When is it morally acceptable to kill animals?


Professor Hugh Lehman has recently argued that “the rights view,” according to which nonhuman animals have a prima facie right to life, is compatible with the killing of animals in many circumstances, including killing for food, research, or product-testing purposes. His principle argument is an appeal to “life-boat” cases, in which certain lives should be sacrificed rather than others because the latter would allegedly be made worse-off by death than the former. I argue that this reasoning would apply to so-called “inferior” humans just as much as to animals, and that this appeal is unsuccessful in any case. I distinguish two versions of the rights view: the “equal” and the “unequal” rights views. Although the “unequal” rights view, unlike the “equal” rights view, would sanction the killing of animals (and some humans) for food under severely restricted circumstances, neither rights view sanctions the raising of animals for their meat. Moreover, neither rights view would sanction the killing of animals for research or product-testing purposes. I conclude with a brief discussion of the merits of phasing out the meat production industry.

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Pluhar, E.B. When is it morally acceptable to kill animals?. Journal of Agricultural Ethics 1, 211–224 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01833410

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  • The rights view
  • lifeboat situations
  • the worse-off principle
  • the equal rights view
  • the unequal rights view
  • killing for research and product-testing
  • the meat production industry