The definition of utilitarianism is that the morally good thing to do is to pleasure the greatest number of people or animals for the least amount of suffering. For example you can rationalize killing a mass murderer before he kills even more people. Therefore taking the life of one person to save the life of many more.
There are multiple arguments for or against weather we should eat animals or not. On one side there is the argument that we should exploit animals for food because we need it to survive and make us happy. On the other hand some people are completely against exploiting animals and say that we should treat them just like we treat other human beings. And finally there are people in the middle who agree that for some things like food we need to exploit animals but for other things like experiments or amusement we should not. I will show you the arguments of the three sides and how utilitarianism is relevant within them in the paragraphs to come.
To start I will contemplate the side of the argument which allows animal exploitation for the good of human beings. This argument can be morally sound to a utilitarian as long as it makes more people happy than it does suffering to the animal. For example, let’s say that the exploitation of a lion in a circus that is doing tricks for a crowd. Now this lion is not happy and in some cases will be mistreated always in a cage and not free like lions in the wild, he could also be beat by his owner and possibly other people as well. But this lion is making a crowd of 100 or more people happy with smiles on their faces and laughter and amazement. Let’s say hypothetically that a child see’s this lion and falls in love with it which leads him to become a veterinarian in the future, and as a veterinarian he saves countless animal lives.
Would the lion’s suffering not be worth the lives of possibly a thousand plus animals? A utilitarian would agree with this and therefore the owner of the lion is morally justified in what he is doing. The same utilitarian has no problem exploiting animals like cows, chickens, and pigs for food. Even though the animals are living in factories where they are pilled up on each other covered in their own and others feces and are fed corn which is not the food that they are naturally supposed to eat (grass). They still provide pleasure and to some a necessity of food and nutrition. For example one cow could produce multiple steaks, and people who just adore steak because it brings them great pleasure consume these steaks, therefore the suffering of one cow brings joy to many people. Therefore a utilitarian would rationalize that as long as more people are happy than there is animals’ suffering everything is morally justified.
On the contrary there are utilitarian’s that are completely against exploiting animals for food or for experiments. You may know some of these utilitarian’s as they are sometimes vegetarians or vegans. According to http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vegetarian a vegetarian is “a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.”. A utilitarian vegetarian will refrain from eating animals because they think that the suffering of the animal is greater than the pleasure gained by eating the animal. They think that what an animal goes through in the farm factories is in humane and goes against animal rights. The definition of animal rights from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/animal+rights is “the rights of animals, claimed on ethical grounds, to the same humane treatment and protection from exploitation and abuse that are accorded to humans.” If humans were treated the same way as chickens are in the factories there would be a huge revolt. The chickens are fed steroids to make then grow to adult size in half the time that it would normally take and the steroids make them have large breast, which is exactly what the consumer wants.
These steroids something kill the chicken because the internal organs cannot keep up to the growth. In some circumstances the chicken is too big and their legs can’t withhold the weight of the chicken and they break. Now if this would happen to a human being, everyone would ben in an uproar and someone most likely the parent feeding their child steroids would be in serious trouble, yet the farmers and the companies that are doing this to the chickens not only are not being punished but they are being rewarded for this behavior. To protest the companies and this behavior the vegetarians stop buying and eating animal products.
As human beings we do not need meat to survive, we can take vitamins to replace the nutritional factor that would is missing as a vegetarian. Also there is the argument that meat could be hurtful to the population. Eating too much meat can have severe health problems to a person, as well as sometimes the meat can be contaminated with diseases that comes from mass-producing these animals. A utilitarian in this sense would argue that it is ethically and morally wrong to eat meat because it is not a necessity to eat meat therefore you can avoid animal suffering in the first place. In the vegetarians eye a person who is eating meat is inflict pain and suffering on animals who have the same rights as us.
Finally there are the utilitarian who are stuck in the middle of these two arguments. These utilitarian’s are for animal exploitation in the use of food, but are against it for the use of experiments. This can be explained in the way they see utility. When we exploit animals for food, there is immediate pleasure that we can measure because we are eating the animal or drinking its produce. People eat meat almost everyday therefore it becomes a necessity for them and if they cut of that necessity they would be unhappy, therefore their happiness is more important than the suffering of an animal. On the other hand, doing experiments on animals for medical purposes or to further or knowledge in an area does not have immediate pleasure or good, but it does have immediate suffering for the animal. This is a touchy subject because there can be two arguments.
One being that for the amount of animal suffering that goes on we have not come up with enough medical solutions or new theories that help the world. Therefore the ration of suffering to pleasure is not sufficient enough to keep going with experiments. The argument is that even though the suffering may overwhelm the happiness that might not be the case forever. Because all it would take is one break through to maybe cure cancer or abolish cystic fibrosis or multiple sclerosis and this would then bring the measure of happiness way over the measure of suffering. But this breakthrough has not happened yet therefore the suffering is still much more and this is why some utilitarian’s do not think that exploiting animals for experiments is morally justified.
This debates shows that utilitarianism has many faults because the answer for what is morally justified or what is ethically ok is different for every person. Utilitarianism is almost like religion, you have your extremist, which is people who condom animal exploitation in any which way and there are the extremist on the other hand who do not allow any animal exploitation at all and finally there are the utilitarian that agree with a bit of both sides. In my view there is no right or wrong because everything can be rationalized as morally good in someone eye’s. Utilitarianism can be a way for someone to not feel guilty about what they have done, it can let you do something bad and be forgiven for it without punishment and this is why I do not think that utilitarianism is ethically right. Evil is ok as long as there is more goodness going around, this sentence is what I see when I look at the word utilitarian and is the reason why I think it is not a good ethical theory to follow.