The argument from existence is often used as an attempted justification for our use of animals in commercial practices, and is often put forward by lay-persons and philosophers alike. This paper provides an analysis of the argument from existence primarily within the context of blood-sports (applying the argument to the example of game-birding), and in doing so addresses interesting and related issues concerning the distinction between having a life and living, or worthwhile life and mere existence, as well as issues surrounding our responsibilities to prospective and actual beings. However, my analysis of the argument will go beyond the animal ethics context; it is important that it does so in order to reveal the troublesome implications of the argument and to highlight the sorts of unethical practices it supports. In particular, in applying the argument to a relevant example concerning human beings, I will discuss how the argument from existence could be used to justify the ownership of slaves who were reared for slavery. My objective is to show just how problematic the argument from existence is, with the aim of laying the argument to rest once and for all.
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For a discussion of the ethics of shooting birds for sport and of the moral permissibility of game-birding, see Humphreys, Game birds: The ethics of shooting birds for sport. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 4(1), (2010). The current paper on the argument from existence is a development of a small section of the aforementioned paper; a paper which was primarily concerned with an ethical analysis of shooting birds for sport, but which provided a brief summary of the argument from existence. That brief summary has been incorporated into this paper (with permission from Taylor and Francis Ltd, http://tandfonline.com).
This argument has been used by philosophers for some time (and continues to be presented during the question period at conferences). See Leslie Stephen, Social Rights and Duties (1896), quoted by Henry Salt, ‘The Logic of the Larder’ (1976); D. G. Ritchie, ‘Why Animals Do Not Have Rights’ (1976); and Michael Leahy, Against Liberation: Putting Animals in Perspective (1991), p. 210.
Clark (1977, p. 59) argues that ‘if existence is not an advantage to the individual concerned it cannot compensate him for his manifold distresses’.
Clark (1977, p. 59) argues that if existence is an advantage to the creature concerned then ‘to strip a creature of existence is to injure him’. While existence as such is not a blessing or an advantage (see section above, i.e., ‘The first form of the argument from existence’), Clark could be interpreted here as meaning that where a creature’s existence has value then to kill that being is to injure it.
Smilansky (1995, pp. 42–53), however, argues that, in certain circumstances, some people could have responsibilities to have children.
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Humphreys, R. The Argument from Existence, Blood-Sports, and ‘Sport-Slaves’. J Agric Environ Ethics 27, 331–345 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-013-9466-7