Interspecific Justice and Animal Slaughter

  • Donald VanDeVeer
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Biomedicine, Ethics, and Society book series (CIBES)


Recent accounts of how we may or ought to treat nonhuman animals tend to be troublesome in three respects.1 First, they tend to disturb our dogmatic slumbers on the question of how animals ought to be treated. As many have said, to whom I have recommended the reading of Singer’s Animal Liberation, “I’d better not; I like steak too much.” It is surprising that the parallels are not recognized, e.g., an antebellum, American plantation owner saying “I’d better not read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, I like the profits derived from slaves too much.” So much for the first way in which recent accounts of animal treatment are trouble-some. Of greater philsophical interest, such accounts tend to defend the “equality of all animals,” an “equal consideration of interests,” or an equal assignment of rights to certain animals if they are to be assigned to human beings (Singer, 1975, p. 23). When push comes to shove, in interspecific conflicts of interest, such accounts often sanction limited preferential treatment for humans. At some points Singer seems to suggest that the lives of animals are as important as those of humans. At one juncture, he speaks pejoratively of “the view that human lives are more important than the lives of animals—a view the flesh-eater would surely accept” (my italics) (p. 242).


Nonhuman Animal Worth Living Equal Consideration Moral Weight Continue Life 
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  1. 1.
    For example: Singer 1975 and Regan 1975.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The case was reported in the Raleigh News and Observer (May 18, 1978), p. 29.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Is it odd or false to claim that something is in a plant’s interest, i.e., conducive to its well-being? I do not see why. A remark of Carl Sagan seemed natural enough: “ . . . it is in the interest of the orchids not to be consumately attractive . . . ” To find out why, see Sagan 1977, p. 71.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    I was initially provoked into thinking about this issue by a stimulating discussion in Nozick, 1974, pp. 35–41.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Singer, in attempting to undermine stereotypes about wolves as vicious beasts, notes that they “almost never kill anything except to eat it” (1975, p. 235). One might compare here human breeding of animals for food—as opposed to, for example, the killing that occurs in recreational hunting, bullfighting, and many experiments on animals, experiments whose value is dubious.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Compare Singer’s remark about his book: “The core of this book is the claim that to discriminate against beings solely on account of their species is a form of prejudice, immoral and indefensible in the same way that discrimination on the basis of race is immoral, and indefensible” (1975, p. 255).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The HUMANA Press Inc. 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald VanDeVeer

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