Is killing acceptable?

Jamie in Chile

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The definition of veganism may not explicitly prohibit killing. And I personally think the definition of vegan should be something like "doesn´t consume animal products" to as to welcome in health vegans and eco vegans.

It is easier to make a philosophical ethical case against suffering. As Peter Singer points out in his famous Animal Liberation book, explaining why killing is wrong is more difficult to do, and not necessary, since the suffering argument is a good enough reason to be vegan.

However, surely it seems wrong to kill. Even if the person or animal killed has no friends or family, and has a life with more pain than pleasure, I am sorry - killing is just wrong (apart from the occasional cases like self defence and some other unusual cases). Admittedly it isn´t easy to win an argument along these lines with a philosophy professor but life just has a value.

Whatever the definitions of vegan say, most vegans know that killing animals (mammals, birds and other similar sized creatures) is wrong even if done painlessly.
 
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Graeme M

Graeme M

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I think sentience is inherently valuable, the most interesting and important thing in the universe. It's just incredible that information and matter can somehow interact in a way that brings conscious minds into the world. A universe where nothing could experience pleasure, perceive beauty or even be aware of its own existence would be missing something vital. It might as well not even exist.

Every sentient animal is a unique individual, the only one that will ever exist, and the fact that they're able to perceive this world and experience pleasure and interact with other minds adds something special and important to the universe.
I was just rereading this thread and was struck by the idea that sentience is inherently valuable. Not just valuable but the most important and valuable thing in the universe. That is quite a claim and I was wondering on what basis you'd make that claim.

What if it turns out that sentience is simply a part of the way things work, say in the same kind of way that the four nuclear forces keep the whole universe together. Presumably most organisms are sentient, so it's hardly a unique or particularly special property of organisms. It is the way that organisms are able to adapt behaviours to better survive and reproduce. In the end, sentience is little more than one way of leveraging the laws of physics to produce more offspring.

I am not saying that there isn't something pretty neat about experiencing pleasure or being aware of oneself, but why does it follow this is somehow the most important thing the universe has ever thrown up? Literally squintillions of organisms have come and gone. None of their experiences have left much trace - as far as I know experiences don't appear in the fossil record. Sentience seems pretty mundane, really.
 

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In a lot of cases it’s impossible not kill .
You kill when you walk, you kill when you drive a car.The list is endless.
It comes down to intent.
 
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Graeme M

Graeme M

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Jamie made the blanket claim that killing is wrong. I am curious as to why. It's clear that we don't believe that - in the case of people, we condone killing in some contexts, such as abortion, punishment, self-defence and war. And when it comes to other animals, we are fine with killing them in far more contexts. I tend to think Jamie means that killing is wrongish, subject to circumstances.

Me, I'd say killing isn't wrong of itself. What we care about is causing unnecessary pain and suffering.
 

Jamie in Chile

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I am OK with killing in some cases, such as self defence, and I could name some others if you like. But I think these are exceptional cases where the "bad" of killing has to be weighed against something else.

An argument for "killing is wrong" could be made that you have deprived the person/animal of their future joys by killing them, and that you will cause suffering to their relatives and friends.

However you could then suggest what if we were talking about a hypothetical case of someone with more pain than joy in their life, who also has no friends or relatives, and I still think it's wrong to kill them.

This may be because I don't see life just as some zero sum game of pain vs pleasure. I think there is an inherent value in the lived experience. I agree with the statement by Sax that "sentience is inherently valuable". I know that if the rest of my life was going to have more sadness than happiness, more pain than pleasure, I would still want to live it.

Even in the case of someone with severe depression and pain and no joy in their life, no laughter, and nothing positive in their life whatsoever, I still think killing them - at least without their consent - is wrong.

Consent is a factor here. I should take the decision for myself that I want to go on living as a matter of personal freedom and I don't see it as fair that someone else gets to chose otherwise.

"Killing is wrong" just seems common sense to me, to be honest. I am no more motivated to have a long discussion defending that statement than I am motivated to argue with someone who insists that 1+1 = 17, or that vaccines don't work at all, or that climate change is actually caused by Bill Gates' microchips. I am happy to make that judgement even if in the end it might be argued to come down to a gut feeling rather than a truly good philosophical analysis that would impress a philosophy major. Not everything has to have something akin to a mathematical proof behind it.

I particularly dislike the argument "killing is OK if done painlessly" being applied to animals and not humans. If it's completely OK to do that to animals, it can't be completely wrong to do the same to humans just because the species has changed. We don't get to completely change the rules for different species any more than we do for sex, race etc. It's an indefensible speciesist argument.
 
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Graeme M

Graeme M

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I particularly dislike the argument "killing is OK if done painlessly" being applied to animals and not humans. If it's completely OK to do that to animals, it can't be completely wrong to do the same to humans just because the species has changed. We don't get to completely change the rules for different species any more than we do for sex, race etc. It's an indefensible speciesist argument.
I think that is simply moral relativism in action. The one with the power gets to call the shots, so of course we DO get to treat other animals differently from humans (the rules are ours so we can make them up and change them as we wish). There is essentially no real objective reason to justify going that nor to dismiss it, it's just the way it is. I agree with you, it's as OK to kill humans as other animals, really. What constrains that is whether or not we want to place some kind of moral framework around such behaviour. One interesting observation is that a moral stance that says it is a good to keep people alive, not to kill them, and to breed many of them hasn't really made the world a better place if by better we mean a world with a healthy environment and with less strife and suffering. A lot more humans dying would help things out immeasurably, at least in the absence of any choice on our part to be better at being us in the world.
 

Danielle

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Killing painlessly if they're in pain and death is inevitable.
Wish the option was available to people.
But no farm animal even gets close to living out their natural life span unless someone gets attached to that one specifically
 

Tom L.

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@Graeme M OK- I got flippant with my "Why not?" response, above, because frankly, I think the answer is obvious. That's why I'm not at all sure you're really interested in the answer. Then I remembered that most people just don't think much, if at all, about animal treatment issues... understandable, since humans are naturally more focussed on interactions with other humans.

@Jamie in Chile explained it as good as, or better than I could have. But here's my take:

I avoid killing sentient beings generally because they appear to enjoy life. I've observed a wide variety of animals- from many insects, worms, and snails to fishes, birds, and mammals- and they seek certain stimuli while avoiding others. Okay: some of the life-forms I mentioned just now have very simple nervous systems, and one could credibly argue that their behaviors are reflexive responses which keep them alive- not purposeful acts. But frankly, my observations of invertebrates and fishes makes me think they are sentient (I've gone into this a bit in another thread recently).

Others above have mentioned euthanasia (in addition to self-defense) as a different instance where killing might be valid. If an animal's life is so crappy that, if they had an intellectual conception of "death", they might prefer death to life... the remedy is ideally to improve their lives. There is suffering in nature for which humans are not responsible, absolutely, but I'm not sure it's valid for humans to use this as an excuse to kill animals. (A thought: isn't it convenient that those who use this excuse almost always benefit in some way from the animal's death? Hmmmmmm...🙄 )

Others have posted in this thread that there can be an exception for euthanasia, but I would much prefer that discomfort/pain be treated effectively (so that death no longer seems preferable to life) without shortening a human's or animal's life.

But that's it, basically: sentient beings stand to lose something worth keeping by dying.
 
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Graeme M

Graeme M

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Tom L, just to be clear, I generally agree that if i can, I should not kill another animal. So I do take quite some pains to avoid harming other animals, probably a lot more than most people. But this is mostly a sentimental act. Rationally, I know it doesn't matter. What does matter as I have said is the pain and suffering I cause another. Killing, not so much.

But that's it, basically: sentient beings stand to lose something worth keeping by dying.

And this is at the heart of why I don't think it matters. Once killed, a sentient being no longer exists. It is impossible for them to have lost something. While alive, a sentient being has its life. The moment it dies, it does not exist. You cannot say it has "lost" anything - one can only have a loss while one exists.

As I see it, our moral duty is to worry about the pain and suffering we cause others. This is why we should prefer not to kill people (because it harms those left behind). And it is why we should not farm animals in CAFOs.

But killing other animals? I don't really think it matters at all, after all we think it OK to kill 20 trillion or more sentient invertebrates each year for us to eat food. What we should be worried about is how we treat them and kill them. In that regard, perhaps the vegan concern at exploitation and welfare are the real concerns because killing in itself probably isn't such.

Vegans worrying about killing really are just being sentimental. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I don't think there is a strong case for our individual sentiments to drive universal moral beliefs.
 

Tom L.

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@Graeme M I didn't know where you were coming from. Now that you've explained it, I don't think your view is rare at all:...
Once killed, a sentient being no longer exists. It is impossible for them to have lost something. While alive, a sentient being has its life. The moment it dies, it does not exist. You cannot say it has "lost" anything - one can only have a loss while one exists.

As I see it, our moral duty is to worry about the pain and suffering we cause others. This is why we should prefer not to kill people (because it harms those left behind). And it is why we should not farm animals in CAFOs.
...however, that's not how I see it. I think a sentient being "loses" something when they die: the experiences they would have had during the rest of their life, had they continued to live. They "lose" the rest of their existence. I know that many don't see it that way: why fear death, when you won't be aware of "being dead" (or of anything else!) anyway? (All this assumes that there is no afterlife, of course). And as I mentioned before (in this thread, or maybe the other one) it's doubtful that animals have any conception of "death"- and if so, they can't even fear/anticipate their own nonexistence.
 
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Graeme M

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...however, that's not how I see it. I think a sentient being "loses" something when they die: the experiences they would have had during the rest of their life, had they continued to live.

Fair enough. I know many people take that view, thinking that there are experiences that would have been had if the person had not died. I find it hard to see that because there only ever is what there is. I think the idea of loss of potential future experiences is a reasonable disincentive to kill people (and other animals, of course), but that sort of applies to the one doing the killing. For the one killed, it is (as I see it) the way I described it.
 

Kittykat

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Only a psycho would think a person or animal should not be put down humanely when they are suffering.

I have severe chronic pain and can not even function and can not get assistd suicide. It's not killing. Ridiculous. People are so disgusting.
 
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Tom L.

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@Kittycat My main concerns about assisted suicide are:

1) That it might not be entirely voluntary. Long-term care is costly, and I can envision pressure being brought to bear on someone in the position of needing it to accept euthanasia. I'm currently shopping around for a long-term-care insurance plan. Of course I hope I won't need it, but even though I take better-than-average care of myself, there are no guarantees. Below is the first result that came up when I googled this topic; I'm sure there are many others, including some which do not say this will be a problem:


2) That if assisted suicide is generally accepted, there might not be so much motivation to develop more effective quality-of-life (hospice) care. I'm not sure my concern is reasonable here. But face it: euthanasia has long been accepted for animals. I think this is one reason why hospice care for pets is so rarely available (I know- I sought it before).

And maybe I'm somewhat uninformed on this topic: I thought Canada had legalized assisted suicide?

Edited to add: It is- and someone does not have to be terminally ill to request it (evidently that is a recently-added provision):

 
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Rory17

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Forum Legend Lou has said on more than one occasion that veganism only demands that we avoid exploitation of other animals. Here is an example:

"I pretty much fall back on the definition of veganism. It doesn't prohibit the killing of animals. Just their exploitation. So farming insects for food is not vegan. but there is no prohibition against killing insects (or mice) that are in your house."

I have said before that I have never in my life heard this said. Almost all definitions or explanations for veganism talk of preventing harms and death to other animals as equally important as exploitation. On this alternative view, it seems perfectly fine to hunt for sport, something no vegan I have ever met would support.

I am curious where this definition has come from and whether it means that most people who think of themselves as vegan are under a misapprehension about what veganism really means.
No, killing is not acceptable. It is a violent action that involves taking life. The exception to this (perhaps) is necessary killing (e.g when necessary for survival, euthanasia).
 
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Graeme M

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No, killing is not acceptable. It is a violent action that involves taking life.
Why is taking life not acceptable? We do agree that killing is OK even in violent contexts if reason to do so exists, so it seems to be up to us to decide when it is acceptable.
 

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The vast majority of people who are members of Vegan Forum come from first world countries where we have a reasonable level of food security. When things get really bad we can simply change our diet to beans and rice. (My diet is very heavy in this area because I am cheap.) I think we should make a distinction between people in first world countries who eat meat for recreational reasons and people who experience food insecurity in third world countries.

From a practical standpoint, going vegan is the best way to obtain low cost protein from healthy food sources. Lentils are so cheap that they might as well be free. I have never heard of someone needing a triple bypass because they ate too many lentils. I also never heard of someone going broke because they ate too much beans and rice.

The issue with killing animals is about motivation in my opinion. I will use the example of a house mouse. If we allow the mouse to live with us, then we risk the spread of disease. The only way to get rid of mice is to kill them. We can kill the mouse by using lethal traps. We can kill the mouse by poisoning. Or we can use catch and release traps. We catch the mouse in the trap and we release the mouse into nature. I recently read that the house mouse who is released into the wild will probably die in a day at most because he is best suited for living in or near human homes.
 

Tom L.

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.........From a practical standpoint, going vegan is the best way to obtain low cost protein from healthy food sources. Lentils are so cheap that they might as well be free. I have never heard of someone needing a triple bypass because they ate too many lentils. I also never heard of someone going broke because they ate too much beans and rice.
I agree. From what I know (about health and diet- I probably have an above-average grasp of this, BUT I'm not a health-care professional), a vegan would almost have to make an effort to contract cardiovascular disease. Granted, a few vegan foods are high in saturated fat (e.g., coconut oil), and trans fats from hydrogenated vegetable oil could be a problem.