The Wrongness of Killing Animals

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Ebert, Rainer
Arts and Humanities; Philosophy
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There are few moral convictions that enjoy the same intuitive plausibility and level of acceptance across cultures and traditions as the conviction that, normally, it is morally wrong to kill people. Yet, as far as I can see, no moral philosopher has ever provided a satisfactory explanation of why that is so.Utilitarians argue that killing is morally wrong, when it is wrong, because it fails to maximize utility. The impact of a particular killing on the victim, his or her relatives and friends, and society more generally will typically make the outcome of that killing bad, and worse than the outcome of all alternative actions. While utilitarianism explains the wrongness of killing in terms of its consequences for the world, harm-to-the-victim accounts explain the wrongness of killing in terms of the harm killing an individual inflicts on that individual. Finally, respect-based accounts see the wrongness of killing in its typically involving a failure to show due respect for the victim and his or her intrinsic worth.I will argue that none of these attempts to explain the wrongness of killing is successful. Paying close attention to the different ways in which they fail will allow me to outline a new account of the wrongness of killing. I will argue that the reason that typically makes killing normal adults morally wrong equally applies to atypical humans and a wide range of non-human animals. My account hence will challenge the idea that killing a non-human animal is normally easier to justify than killing a human being. This idea has persisted in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the present, and even progressive moral thinkers and animal advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan are committed to it. I will argue that, once we understand the ground for the moral objection against killing, we have to recognize that the anthropocentrism that makes it a priority that humans beings not be killed cannot rationally be maintained.