AR-FAQ - #23

#23 If the killing is wrong, shouldn't you stop predators from killing other animals?

This is one of the more interesting arguments against animal rights. We prevent human moral patients from harming others, e.g., we prevent children from hitting each other, so why shouldn't we do the same for nonhuman moral patients (refer to question #17 for a definition of moral patienthood)? If anything, the duty to do so might be considered more serious because predation results in a serious harm--death. A first answer entails pointing out that predators must kill to survive; to stop them from killing is, in effect, to kill them. Of course, we could argue that intervening on a massive scale to prevent predation is totally impractical or impossible, but that is not morally persuasive. Suppose we accept that we should stop a cat from killing a bird. Then we realize that the bird is the killer of many snakes. Should we now reason that, in fact, we shouldn't stop the cat? The point is that humans lack the broad vision to make all these calculations and determinations. The real answer is that intervening to stop predation would destroy the ecosystems upon which the biosphere depends, harming all of life on earth. Over millions of years, the biosphere has evolved complex ecosystems that depend upon predation for their continued functioning and stability. Massive intervention by humans to stop predation would inflict serious and incalculable harm on these ecosystems, with devastating results for all life. Even if we accept that we should prevent predation (and we don't accept that), it does not follow that, because we do not, we are therefore justified in exploiting moral patients ourselves. When we fail to stop widespread slaughter of human beings in foreign countries, it does not follow that we, ourselves, believe it appropriate to participate in such slaughter. Similarly, our failure to prevent predation cannot be taken as justification of our exploitation of animals. DG

SEE ALSO: #17, #19, #36, #64