Objection (6): Bringing into Existence as Justification
“Farmed animals wouldn’t even exist if we didn’t breed and raise them to kill and eat them. In fact it is the pig that has the greatest interest in bacon. Since they owe their lives to us, it is perfectly legitimate for us to take something in return.”
Although this argument is similar to the one before (5), it differs in one crucial respect: it infers ethical permissibility not from the purpose of breeding and raising animals but from the alleged benefit this practice bestows on animals. So in a sense this version is more demanding in the way of ethics.
What may sound paradox at first glance, is in fact true: farmed animals would not exist if we did not use, kill and eat them. But can killing be justified with the gift of life? Or would that not seem to be a rather odd line of reasoning?
(6.1) Problem of Comparing Existence and Non-Existence
From a commonsense perspective, it might seem intuitively plausible that bringing an individual into existence implies a benefit for this individual. From a philosophical perspective, however, this is far less obvious. For the benefit claim presupposes the commensurability of existence and non-existence. But then the logical problem arises whether it is at all possible to compare existence with non-existence with reference to the subjective perspective of the individual in question. To put it differently: Can it be better for an individual to exist than not to exist? The apparent problem here is that it seems impossible to compare these two states because in the case of non-existence there is no individual for whom it would be worse not to exist. In this respect, existence cannot be better than non-existence for the being in question.
(Whether this produces a better state of the world in general, which would be of concern to utilitarians, is irrelevant here. Because the argument claims that it is better for the animals in question.)
(6.2) Bringing into Existence not Necessarily a Benefit
Even if – leaving philosophical sophistry aside – it were less problematic to compare existence with non-existence, the ethical question here would still be far from settled. For it still wouldn’t follow that being brought into existence automatically implies a benefit for the individual in question. However, this argument is premised on this very assumption as it suggests that we may kill and eat animals as a kind of return for our benefiting them with life.
What this argument fails to do is to acknowledge that lives may differ in terms of their quality and that there might well be a quality of life so low that there is something like a life that is not worth living for the individual in question. Then, however, bringing an individual into a perfectly miserable existence is certainly no benefit – and hence does not work as a justification.
Now, the quality of life of most animals in factory farms or laboratories is certainly very low – let alone the rather brief timeframe they are granted to exist. Of course it is virtually impossible to determine whether a specific animal would prefer non-existence to an existence perfectly miserable and drastically cut short. Be that as it may, it nevertheless seems safe to assume that most of them, given a choice, would most probably choose for their present misery to come to an immediate end. And this alone suffices to question the assumption that farmed animals are benefitted by being brought into existence.
(6.3) Bringing into existence doesn’t entail free-reign but an obligation to care
Even if the quality of life of farmed animals in factory farms or laboratories were sufficiently high for them to choose life over non-existence, it wouldn’t follow that we may make them suffer (within certain limits) and take their lives in return for ‘benefiting’ them (on balance). For causing individuals to exist doesn’t give one free reign over them but entails an obligation to care for them instead.
Take the relation with our children as a case in point. Giving life to children would seem to imply a benefit for them. But it certainly does not entail the right to treat them as we please – not even within certain limits, that is as long as their lives are still sufficiently worth living. Of course we may educate our children and demand from them a certain amount of obedience and compliance in the process; but that certainly does not entitle us to anything remotely approaching a free-reign over their lives as a return for the blessing they have received from our hands in the form of their existences. Instead we incur the obligation to care and provide for them – at least as long as they cannot do so by themselves but depend on us.
Why, then, should this be different when talking about animals? The only relevant difference here is that most domesticated animals, unlike normal human children, will never be capable of living independent lives. Therefore, our obligation to care and provide for them does not end until they die.