07 December 2008

R. G. Frey on the Principle of the Equal Consideration of Interests

According to Singer, the principle of the equal consideration of interests 'requires us to be vegetarians'. This is a moral principle, and states that 'the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being'. Interests arise, Singer contends, from the capacity to feel pain, which he labels a 'prerequisite' for having interests at all; and animals can and do suffer, can and do feel pain. The principle of the equal consideration of interests, therefore, applies to them, which in turn means that we are not morally justified in ignoring, disregarding, or otherwise neglecting their interests. This, however, is precisely what factory farming does. Factory farming is nothing more than modern methods of technology applied to the mass production of food for human consumption; but this particular production line involves widespread and often intense suffering and therein the systematic disregard and/or undervaluation of the interests of animals, a disregard and/or undervaluation the moral seriousness of which is, if anything, compounded by the fact that alternative and health-sustaining sources of food are for the most part readily available to us. By forgoing meat in our diets, we can reduce, if not eliminate, this massive suffering of animals, merely through bringing market forces to bear upon factory farming. The smaller the demand for meat, the lower its price; the lower the price, the lower the profit; and the lower the profit, the fewer the animals that will be raised and slaughtered on factory farms. A serious concern for the suffering and interests of animals, then, as expressed through vegetarianism, which, after all, is effectively nothing more than the boycott of meat, directly affects factory farming, the immediate source of so much of this suffering. Doubtless it may and will be suggested that someone opposed to inflicting suffering on animals but not to painlessly killing them could still consistently eat the flesh of animals that had been reared and slaughtered painlessly; but Singer rejects such a suggestion on three counts. First, it amounts to looking upon animals as in effect means to the end of satisfying our tastes for certain types of flesh, and factory farming is nothing more than the application of technological methods to this idea; second, it is impossible to rear animals on a massive scale for human consumption without inflicting suffering; and third, even traditional methods of farming involve extensive suffering. There is for Singer, then, no escaping the conclusion: if we take morality seriously, a genuine concern for the interests of animals and for the diminution of their suffering requires that we cease rearing and slaughtering animals for food and cease dining upon them.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 141-2 [italics in original; footnote omitted; parenthetical page references omitted])

Note from KBJ: Here is my student handout on Singer's argument.