27 December 2004

Robert Nozick (1938-2002) on the Moral Status of Animals

If some animals count for something, which animals count, how much do they count, and how can this be determined? Suppose (as I believe the evidence supports) that eating animals is not necessary for health and is not less expensive than alternate equally healthy diets available to people in the United States. The gain, then, from the eating of animals is pleasures of the palate, gustatory delights, varied tastes. I would not claim that these are not truly pleasant, delightful, and interesting. The question is: do they, or rather does the marginal addition in them gained by eating animals rather than only nonanimals, outweigh the moral weight to be given to animals’ lives and pain? Given that animals are to count for something, is the extra gain obtained by eating them rather than nonanimal products greater than the moral cost?

(Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia [New York: Basic Books, 1974], 36-7 [italics in original])

Addendum: See here for Peter Singer's contemporaneous review of Nozick's book.

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