Bryan Caplan  


In defense of Johnson's brain ... Infrastructure is not fiscal p...
The most compelling objection to animal rights, to my mind, has long been... bugs.  Bugs are animals.  Every human being directly kills bugs just by walking - and indirectly kills bugs by renting and buying constructed housing.  Yet I've never heard even a strict vegan express a word of moral condemnation for this mass animal killing. 

So what?  I've previous defended what I call the Argument from Conscience.  The gist of it:

1. If even morally scrupulous advocates of view X don't live in accordance with X, the best explanation is that they don't really believe X. 

2. If even the dedicated advocates of X don't really believe X, X is probably false. 

By this logic: If even morally scrupulous animal rights activists don't sincerely believe that killing bugs is wrong, it's probably not wrong.  And once you proverbially throw bugs under the bus, why not other pests like mice and rats?  And once you abandon mammalian pests, why not cows and pigs? 

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.  What exactly do leading animal rights activists actually say about bugs?  Let's start with PETA, which endorses the following general principles:

PETA believes that animals have rights and deserve to have their best interests taken into consideration, regardless of whether they are useful to humans. Like you, they are capable of suffering and have an interest in leading their own lives.

The very heart of all of PETA's actions is the idea that it is the right of all beings--human and nonhuman alike--to be free from harm.
Now here's PETA on bugs:
All animals have feelings and have a right to live free from unnecessary suffering--regardless of whether they are considered "pests" or "ugly."

As with our dealings with our fellow humans, the determination of when lethal defense against insects and animals is acceptable must be judged on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the level of the threat and the alternatives that are available. As Albert Schweitzer once said "Each of us must live daily from judgment to judgment, deciding each case as it arises as wisely and mercifully as we can."

A bizarre juxtaposition.  No one would say that humans have a "right to live free from unnecessary suffering," then immediately talk about killing them on a "case-by-case basis."  And if someone killed hundreds of humans with his car on a cross-country trip, no one would accept the excuse, "It was necessary to cross the country."  If your only mode of transportation kills innocent human beings, you're obliged to stay put.  General principles notwithstanding, PETA clearly smuggles in the common-sense intuition that human lives are more morally important than insect lives.  Indeed, it smuggles in the assumption that human convenience is more morally important than insects' very lives.

To be fair, I've heard many animal activists hold PETA in low regard.  Here's what the Animal Rights FAQ tells us about bugs:

Singer quotes three criteria for deciding if an organism has the capacity to suffer from pain: 1) there are behavioral indications, 2) there is an appropriate nervous system, and 3) there is an evolutionary usefulness for the experience of pain. These criteria seem to satisfied for insects, if only in a primitive way.

Now we are equipped to tackle the issue of insect rights. First, one might argue that the issue is not so compelling as for other animals because industries are not built around the exploitation of insects. But this is untrue; large industries are built around honey production, silk production, and cochineal/carmine production, and, of course, mass insect death results from our use of insecticides. Even if the argument were true, it should not prevent us from attempting to be consistent in the application of our principles to all animals...

My Argument from Conscience, to repeat, objects: "But no one - even the author of this FAQ - does this.  Which strongly suggests even he finds his own position unconvincing."  But to his credit, the FAQ author discloses these complications:

Insects are a part of the Animal Kingdom and some special arguments would be required to exclude them from the general AR argument.

Some would draw a line at some level of complexity of the nervous system, e.g., only animals capable of operant conditioning need be enfranchised. Others may quarrel with this line and place it elsewhere. Some may postulate a scale of life with an ascending capacity to feel pain and suffer. They might also mark a cut-off on the scale, below which
rights are not actively asserted. Is the cut-off above insects and the lower invertebrates? Or should there be no cut-off? This is one of the issues still being actively debated in the AR community.

People who strive to live without cruelty will attempt to push the line back as far as possible, giving the benefit of the doubt where there is doubt.
The overarching problem with these "exclusion" arguments: They try to justify a massive difference in treatment with a totally debatable difference in capacity for pain.  It's easy to show that some creatures are much smarter than others; but how on earth could we ever convincingly show that some feel much less pain than others? 

This is especially pressing given the FAQ's closing proviso: If there's a real possibility that killing bugs is very wrong, we should refrain until we know better.  And per the Argument from Conscience, since even the author of the FAQ does not refrain, there probably isn't a real possibility that killing bugs is very wrong.

P.S. What about more academic sources?  I searched Google Scholar, but found nothing on the topic.  I'm open to reading suggestions in the comments.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (41 to date)
Buck Shlegeris writes:

A few responses:

1. It's probably worth engaging with the argument directly as well as using heuristics based solely on properties of its proponents.

2. Many people are actually worried about this, most loudly Brian Tomasik.

3. It's a lot more obvious that pigs and chickens are morally relevant than that bugs are. So I think it's pretty consistent to say that it's fine to kill bugs but not to torture chickens.

John Hall writes:

I don't believe in universal animal rights. But I do think that there is scope for rights for some animals in a similar fashion as rights for children are not as strong as rights for adults.

Scott writes:

By that logic, why stop at humans? If bugs have no rights therefore reptiles have no rights, therefore mammals have no rights, therefore higher apes have no rights, therefore... why draw the line at human beings?

The problem is that either beings have moral weights along some kind of continuum, from having minuscule weight to human-level importance (or perhaps more), or there has to be a line drawn somewhere, above which beings have rights and below which they don't.

I think even if you believe that moral worth exists on a continuum from 0 to human, it probably makes sense to draw the line somewhere, if only for practical reasons.

In the past, people used to draw the line within their own ethnic group. Now, most people draw the line around human beings, although there has been more pressure recently to include great apes or intelligent lifeforms (see Harambe).

Animal rightists tend to draw a wider circle than most, but I don't see how bringing up the case that some beings exist outside of that circle for somewhat arbitrary reasons undermines their view of the world anymore than believing that human beings but not other great apes or whites but not blacks are inside the circle.

If an arbitrary line *does* need to be drawn, then the presumption that right now, at this point in history, we have the correct line even though it was different in the past, seems to be status-quo bias to me. Especially since, by your own admission, the empirical assumptions underlying this moral theory about the capacity for suffering are currently murky.

Michael Crone writes:
No one would say that humans have a "right to live free from unnecessary suffering," then immediately talk about killing them on a "case-by-case basis."

I disagree. That sounds like how some people talk about war and abortion.

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

Free the mitochondria! Stop eukaryotic slavery now!

AS writes:

You should read about Jainism. Jains follow the principle of non-violence (Ahimsa), which they extend to avoiding unnecessary harm to insects.

Wikipedia is a good place to start:

Tristan Knight writes:

I think it's pretty easily to view these issues on a continuum based on the cognitive characteristics of the beings in question.

Plants probably aren't sentient, so it's easy to say that the expected first-order harm of killing a plant is zero, or very close to it. Pigs, on the other hand, are cognitively complex, and clearly do experience pain, emotions, etc. I'm not too well read on the literature regarding insect sentience, but I'd assume that even if they do have some level of sentience, it's probably small compared to that of a pig, cow, chicken, or fish.

Also, like Buck mentioned, there are many people in the animal movement who are genuinely concerned for the well-being of insects, largely due to their vast numbers.

Thomas writes:

All this talk about rights and the like is much too rarefied. When it comes to bugs, the justification for killing is self-defense. Bugs can't be reasoned with. So if they're interfering with your peaceful enjoyment of life (e.g., buzzing around your head), or if they pose a hazard to your health (e.g., stinging insects, cockroaches), the only feasible response (in most cases) is to kill them.

Daniel Klein writes:

Great post!

Dan R writes:

My disconnect with the animal rights argument for not eating animals is that on the margin if I stop eating meat, then animals stop living.

Which of the following alternatives is best and which is worst?

  • Living a life of idyll and being murdered in young adulthood ("high animal welfare farming")

  • Living a life of torture and being murdered in young adulthood ("factory farming")

  • Never living at all (I go vegan)

The option of raising the same amount of animals but not killing them for their meet is not a result that anyone is arguing for. Do ethical vegans sponsor a proportionate amount of livestock that are no longer living due to their choices?

A good life to young adulthood seems better than no life at all. One can split the hair of how much torture it takes to make no life better than a short brutal life. I tend to take the view that no amount of mistreatment makes never living the better option, but can understand those who draw that specific line differently.

Ak Mike writes:

It is morally unacceptable to merely passively avoid hurting animals. We could not justify standing by and doing nothing if humans were being murdered on a widespread and continuing basis - all societies have some kind of policing. And yet animals of all kinds in the wild are viciously and painfully attacked, killed and eaten every day by predators - in fact, that is the fate of most wild mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. A decent respect for animal rights would protect these creatures from the painful death that is in nearly all cases their lot

malkav60 writes:

It's not really "animal rights", but some utilitarians are concerned with possible insect suffering. Brian Tomasik was mentioned above. Another is David Pearce

Another blind spot missed by mainstream animal rights activists is wild-animal suffering. There are many orders of magnitude more wild animals than domestic. We're no wheres near be able to solve wild animal suffering. But there are some things we can do today.

1) I won't eat mice unless I have no other less violent option.
2) This has no bearing on the fact that I reserve myself the natural right to kill mice if they invade my personal space or endanger my grain supply.
3) This has no bearing on the fact that I make a conscious effort to find solutions to mice infestation that are less or not violent to mice, such as a better built granary.

Same principles can be uniformly applied to any lifeform, and can be extended even to systems that are not sentient (a river, an ocean, a planet). It is nothing else than a more universal application of the principle of non-initiation of violence. And the reason why the principle cannot be strictly followed is economic scarcity and tradeoffs: I choose to focus my effort on not employing violence against pigs over focusing it on not employing violence against mosquitoes.

Maurizio writes:

"If even morally scrupulous advocates of view X don't live in accordance with X, the best explanation is that they don't really believe X. "

I don't think the slavers believed that slavery was justified, yet they did not free their slaves. Do you think they believed what they did was justified?

Pajser writes:

Scott essentially gave the answer on that. Human imperfection is not argument against improvement.

Dan R - no need to breed animals, they do it on their own. If you stop breeding farm animals, you will not need the plants you currently use for feeding them. You will not need soil used for growing that food. Some other plants will grow on that soil. Some other animals will eat these new plants and they will have higher rate of survival than they currently have. Your animals on the farm will not exist; but some other animals - that do not exist now - will exist instead. (It is essential answer only.)

Eventually, mankind will develop morality and technology that will allow us to take care about suffering of all live beings. We are now by far too stupid and far too selfish to be anywhere close, but we are on our way.

Maurizio writes:

Pedro, I agree with what you write. I am glad to see someone came to my same conclusions. :)

There is a detail that puzzles me. In scenario 1, when you kill mice in order to survive, would you at the same time believe what you are doing is justifiable? (I would do it, but this does not mean that I would believe what I was doing is justified or justifiable.)

PS: also notice there is a difference between eating and killing.

Maurizio, yes, an important detail. In my opinion the principled approach is that I remain aware that the implied violence is "necessary" (for my own survival) but deplorable. It also implies that my survival (or of family and fellow humans) takes precedence over the survival of the mice. Some may see it as a manifestation of speciesism, but I reject this view and see it as sentience priority ranking under duress.
It's quite self-interested naturally, but I would be able to "accept" the same thinking from hypothetical highly principled, ethical and sentient aliens on a rational basis. I would expect them to show me at least the same respect when eating humans. Not like the aliens in the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Men," in which technologically superior aliens do it apparently for pleasure and the belief in species supremacy.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"Your animals on the farm will not exist; but some other animals - that do not exist now - will exist instead."

And many (most?) of this animals will also be killed by other animals

Maurizio writes:


"I remain aware that the implied violence is "necessary" (for my own survival) but deplorable."

Thank you Pedro, however from that I cannot infer the answer to my question, which is: does the fact it is necessary imply you are justified (i.e. that you have a right to do what you are doing)?

More in general I an puzzled why everybody seems to assume that the fact you are doing something in order to survive makes your action automatically justified. This seems to me like assuming that parasites have a right to live. But this seems to me not obvious at all.

norman writes:

I know for sure that Bryan is spoofing us. Referring to bug rights is asking whether we are bugged most by Donald or Hillary? Should we vote for Gary?

Hazel Meade writes:

I think most people believe there are sort of spheres of decreasing rights that vary with genetic distance from humans. For instance, primates such as chimps and bonobos would be in the highest sphere deserving of the utmost protection. Mammals would be on the next highest run, including cows and pigs, birds further down, fish still further down, and insects at the bottom.

This is pretty clearly reflected in the existance of groups like "pescatarians" who eat fish but not meat, and the fact that the most "popular" animals on the endangered species list are large land mammals like tigers.

There is some inconsistency about birds, because chickens aren't mammals, but birds tend their young (unlike fish and lizards), so that might account for humans elevating them in status a bit.

I think that the line isn't really physical pain for most people, but emotional suffering. Many people don't like to think that cows and pigs have emotions, but they probably do.

Floccina writes:

Most animals would kill a human without a second thought.

BTW I am for trying to wipe out the about 200 varieties of mosquito that bite humans and some scientist think it is possible.

Bravin Neff writes:

...and the inner randian come-outeth.

Chip Smith writes:


It seems rash to presume the probable falsity of a view based on the revealed preference of its purported adherents without considering an obvious counter-explanation: that acting in accordance with a view might be exceedingly difficult. If it were shown to a scientific certainty that insects are conscious and experience pain this probably wouldn't change most human conduct for the simple reason that the implied constraints on normal human activity would be extremely taxing to sustain.

You may want to check out this archive:

ChrisA writes:

Well no morality is logical so I don't know why Bryan would pick on vegans as not being protective of bugs, but if cows. Seems no more or less logical than wanting more people put in prison for drugs, or people praised for being transgender etc etc. Trying to make logical sense of such things is like trying to make a logical case for preferring apples to bananas. That all said, the most logical case I can make for people wanting to avoid cruelty to large animals is that the close to humans they are, they more that the line is blurred between humans and other animals, and the more chance that someone will make the case (if only to their own conscience) that cruelty to humans is also OK. To simply; spreading this idea that cruelty to large animals is wrong seems like a good self protection for any other large animal.

Vaniver writes:

There are Jains who sweep the ground in front of them, so that they don't tread on any insects; the religion as a whole recommends what I've heard called "double vegetarianism" because it's completely vegan plus banning a few plants that would cause unkindness to eat.

What about mosquitoes? Consider this Quora answer, complete with an anecdote about vomiting with disgust after killing a moth.

Liam writes:

I would echo Scott's point. It's hard to see how this counts as an objection to the animal rights position. Similarly, the fact that we sometimes kill humans in war or during abortions doesn't instantly invalidate the idea of human rights.

For me, what the case of bugs illustrates is the difficulty in defending any absolutist moral theory. Utilitarians like Singer have always given a plausible answer to this sort of objection, it seems to me. The consciousness of a tiny bug is almost certainly so limited that it will be outweighed by the interests of humans (or other higher animals) that want to avoid disease, the cold, hunger, etc. We believe this on the basis of the best evidence we currently have from neuroscience.

When I raise this point in conversation, people often bring up Nozick's utility monster objection. Suppose there was a being with a vastly, vastly greater capacity to suffer or feel pleasure than us. They can experience pleasures and pains beyond anything we could ever imagine. "Surely," the objection goes, "it would be wrong for this monster to just consume us!" My answer is that it's not obvious to me at all. I think it would be OK for the monster to destroy us if it had no other way of satisfying one of its preferences. The only reason Nozick's argument seems convincing is because it's so hard - impossible, probably - to imagine what it is really like to be such a monster, just as ants can't imagine what it's like to experience the things we can. Also, I think calling it a 'monster' subtly pits us against the idea from the start. Nozick should have used a more neutral name.

Ben Kennedy writes:

People have preferences, and they just gravitate to moral philosophies that seem to justify those preferences. Of course, no system of morals completely overlaps with a what a particular squishy human brain wants, or covers every edge case. It's quite easy to point and say "Aha! Hypocrite!". You can do this to just about anybody who claims to have moral beliefs, which is staple of modern political discourse. This also explains why moral systems keep branching and branching. If you can't find one that fits your preferences, make up your own!

austrartsua writes:

Hopefully all of this will be settled once and for all when we have a decent model of consciousness. It seems obvious to me that humans are different from all other animals, but I cannot explain the difference succinctly. The continuum explanation will not do. It seems that human consciousness is of a different type to other animals, therefore is more important. To kill a human is to kill an entire universe. To kill a pig? A dog? A bug? Oh please, don't pretend they are the same, or even on the same scale. They are of a different type.

And if one day we met intelligent aliens they would be inside the circle too.

Sadly I don't have the science to back up the intuition.

Benjamin R Kennedy writes:

"It seems obvious to me that humans are different from all other animals"

One may ask why humans feel this way, and of course this is pretty easy to understand. Preference for your own kind is a very sensible adaptation strategy. You are essentially hardwired to think this, and the fact that you can't quite articulate why is evidence of the hardwiring. Of course sometimes the rails come of and you get the occasional serial killer. But once you understand that there is a pretty straightforward reason why you have these feelings, debating the Cosmic Truth of those beliefs seems strangely pointless

Toby writes:

Bryan, why do you find this the most convincing argument against animal rights? Shouldn't the most convincing argument against animal rights be independent of what the most ardent believers hold?

Luke Simpson writes:

I suspect that a capacity for pain is neither necessary nor sufficient for a right to continued existence.

Suppose there was a creature with a simple nervous system that had no capacity for cognition or rational thinking, could not regard itself as itself, could not feel fear or happiness or anger, and so on, but it could experience pain. (Perhaps imagine a creature exactly like a sea sponge except that it feels intense pain when you cut it.) It's obscure to me why such a being would have a right to continued existence. You could even kill such a being mercifully by first administering anesthesia. If a capacity for pain is the reason why it's wrong to kill things, then is it still wrong to kill those things painlessly? If we're talking about a right to continued existence, then the answer must be yes. So then, is it wrong because if you had killed it in a different way then it could have suffered? Again, to me it seems very obscure what the link is. Surely it's a plausible reason not to torture, but why is this a reason not to kill?

On the other hand, one could imagine beings with the capacity for mental activity on the level of humans, but which could not feel pain. I find it highly doubtful that such a being would not have a right to continued existence. For instance, if I, an adult human organism, develop a brain defect preventing me from feeling pain any more, it does not suddenly become permissible to kill me. (Or, I should hope not anyway.)

Cognition, rational thinking, high level conscious awareness, neo-Lockean personhood, a capacity to feel pleasure, and so on, seem like good candidates for requirements for a right to continued existence (though I'll leave open whether a potentiality for developing such qualities matters).

Simon Knutsson writes:

Invertebrate Suffering is a report with lots of references to academic literature.

(The publication was produced by me, Tobias Baumann, Adriano Mannino, Brian Tomasik and others.)


I see that I dodged your core question. I have difficulties with the word "justified" because of the subjectivity of what one considers to be just or right. The best answer that I can give you is that killing is justified under a biological framework of natural selection (survival of the fittest, which is a reasoned description of the functioning of an ecosystem) but not justified under reasoned ethical frameworks. For example, survival of the fittest justifies not just the killing for nourishment but also justifies the killing of sexually active competitors and their offspring and the use of sexual violence against their mates. An ethical framework based on the universal application of the principal of non-initiation of violence on the other hand won't justify any of those actions, it won't justify even killing for nourishment, since a sentient entity shouldn't have to suffer so you can avoid your own suffering. An ethical framework based on a selective combination of speciesism and non-initiation of violence draws a line between the application of the latter principle to one's own species and the application of the survival of the fittest framework to all other species. One can find many examples of this way of thinking in this thread, after all it's still the mainstream ethical approach, and yet it's as misguided as "ethical racism," and this is why ethical vegetarianism is clearly on the rise. So to reframe my previous answer: when I kill mice to nourish myself in order to survive I know that what I'm doing isn't justified under an ethical framework but that it is justified under a survival of the fittest framework, and in this case I selfishly chooses the latter over the first. It's fortunate that modern economies have greatly reduced situations of choice under duress allowing us to live more ethically when compared to the constrained realities of our ancestors.

Pajser writes:

Luke Simpson, you are right. It is even possible that all non living things are better off if they continue existence. If human brain somehow produces consciousness or emotions, and we have no way of detecting that except by own experience, I think Occam's razor is that all things produce something similar.

Brian writes:


I don't think Occam's razor helps us here. Remember, the principle says not to multiply hypotheses needlessly, but we still have propose sufficient hypotheses to explain what we observe. Given that few other beings behave in a way similar to us in terms of mental ability, the simpler hypothesis is that other beings do NOT possess consciousness. Otherwise, we have to hypothesize universal consciousness (Hyp. 1) and then still explain why it's not readily seen in other beings (Hyp. 2). That would violate Occam's razor.

Axel Lieber writes:


Thanks for taking up this important topic. About time it's taken more seriously in libertarian circles.

Drawing on PETA and Singer for this discussion runs the risk of fighting straw men. The former is a rabble-rousing advocacy organization that doesn't concern itself with the finer points of philosophical and legal discourse. Peter Singer is a utilitarian and not a good representative of a rights position.

Tom Regan should be the reference of choice. He is the leading animal rights philosopher, not Singer.

Regan mostly argues for moral rights for animals, but on occasion he has also discussed and promoted concrete legal protections for them, for example in the form of prohibiting vivisection and animal agriculture.

Important for this discussion is that he differentiates between animals who are Subjects-Of-A-Life (his term), those who aren't but are sentient, and those that are neither.

From “The Case For Animal Rights”: "To be the subject-of-a-life ... involves more than merely being alive and more than
merely being conscious... [I]ndividuals are subjects-of-a-life if they have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference- and welfare-
interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them."

Subjects-of-a-life (SOAL) have "inherent value" that should, according to Regan, translate into moral rights and also legal protections. He extends moral rights to some other animals who *may* not be SOAL, such as fish, to be on the safe side.

Insects by no stretch of the imagination can be SOAL. They lack the neurological facilities for this, and nothing in their behavior gives any cause for thinking that they might be SOAL. Whether they are *sentient* is another matter. (Sentience for our purposes means the ability to feel pain and to suffer.) It's debated among entomologists but on balance, I think the consensus so far is that they're not, especially not in the same way that mammals are. Many an etymologist believes that one can with some justification call them biological automatons. In other words, for all we know there is a substantial difference between insects and vertebrates, especially mammals, for the purposes of rights discussions. Insects are not SOAL and chances are they aren't sentient in any way that would make them the moral equals of vertebrates, either. The leading animal rights philosopher of our time never made any claim that insects should be accorded the same moral or legal rights as mammals. And by the way, neither he nor any AR advocate I have ever encountered, has ever demanded all the same rights for all animals that are accorded to humans.

Bryan, unless you can put forward solid arguments and evidence that bugs are in fact SOAL, or at least sentient, saying that animal rights advocates can't really be serious because they, too, indiscriminately massacre bugs on their wind shields, is probably a straw man argument and a non-sequitur.

One last comment. The question of giving legal protections to animals is separate from the question of personal morality and behavior. We have an obligation to examine sincerely and thoroughly the question of what we owe other animals. Must we extend our beloved Non-Aggression Principle to the other SOAL? Do we believe that we have a moral obligation to reduce as much as possible the harm, pain and suffering we bring onto them? I cannot see how one could deny that we do. And that means that the flesh and secretions of mammalians, birds, fish and certain cephalopods must be off the menu. And that wool, feathers and leather do not belong on our bodies.

Some links.



Pajser writes:

Brian - I have explanation for (Hyp 2) - why we do not see that other (not alive) beings are emotional or that they experienced some particular consciousness. Because we can recognize only emotions we experienced.

I need that explanation even if emotions are limited on humans. For instance, for fact that I do not recognize emotions or "higher states of the consciousness" allegedly experienced by yogis. I do not know what is nirvana or samadhi and whether yogis really experience something I do not know, or they only claim so because of some self-interest.

Even if stone told me that he is in perpetual state of "being stoned," I could not know is it true, or he lies because of some hidden self-interest. As stone never told me anything, it makes me even harder to figure out what's going on.

Dan R writes:


Thanks for making me think this week. I have with three objections to your point, none of which invalidate it completely. Personally, I look forward to the time when we can economically produce our equivalent food stuffs without actual animals in the middle.

First, the calculation of lives and what is the opportunity cost of using those resources to produce one feedstock life is a very complex question. Especially when the natural state is excess reproduction and near subsistence lives. If the meat was produced through a hunting or harvesting process out of the natural cycle would that be ok?

Second, unless humanity commits specicide, there are likely wasted resources everywhere. Humanity itself needs calories for it's lives, and the full resources for feed stock is not available for recycling into the natural cycle. If each minute of each life counts equally, then some lives are more calorically expensive than others. Should we remove/exterminate those species as being wasteful? Humans and other large animals with higher daily caloric needs are also part of the natural cycle. If human society is special and outside the natural cycle, that undercuts any argument that other animals are equal to humans in a society. From a natural cycle point of view, which you suggested as the alternative, the lion doesn't care about the zebra's life when it wants food. Why should the human care about the cow's life? I agree that it's useful to think beyond the natural cycle, but the natural cycle was your example of the improved state that could be achieved. That example reduces your point that animals raised to be murdered matters if humans and their societies that form are also part of the natural cycle. If they're not, then they're special, and arguing with an exception seems to me to be more arguing about the nature of the exception than the general policy. Also in this case, to what should human society revert?

Finally, there's the property rights angle. Unless we outlaw property rights in human society and "wasteful" uses of such, it's hard to say that purchasing more raw resources than strictly needed to survive is wasteful. Choosing to waste resources to raise animals to murder for food is one choice of a way to waste resources. Unless the property rights to the underlying resources is denied, that waste is better than pure waste as it at least produces short brutal animal lives. If someone can refuse to maximally utilize their resources, then I fail to see how choosing to use the resources to produce feedstock is a worse sort of waste from a total lives perspective. There's a calculation involved and humans live above subsistence in many many ways, not just food type/quality.

Peter writes:

Assuming we agree there is no perfect person, your argument from conscience seems to entirely undermine morality. This cannot be used as an argument to determine whether or not "X" means you are acting morally, for even if "X" were the very definition of acting moral, you would fail this test.

If you make X, "We should always act morally", you will notice that it goes as follows:

If even morally scrupulous advocates of always acting morally don't always act morally... we probably shouldn't always act morally.

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