Characterized as a teleological theory, utilitarianism is used to test the morality of an action based on its consequences, but not its motives. This theory is premised on the principle of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. The rightness of an action is therefore justified if it results into maximizing human welfare (Singer 325–337). Utilitarianism is composed of two broad features, i.e., act-utilitarianism and hedonistic utilitarianism.
These features were created because of research studies done by Jeremy Bentham. Act-utilitarianism involves ascertaining the morality or immorality of each action by tallying the consequences, one after the other. On the other hand, if our concern in determining the morality of our actions relies exclusively on pain and pleasure as our consequences, then the theory is known as hedonistic utilitarianism (Regan 202– 210).
According to Singer, the link between vegetarianism and utilitarianism is enshrined in the principle of equality of interests. Within this principle, it is presupposed that all beings, irrespective of their species, are supposed to receive equal consideration in the event that they are subjected to the same action. Since nonhuman animals have moral standing and can experience pain and pleasure like human beings, it is against the principle of equality of interests to feed on them (Singer 325–337).
The equality being considered in this case is of a morality nature and the abilities of the entities are inconsequential. For instance, equal consideration of interests entails allowing pigs the freedom to roam around in dirt as you will fulfil your children’s interest in education. The two cases do not amount to equal treatment but they amount to equal consideration of interests (Pollan).
Pollan argues that human beings have been eating meat since time immemorial and this habit characterize their evolutionary heritage. The identity of human beings as expressed through biological features such as dental design and digestion structure has largely been configured for eating meat (Pollan).
Eating eggs and meat of domesticated animals is the only way through which these animals are able to pay back for the hospitality they receive from human beings. Moreover, on this point, Pollan differs with animal rightists who regard domestication as a form of enslavement, rather than a mutual relationship between human beings and animals.
In his opinion, the alliance between humankind and nonhuman animals was first formed based on Darwinian trial and error for the sake of mutual survival (Pollan). In describing the dynamics that led to this relationship Pollan says, “Humans provided the animals with food and protection, in exchange for which the animals provided the humans their milk and eggs and–yes–their flesh” (Pollan).
Pollan’s support for domestication excludes cruelty of humans against animals. He emphasises that farming animals should be done in such a manner that uphold consideration for the animals. He condemns the treatment of animals as “production units,” whose only importance lies in their economic viability (Pollan). Pollan gives Polyface Farm as an example where industrial animal farming is conducted under conditions that are humane.
On this farm, chicken, sheep, cattle, turkeys, pigs, and rabbits coexist in a symbiotic relationship that gives them freedom to enjoy life in a less-controlled environment. This is very different from other American industrial farms where cruel practices such as tail docking, beak clipping, and sow crates are the order of the day. In an effort to paint a picture of the situation, Pollan says, “the American industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint” (Pollan).
Human beings are omnivorous and therefore their survival does not entirely depend on meat, they can choose to be vegetarians. On the other hand, carnivorous animals are limited to eating meat for their survival. Based on these observations, human beings do not have any moral justification to feed on animals simply because animals kill each other for survival.
Pollan’s argument that we are entitled to eat meat because of our evolutionary heritage is ill advised. We are firmly in the 21st century and there are so many opportunities in food crop farming that we can utilise for the betterment of the welfare of human beings and animals. The days when people survived as nomadic pastoralists, hunters, and gatherers are long gone. Equality through consideration of interests of animals and human beings is more feasible today because of the technological advances.
The utilitarian argument for vegetarianism is convincing because it is backed with comprehensive hypotheses. The arguments offer sufficient reasons why there should be equality in the consideration of interests that concerns animals and human beings (Regan 202– 210).
This equality of considerations restrains humans from using nonhuman animals for their own selfish ends. Acknowledging that animals and human beings are all capable of experiencing pain and pleasure, it becomes apparent that both entities are morally significant. Therefore, in the interest of maximizing happiness for both parties, human beings are supposed to be vegetarians and animals are supposed to enjoy their freedom as animals (Singer 325–337).
Pollan, Michael. “An Animal’s Place.” The New York Times Magazine 10 November. 2002
Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights, Revised ed., Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. Print.
Singer, Peter. “Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism.” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 9. 4 (1980): 325–337. Print.