Ethics, Meat Eating, and Animal Pain

From Science Daily: Conflicted Meat-Eaters May Deny That Meat-Animals Have the Capacity to Suffer, Study Finds.

A new study from the University of Kent has found that people who wish to escape the ‘meat paradox’ — i.e., simultaneously disliking hurting animals and enjoying eating meat — may do so by denying that the animal they ate had the capacity to suffer….

So, what’s the mental process going on, here?

Loughnan also explained that, broadly speaking, their study has shown that when there is a conflict between people’s preferred way of thinking and their preferred way of acting, it is their thoughts and moral standards that people abandon first — rather than changing their behavior. “Rather than change their beliefs about the animals’ moral rights, people could change their behavior,” he said. “However, we suspect that most people are unwilling to deny themselves the enjoyment of eating meat, and denying animals moral rights lets them keep eating with a clear conscience.”

Note that, technically, there are 3 ways out of this dilemma (i.e., the dilemma presented by feeling bad about something you enjoy).

One way is to stop doing what you’re doing (i.e., in this case, stop eating meat).

The second is to stop feeling bad about what you’re doing (in this case, by denying that there’s anything to feel bad about, i.e., denying that animals feel pain or perhaps just denying that they suffer “much”).

The third way, in principle, is to deny that there’s a dilemma. I wonder how many people simply feel that there’s no inconsistency between their beliefs about animal pain and their desire to eat meat? Whether that’s tenable or not depends on one’s views of the ethical significance of pain — either pain in general, or the pain of others more specifically, or the pain of animal-others more specifically still.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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