your question is formulated factually, but you tagged it with "ethics". Can you clarify, what the question actually is? Is it "How can ethical theories say that cannibalism is wrong but not claim that eating animals is wrong"? or "How do ethical theories say..." or "How is cannibalism any different than eating animals"? Feb 5, 2019 at 23:09
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    @Jishin I think the question is "What is the difference between cannibalism and eating animals and plants that makes cannibalism (more) unethical as opposed to the latter?" I would try to stop anyone who is gonna kill a human solely to eat human meat, but I won't hesitate to eat artificial human meat, though. Yet, it seems, many would not do the latter as well and would try to stop people from eating artificial human meat. This is where I don't know the answer. I can't tell the ethical difference between eating artificial human meat and artificial beef, for example.
    – rus9384
    Feb 5, 2019 at 23:33
  • "Both are similar and thus equivalent"??? A fireplace is "similar" to the Sun, both produce heat and light, and lizards are similar to mammals, they have four limbs, two eyes, one heart, etc. I am guessing you have something like moral equivalence in mind, but it is hard to see how it holds in this case, especially for plants.
    – Conifold
    Feb 5, 2019 at 23:52

3 Answers 3


The eating of your own species is rare in the animal kingdom. Some spider females https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_cannibalism kill and eat their partner after copulation. Ants eat other ants. Scavengers would also eat anything they can get their ‘hands’ on. But mammals killing their own species for eating is rare. Lions kill the cubs of other lions but not for food. Chimps are able to kill other Chimps. Humans have a neocortex that is overdevelopped compared to other species and one would think that being able to feel empathy would help prevent cannibalism. But humans have not survived on astronaut food for millennia. Most animals need other life forms to nurture themselves and even some plants have specialised in attracting animals to ‘consume’ them. But eating your own species comes close to self-eradication. Also eating another human could have other humans want to kill (and Maybe eat) you. So only in communities where strict agreements about which people could possibly be on the menu without retribution cannibalism could work, most probably supported by a scapegoat mechanism where the anger of a group could be focused on the victim or could be pacified by the flow of blood.

In the wild suicide is not an evolutionary asset and cannibalism could be expected to die out, the more we turned ‘civilized’. That is why cannibalism differs from eating other life forms.


A quick Google search or look onto Wikipedia will reveal that cannibalism has not been universally banished by society, and there are advanced societies (such as the pyramid-building Aztecs) that practiced cannibalism.

Jewish law would not have allowed cannibalism for several legal reasons, including the ban on murder, the requirement that animals eaten as meat be slaughtered in a specific and humane way, and the ban on eating creatures that were found dead.

In western society, I suppose that cannibalism has never been accepted for similar reasons, i.e. that it would always entail either murder or unsafe meat-handling practices.

Also, people generally recoil at dead bodies, so it is unlikely for human meat to be appetizing.

  • But ritual cannibalism is of another kind. Along with other forms of human sacrifice. Or burial rituals. Jewish law simply excludes human meat from the diet because humans are not herbivores. The question why in the West cannibalism is seen bad is an interesting one. If we sweep out killing for it, of course. I mean why would we not eat corpses during burial rituals? Why even a thought of eating someone is disgusting even if the person wishes to be eaten after a natural (not caused by humans) death (theoretically)? That's what I can't answer.
    – rus9384
    Feb 5, 2019 at 23:05
  • @rus9384, why can't you answer that? Do you dispute your intuition? Feb 6, 2019 at 0:23
  • I don't know the reasoning behind not eating artifiial human meat and thus I can't answer.
    – rus9384
    Feb 6, 2019 at 6:22
  • Some Americans do eat human tissue that's leftover after pregnancy: the placenta. I would note that the placenta is DNA of the baby, not the mother. Feb 6, 2019 at 15:52
  • Well, some humans gnaw their own mouth tissue. And I believe it's more common than eating placenta.
    – rus9384
    Feb 6, 2019 at 16:04

No answer considered this from the most important perspective: the biological one.

In the case of humans, due to the existence of PrPc (cellular prion protein) the presence of proteinacious infectious particles can influence other similar healthy proteins and change them, causing a chain reaction of infection and creating disease (the pathogen causes transmissible spongiform encephalopathies / TSEs). Specifically, TSEs disease creates holes in the brain, giving it a spongi-looks and causing degradation which ultimately causes death. This cannot be countered with heat (natural organic defense) or even with radiation.

That aside, from a general perspective, eating the flesh of the same species is in most cased extremely inefficient and. Basically the whole organism can fail to process it properly because it can consider it part of itself.

From a philosophical perspective, everything depends on the culture we consider. Cannibalism was practiced in parts of the Solomon Islands, Fiji Amazon Basin, Congo NZ (Māori tribes) and flesh markets existed in some parts of Melanesia.

In Papua New Guinea it's still practiced today (cultural reasons). So it's a matter of culture too.

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