Sunday, September 13, 2009

Painless Meat and Anthropomorphic Objections

Discussed here (via Robin):
Might “pain-free” be the next sticker slapped onto a rump roast? … Progress in neuroscience and genetics in recent years makes it a very real possibility. …

One objection to the idea of knocking out pain in livestock is that it could mean they put themselves in harm’s way...

But why would such merely physical "harm" matter? It matters to humans, of course, (and any other rational beings) because we are reflective creatures for whom larger goals and life projects contribute to our well-being. But ("lower") animal well-being is, most plausibly, purely hedonistic in nature. Moreover, they lack the sorts of enduring personal identities that would make death bad for them (or so I argue). So, aside from the inconvenience (to humans) of an farm animal's pain-free premature death or injury, I don't see any real grounds for objection here.

Many New Scientist commenters argue from analogy that this must be wrong because farming and killing pain-free humans would be wrong. But again, the relevant difference is that reflective beings have a non-hedonic element to their welfare that mere animals lack.

7 comments:

  1. Isn't the worry just that "pain-free" animals wouldn't be very good at navigating their little worlds, and so harder (read: less profitable) to handle?

    I agree with what you say about death here, but wonder whether it's a red herring. Isn't the worry that this sort of response to certain things we find problematic about factory farming is itself a way of concealing a problem rather than eliminating it? Suppose I administer "ruffies" to a soon-to-be rape victim, etc. I think the worry is that pain-free meat has that form, and I'm not sure that your distinction between reflective and non-reflective beings blocks the analogy.

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  2. If they could knock out the ability to feel pain and keep the ability to experience pleasure, that would be pretty awesome.

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  3. If they could knock out the ability to feel pain and keep the ability to experience pleasure, that would be pretty awesome.

    But if you only felt pleasure without pain, it would soon become worthless right? i.e pain could be valuable because it helps set the contrast.

    Anyway, I'm with Matthew here, merely talking about pleasure and pain does not properly address what is objectionable about rearing animals so that we can eat their burnt carcasses, let alone keeping them in small cramped cages.

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  4. What else could be objectionable about it? (I'm assuming that 'pain' is meant broadly to include any kind of unpleasant felt experience, such as emotional stress, not just bodily pains. Obviously emotional pains would be bad too.) In particular, do you deny that animal wellbeing is purely hedonistic in nature? Or do you claim that our treatment of animals could somehow be "objectionable" even if it isn't bad for the animals in question?

    P.S. I'm pretty skeptical of the contrastive value of pain. There's nothing incoherent about the idea of having only pleasant experiences (it's an absolute, not relative notion), and I can't see any reason to think that these desirable experiences would thereby be rendered "worthless".

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  5. For one thing, there's the Cora Diamond-esque approach (see her "Eating Meat and Eating People"; there's recently been some interesting responses to and developments of this line of thought by Cavell, McDowell, and Alice Crary). The implications of this approach are, I admit, a bit murky, but if you're interested in questions about our relations to animals, you really should take a look at some of this (if you haven't).

    At the purely practical (perhaps, biological) level, I wouldn't think the value of the capacity for pain has anything to do with whether pleasure is contrastive or not. Rather, something without the capacity for pain isn't going to do a very good job at navigating a world filled with pointy objects that might impinge on its surface (to borrow Quine's wonderful phrase!)...

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  6. something without the capacity for pain isn't going to do a very good job at navigating a world filled with pointy objects that might impinge on its surface

    Presumably another way of handling this is to raise the creature in controlled circumstances free from pointy objects. This is something that I imagine factory farms are well-equipped to do.

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  7. Richard, I was thinking along the lines that complexity of a life form gives us reason to preserve it. (A sort of conservatism that holds if objects have intrinsic value) As a vegetarian, I still am going to be uncomfortable eating meat even if you can assure me that the chicken lived a painless life and dies a painless death. The difference in how we treated the chicken does not in itself seem to make any difference to my intuitions about how we treat animals. So yes, animal welfare, like people welfare is more than merely hedonistic. I think, we can use a similar standard of well being. What would you hope for the sake of the animal in question?

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