Jeff McMahan, The Meat Eaters:

Would the controlled extinction of carnivorous species be a good thing?


1.      Carnivorous predation is awful

         a.      “Unceasing slaughter rages” in nature

         b.      Schopenhauer: “One simple test of the claim that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain…is to compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of the animal being devoured.”

2.      Problem of evil and animal suffering

         a.      Suffering of animals in wild is bigger problem for theist than human suffering, animals don’t choose or deserve evil, for humans can grow from suffering while animals do not

         b.      If he’d designed a world would have made it so “conscious individuals to be able to survive without tormenting and killing other conscious individuals”


3.      World would be better w/o carnivorous predation on sentient life?

4.      In heaven, no predation; all herbivores

         a.      “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and the little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah 2: 4 and 11: 6–7)

5.      We should stop our carnivory, which inflicts more suffering on animals than natural predation

         a.      “Our factory farms, which supply most of the meat and eggs consumed in developed societies, inflict a lifetime of misery and torment on our prey, in contrast to the relatively brief agonies endured by the victims of predators in the wild”


6.      If we could (with little cost to ourselves), should we arrange gradual extinction of carnivorous species

         a.      Replace them with herbivorous ones

         b.      Genetically intervene so current carnivores evolved into herbivorous ones


7.      Acknowledges the practical problems

         a.      Unwise given current state of scientific understanding

         b.      Could have explosion of herbivore population, overcrowding, habitat destruction, death by starvation/disease

                   i.       More painful death

                   ii.      More death and suffering

8.      Our current behavior leads to species extinction; should we modify it so that it favors survival of herbivores rather than carnivores?

         a.      Can we find herbivores that regulate population w/o predators or find some other way to regulate their population?


9.      Objection: Hubris, presumptuousness on a cosmic scale, “playing God”?

         a.      Replies

                   i.       If we let this suffering and death go on we are also playing god

                   ii.      We are affecting species survival in how we act and we should do so in way that produces best outcome (fewer carnivores, less predation)


10.    Objection: Eliminating carnivorism is against nature

         a.      Reply: Nature not a purposive agent, nor wise; no reason to suppose that a species has special sanctity simply because it arose via natural evolution


11.    Objection: Not our responsibility what happens among animals

         a.      No right to intrude or impose our values on them

         b.      Reply:

                   i.       True, moral reason to prevent harm for which we are responsible is weaker than our reason to not cause harm

                   ii.      But if suffering bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for animals when caused by other animals

                   iii.     So we have a moral reason to prevent it as we do the suffering of unrelated humans for which we are not responsible


12.    Objection: Eliminating carnivores is to drive species extinct and this is a great loss of value that would outweigh any gains

13.    Claim that species have intrinsic value

         a.      Species have intrinsic value, are sacred, are good w/o necessarily being good for anyone, have “impersonal value”

         b.      Important that species that now exist are not extinguished by us

         c.      Not same as value of biodiversity (which is replaceable)

         d.      Not same as good for individuals of that species (for they could be sterilized and live longer, but eventually species would go extinct w/o harm to any existing individual)


14.    Conflict is between alleged value of species and undoubted disvalue of suffering of herbivores

15.    Value of species is unclear in part because what a species is unclear

16.    Why should a special sort of value inhere in a collection of individuals simply because can interbreed?

         a.      Why do donkeys have it and mules do not?


17.    Conclusion:

         a.      “It would be good to prevent the vast suffering and countless violent deaths caused by predation. There is therefore one reason to think that it would be instrumentally good if predatory animal species were to become extinct and be replaced by new herbivorous species, provided that this could occur without ecological upheaval involving more harm than would be prevented by the end of predation. The claim that existing animal species are sacred or irreplaceable is subverted by the moral irrelevance of the criteria for individuating animal species. I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species, ”