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Utilitarianism and Its Relationship to Factory Farm Animals

By misa33ty Oct 16, 2014 905 Words
In this paper I will be discussing Gaverick Matheny’s concern with utilitarianism and its relationship to factory farm animals. Gaverick Matheny’s first premise is that utilitarianism is a legitimate ethical theory. Matheny’s second premise is that utilitarianism includes non-human interests. Matheny’s third premise is that factory farms violate utilitarian beliefs. Matheny’s conclusion, therefore, is that factory farms are unethical and that “most of us should change the way we live” (13). Gaverick Matheny reaches his conclusion based on one x-factor: knowledge or the lack thereof. He tells us how he believes some people continue to purchase factory farm products due to the presentation of the product itself. The products we see on the shelves of our local supermarket are not squealing for mercy, nor do their intestines line the floors with blood. Matheny wants us to accept the knowledge he is presenting to us and adopt his conclusion. He no longer wants us to consume factory farm products, or better yet, he wants us to change the way we live our lives. Before I begin explaining why Matheny believes utilitarianism is a legitimate ethical theory I will explain what utilitarianism is. Utilitarianism in a sense is a way of taking every party into consideration when making a decision. The resulting action will be based solely on the overall interests of every party involved. Each action taken under a utilitarian perspective has the intension of producing the most positive outcome. Matheny now tells us that utilitarianism is greater or “reasonable” (24) as opposed to other ethical theories which he does not mention. He gives us four central dogmatic reason as to why we should adopt utilitarianism. Firstly he tells us how both the “rightness and wrongness of an action” are taken into account when making a decision. Secondly he says that utilitarianism “defines what is ethically ‘good’” (14); in other words, how satisfied people are with the decisions being made. Thirdly he tells us that utilitarianism includes the voice of everybody, “regardless of their nationality, gender, race, or other traits that we find upon reflection” (14). We can interpret this as a way of saying that utilitarianism does not discriminate on any level whatsoever. Lastly, Matheny says that comparisons between all involved parties must be made in order to reach a final decision; only that decision which will produce “the greatest good for the greatest number” (15) will be carried out. Matheny goes on to address how utilitarianism is not restricted to human interests but includes non-human interests as well. Matheny’s main defense for this claim is that of sentience. We were previously told that utilitarianism takes into consideration the “interests” of all parties involved. Those interests have no defined boundaries and are therefore open to interpretation on Matheny’s behalf. We are told that “we all have an interest, at a minimum, in a pleasurable life, relatively free of pain” (16-17). Under the utilitarian ethical theory, those who feel pleasure or pain are to be taken into consideration when decisions are being made. In other words, those who are sentient. That being said, simply because the intensity of either the pain or the pleasure being experienced is greater or lesser in humans and non-humans Matheny says that we cannot discard either parties’ interests. They are to be considered morally-equal. Matheny now applies the utilitarian principal that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number to this very situation. He tells us that the interest of 100,000 people in having $1 each outweighs the interest of an individual who wants $100,000. That goes to say that for every human that experiences pain, there are thousands of non-humans that experience a lesser pain, however under utilitarianism, Matheny tells us that this does not matter. The decision will always be made on the sheer quantity of “good” that will come from it: all self-consideration aside. Ultimately Matheny hopes that we will accept this premise to be true. Matheny now goes on to say that factory farms violate utilitarian beliefs. Factory farms primarily produce two different types of products: pleasure and pain. Matheny tells us that “the pain experienced by animals in factory farms is likely greater than that experienced by many of those sick dogs and cats who we choose to euthanize” (20). This is the pain aspect of factory farms. The pleasure aspect as Matheny tells us comes from those who consume the products which are being produced from said factory farms. However if the previously discussed utilitarian perspectives are applied to this particular situation we will see that an entire lifetime of pain endured by non-humans greatly outweighs the moments of pleasure experienced by humans during consumption of factory farm products. This is perhaps one of Matheny greatest attempts at getting us to believe that factory farms violate utilitarian beliefs. Matheny more directly addresses this premise when he talks about the consumption of chicken. In order for the issue to be addressed adequately all interests must be considered equally. Matheny then poses a question: “does the pleasure we enjoy from eating a chicken outweigh the pain we would endure were we to be raised and killed for the meal (21)?” He is counting on our instinctive reaction to not be tortured and raised on a farm to persuade us to conclude that the pleasure of eating a chicken does not outweigh the pain of raising a chicken.

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