On Ethics Of Meat Eating


by Imran Hussain, reproduced from his website.

Ethical Meat Eating


The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been [withheld] from them but by the hand of tyranny.  The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor.  It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the [pelvic bone] are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate.  A Full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’

 – Jeremy Bentham on Animal Rights – Introduction to the Principles of Moral and Legislation (1789)

Normally, the discourse on Meat eating is surrounded by those who claim that killing a life (ie animal) is wrong and the opponent camp claims that plants are also forms of life.  The vaccous argument above does not do justice to case against meat eating

To understand why meat eating is unethical, one would need to appreciate a few concepts to start with

Conceptual Morality:
Man is a moral animal capable of ‘conceptual morality’.  Conceptual morality is an idea which states that a man can be held morally responsible for his action because unlike an animal, he has the ability to perceive exactly how his action are felt by the recipient.  For example if a cow with its horns nudges a man, the cow can never feel the pain the man felt after being nudged.  But if a man kicks another man, he knows how much pain the recipient feels and in the exact degree.  He has the ability to mentally transcend his body and place himself in the capacity of recipient of pain both consciously and sometimes unconsciously too. Imagine for example you are walking on the road and some one gets hit hard by a moving truck. You unconsciously react to it and feel the pain the man has felt albeit in smaller degree.

Psychologist Sigmund Freud describes this phenomenon in his book on subconscious mind as “the unconscious of one man moves to unconscious of another without moving through the conscious process”.  This conceptual morality is the foundational basis for man’s morality and his claim for moral superiority over other if there be one.  This is the basis of empathy that lies in the core of humanity ie the ability to feel pain and empathise with it.

If man lays claim to empathy as an intrinsic element of humanity then that part of humanity must cover all sentient beings and not merely human beings alone. 

Can Animals feel Pain?
In the early days men made many convenient and self-serving assumptions. One of them was that Animals cannot feel pain.  However leading researches and cutting edge research and technology of today belies all such false and self-serving assumptions.  It blows away the moral façade of the argument that animals cannot feel pain therefore can be eaten like apples and oranges.  Not only can animals feel pain but many animals have a very well developed Nervous system and they can feel pain in exactly the same manner as that of another human being.

In science they use some criteria to judge whether an Animal can feel pain or not.

Some criteria that may indicate the potential of another species to feel pain include

  • Has a suitable nervous system and sensory receptors
  • Physiological changes to noxious stimuli
  • Displays protective motor reactions that might include reduced use of an affected area such as limping, rubbing, holding or autonomy
  • Has opioid receptors and shows reduced responses to noxious stimuli when given analgesics and local anaesthetics
  • Shows trade-offs between stimulus avoidance and other motivational requirements
  • Shows avoidance learning
  • High cognitive ability and sentience

Various studies from animal behaviour shows that a Hen, a Goat or a Cow or a Pig which is normally eaten in gargantuan proportions have all or many of these traits.  In other words they have a well-developed nervous system that is capable of feeling pain

The Argument
To consciously inflict pain on an animal with a very well-developed nervous system which can feel pain in exactly the same manner as any other human being can feel is morally and ethically indefensible

Try a Practical Experiment
Consider another example.
Step 1 : Take a plate of Mutton/ Chicken in your hand
Step 2 : Google and search for Animal slaughter videos
Step 3: Watch the Goat Slaughter Video and try eating mutton/ chicken

Are you able to enjoy the food? Or does that make you utterly uncomfortable?  In case you are able to eat comfortably while watching the blood and gore of a sentient being being slaughtered ruthlessly and writhing in pain then you must continue doing so.

However, if you have difficulty in finishing the plate of mutton and eating it makes you utterly uncomfortable then it is fair to contemplate further. Consider that there is no difference whether a goat or a cow is slaughtered before your eyes or in some slaughter house and your mutton comes in well packed cover removing all the traces of blood and gore associated with killing the animal.  Those who think that the slaughter is morally despicable but still love mutton or chicken on their plate need introspection as it reeks of convenient blindness which comes close to hypocrisy.


(Imran Hussain apart from being a good friend of mine is a well read person, having subject matter knowledge in diverse topics and presents compelling arguments to his line of thought based on logic and sound reasoning, in his writings. This article was originally published by him in 2014 in his website http://www.imranhussain.in and was kind enough to give me permission to publish it here. )


Disclaimer: The image is taken from here and is not part of the original article

The video linked has graphic content and readers are advised to use discretion while watching the link. Courtesy The Slaughter House (2005)


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