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KAREN DAVIS: Can killing an animal be compensated for by the creation of a new animal?

Reducing an animal to a replaceable unit of pleasure or pain is yet another way we have of degrading animals, so that just about any abuse, including killing them can be rationalized.

KAREN DAVIS: There is a line of thought in moral philosophy that says “yes” to killing an animal, so long as the animal lived a pleasant life and the method used to kill the animal is humane – quick and painless. This is not about euthanasia, which means the merciful killing of a creature in irremediable misery… In this line of thought, the animal and his or her death are subsumed within a larger picture, purpose or project in which the animal as an individual is deemed incidental and replaceable in the overall scheme of things…

The absorption of animals into a human enterprise in which they are viscerally featured while simultaneously conceived of as not really there, not really important, not really themselves, or even complicit ––be the enterprise religion, eating, cooking, laboratory experimentation, entertainment, or whatever––recurs thematically throughout human history… Absorbed into these human-centered worlds of thought and behavior, the animals virtually disappear, apart from how they are used. Our use becomes their ontology––“this is what they are”––and their teleology––“this is what they were made for”…

Such maneuvering allows us to hurt and kill animals casually in many circumstances, with little or no compunction or care. The predilection for conceiving nonhuman animals as incidental and replaceable creatures appears in an inquiry posed by utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, whose 1975 book Animal Liberation, revised in 1990, helped launch the modern animal advocacy movement. It goes like this: As long as the same amount of pleasure is maintained in the world, why is the killing of a dog or any other nonhuman animal a moral problem or a loss, if a new animal replaces the old one?…

In Animal Liberation (1990 edition), Singer proposes that nonhuman animals––who because in his view they “cannot grasp” that they have “a life in the sense that requires an understanding of what it is to exist over a period of time” –– are therefore incidental and replaceable creatures whose deaths are no big deal as long as the amount of pleasure embodied in the original animal is maintained in the new form of pleasurable animal life… It isn’t the animal’s point of view that counts here ––“the loss to the animal killed”; but rather the “impartial point of view” from which standpoint the utilitarian philosopher casts an emotionless eye…

One may ask how the view of animals as replaceable embodiments of pleasure and pain differs from the view of exploiters. For these utilitarians, the animals they exploit are replaceable, interchangeable units of production. Farmers speak of “replacement” cows, sows, hens. The individuality of these animals is not an issue. Free from any onus of acknowledgement of the flesh and blood creatures in and of themselves, of each one’s one and only life, agribusiness representatives can glibly glide into abstract discourse about the “welfare” they claim their units of production are receiving, including “humane” slaughter…

Singer’s argument for dismissing the intrinsic worth of individual animals, including an animal’s right not to be killed merely to satisfy human desires, provides it. Singer’s own consumption and approval of “free-range” eggs makes sense within this construct. In a recent interview prompted by his latest book Why Vegan, Singer said he eats bivalves like mussels and clams because he believes they lack the capacity to suffer. He eats “free-range” eggs as long as he feels satisfied that the hens who laid them were “raised in suitable conditions and humanely killed”…

Singer holds that ethical objections to free-range eggs are “very much less” than objections to intensively-produced eggs and other animal products, and that the question is “whether the pleasant lives of the hens (plus the benefits to us of the eggs) are sufficient to outweigh the killing that is a part of the system. One’s answer to that will depend on one’s view about killing, as distinct from the infliction of suffering.” This distinction is false… To kill an animal is therefore to inflict the ultimate injury on that animal…

The effort to get people to care about animals, and particularly about farmed animals beyond a mere nod of agreement about “humane” treatment, is daunting. All of us working on behalf of animals and animal liberation are trying to figure out how to succeed. I believe that we increase our hurtfulness toward animals by contending that they, in the fullness of their own being, matter less, or somehow exist less, than the amount of pleasure or pain they embody and magically transfer upon their death to other embodiments…

Reducing an animal… to a replaceable unit of pleasure or pain is yet another way we have of degrading animals in our own minds so that just about any abuse, including killing them for reasons unrelated to euthanasia or self-defense, can be rationalized as both humane and inconsequential. This line of thought undermines animal liberation, including our own. SOURCE…

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