Julian Baggini at the Times Literary Supplement:
Indifference, however, appears to be the norm. Most of us live in “carninormative” societies where meat eating is so normal that no matter how many qualms we might have about it, it just doesn’t feel wrong to most of us. This is most evident in the mismatch between the almost universal reflective disapproval of inhumane intensive farming and the unreflective buying choices of most consumers. Christopher Belshaw, in his contribution to The Moral Complexities of Eating Meat, is surely too optimistic when he claims it is unnecessary to say anything about factory farming because “there is little point either in defending the indefensible or in attacking a practice that almost every reader here will already condemn”. I am constantly amazed to see well-educated, thoughtful people order meat at restaurants without any questions about its provenance.
So we ought to be thinking more seriously about animal ethics. Yet it is often the case that the more rigorous we try to be, the more inadequate our conceptual tools look. The crudest tool of all is the utilitarian hedonic yardstick, which equates the good with whatever decreases suffering and increases happiness or pleasure. Utilitarianism starts with the undeniable premiss that the well-being of sentient creatures matters, yet ends with the incredible conclusion that all that matters is maximizing total well-being. Even if that were true, it’s difficult enough applying the principle to humans, since there are important qualitative differences between kinds of positive and negative human feelings. When we try to apply the principle across species, these problems multiply. How can you compare Hammy the hamster playing on his wheel and Miles Davis playing his trumpet?