Human beings and the other animals

Human ethical practices and attitudes with respect to the other animals exhibit a curious instability. On the one hand, most people believe that it is wrong to inflict torment or death on a non-human animal for a trivial reason. Skinning a cat or setting it on fire by way of a juvenile prank is one of the standard examples of obvious wrongdoing in the philosophical literature. Like torturing infants, it is the kind of example that philosophers use when we are looking for something ethically uncontroversial, so that disputes about the example won’t get in the way of the point we are trying to make.2 On the other hand, human beings have traditionally counted nearly any reason we might have for hurting or killing animals, short of malicious enjoyment, as non-trivial and sufficient. We kill non-human animals, and sometimes inflict pain on them, because we want to eat them, because we can make useful products out of them, because we can learn from experimenting on them, and..
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