I know I should stop expecting First Things to publish thoughtful pieces on animal issues, but this review of a review of Safran Foer’s Eating Animals by David Mills is particularly bad:
The reviewer seems to assume, but does not even try to argue, that food animals deserve a long and fulfilling life (whatever fulfilling means for them), and therefore to kill them for our use is wrong. But since they have no real consciousness or memory, how can they know, much less care, that their life is shorter than it might have been? (Might have been in human hands, not in the wild, but that’s another matter.) [Empahsis added]
Given that we know that animals possess both consciousness and memory, I can only assume, charitably, that what Mills means is that animals lack self-consciousness (itself a debatable proposition) and therefore can’t anticipate their own death. But does Mills really think that an animal is not harmed by having its life ended just because it (we presume) can’t anticipate it? If so, he is ironically treading close to the view of Peter Singer, who argues that beings without self-consciousness are harmed less by their deaths than those who have it (Singer, notoriously, includes human fetuses and infants in the former category). I doubt Mills wants to embrace Singer’s position, and, indeed, the paragraph above indicates an even stronger version of the view than Singer’s: that creatures without self-consciousness aren’t harmed at all by being killed. This is, by my lights, an extremely counterintuitive position, and I suspect the main reason people deploy it is because of a prior commitment to the permissibility of killing animals for food.
UPDATE: In my zeal, I didn’t even bother to click through to the review that Mills was critiquing, but it’s by philosopher Mark Rowlands and well worth reading in its own right. Thanks to Rick for making me aware of this.
UPDATE II: This post at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen makes a similar point, but adds some food for thought on objective goods and human dignity.