Animal Abolitionism and Rationality

I was listening to a Philosophy Bites interview with Gary Francione about animal abolitionism. Animal abolitionists argue that animal welfare reform is nonsense and animals should not be regarded as things to be owned and used. He’s very compelling and his apparently clear reasoning is quite convincing.

During the podcast Francione explained the philosophy of Peter Singer, considered the founder of the animal rights movement. Singer essentially argues animals don’t understand death therefore they don’t suffer knowing it’s coming so killing them is not causing suffering.

Francione doesn’t agree and counters by arguing that the animal would obviously prefer to live rather than be killed.

At a first look, this seems to be clear reasoning but in actual fact it’s a bit of a switcheroo. Singer says it is ok to kill animals because they cannot reason about their own death. Francione says that if they could reason about their own death, they’d prefer to live, so killing them is morally wrong. But Singer’s argument would not apply to an animal that could reason about its own death!

By instilling the animal with the power of reason, Francione transforms it into an animal that Singer would not support the killing of anyway. Singer’s argument only applies to animals that cannot reason in that way!

So we should eat meat?

It’s important for me to make clear that I think Francione’s argument for veganism is probably stronger than Singer’s argument for eating meat (or at least stronger than my own understanding of Singer’s argument at this stage). Beyond the theory,  it’s not really possible to avoid unnecessary suffering to an animal during the meat production process. And any suffering at all is arguably unnecessary, since most people do not need to eat meat to survive. It’s not quite this simple, but I think Francione is broadly right.

I still eat meat though. I’m generally quite careful about the source of my meat, and often eat vegetarian wherever I can’t be sure of the source but I’m still not really convinced I should be eating meat.

Yet I still do eat meat. It’s easy to say humans are rational beings and how that separates us from other animals, but how many of us actually live rationally? Clearly I don’t!