21 June 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 11

The other day, a reader asked whether it is morally objectionable to eat the flesh of animals who died natural or accidental deaths. For example, suppose I strike a deer with my car. If I’m inclined to eat it, may I? Or suppose some animal companion of mine—a cow, a horse, a pig, a chicken, a goat—dies a natural death. May I eat it?

I don’t see why not. There are two reasons, in general, to refrain from eating animal flesh. The first—the utilitarian reason—is that the animals whose flesh you eat were made to suffer. By eating an animal’s flesh, you become a party to its suffering and contribute to further suffering. The second—the deontological reason—is that you deprive animals of their lives. Why is it wrong to kill normal adult human beings like you and me? It’s because we are deprived of our futures, which contain enjoyments, satisfactions, experiences, activities, and projects. Animals are deprived of the same things (with the possible exception of projects) by being killed, even if they were not made to suffer during life.

If an animal is not made to suffer and is not deprived of its future by having its life cut short, I don’t see any reason not to consume its flesh. I’m not saying that anyone must or should eat it, or even that many people would want to, only that one who is so inclined may. I welcome feedback from anyone who has a different take on this. Perhaps I’m missing some morally relevant consideration.

By the way, if it’s permissible to eat the flesh of animals who died natural or accidental deaths, it’s permissible (for the same reasons) to eat the flesh of humans who died natural or accidental deaths. The only difference I can see is that in the case of humans, others, such as relatives and friends, may be distressed by the knowledge that the corpse of their loved one is being consumed. This is a case where the greater intellectual capacity of humans makes a moral difference.

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