Kill the carnivores, says animal rights philosopher

In the hands of Peter Singer, the philosophy of utilitarianism has become a highly effective weapon for defending and extending animal rights. So effective, in fact, that it is astonishing to see another utilitarian use it to propose a plan for the deliberate extinction of many species. Yet this is what the Rutgers University philosopher Jeff McMahan does in a provocative article in the New York Times.

His argument is based on Jeremy Bentham’s classic argument for animal rights: “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” This obviously means that it is wrong for us to allow battery hens to suffer, he says. But human-induced suffering is not the only suffering endured by animals.

What about the suffering inflicted upon animals by other animals: cats eating birds; lions devouring zebras; hawks rending rabbits? If we truly wish to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, something must be done about Nature red in tooth and claw.

McMahan’s proposal is radical: humankind should ease them into extinction. This may not be technically feasible at the moment because it could harm the ecological balance. However, when it does become possible, it would be morally good:

“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.” ~ New York Times, Sept 19


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