13 December 2003

R. M. Hare on the Alleged Wrongness of Killing Animals

For utilitarians like [Peter] Singer and myself, doing wrong to animals must involve harming them. If there is no harm, there is no wrong. Further, it has to be harm overall; if a course of action involves some harms but greater benefits, and there is no alternative with a greater balance of good over harm, it will not be wrong. We have to ask, therefore, whether the entire process of raising animals and then killing them to eat causes them more harm overall than benefit. My answer is that, assuming, as we must assume if we are to keep the 'killing' argument distinct from the 'suffering' argument, that they are happy while they live, it does not. For it is better for an animal to have a happy life, even if it is a short one, than no life at all. This is an old argument, and there are well-canvassed objections to it . . . ; but I do not think they succeed. First, it is claimed that mere existence is in itself not a benefit. But this is irrelevant; I am not claiming that mere existence is a benefit in itself, but that it is a necessary condition for having the benefits that we can have only if we are alive. It is beneficial not in itself but as a means to these.

(R. M. Hare, "Why I Am Only a Demi-Vegetarian," chap. 15 in his Essays on Bioethics [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993], 219-35, at 226)