I will argue that factory farming is not ethical because the act is not virtuous, promotes the reverse of happiness, and disregards moral act of duty. Then explore and explain the philosophical views and theories of Aristotle, James Mills and Immanuel Kant. Through the lenses of their arguments, I will deduce whether they would consider factory farming as an ethical practice or not.
Factory Farming can be defined as the raising of farm animals in poor and often overcrowded confined spaces(Aspca, n.d.). The animals that are born and raised in such conditions are subject to a number of horrors and unnecessary cruelties. Some, in addition to overcrowded cages, are forced to endure teeth-clipping, tail clipping, castration and unnatural breeding just to meet consumer needs(Aspca, n.d.). The abuse not only affects animals but also has adverse effects on human health. The meat, eggs and other by-products, are full of antibiotics that the animals had to be fed in order to combat diseases that bred in the farms(Aspca, n.d.). Salmonella, E.coli and other bacteria can be ingested and passed to the people who consume the infested products (Aspca, n.d.). Not only does the consumption of these foods affect human health, but it also harms the environment. The waste pollutes the water, land and air surrounding the farms(Aspca, n.d.)
Aristotle on Virtue
Aristotle views virtue as something that can be of thought and character (Aristotle, 2000). Virtue of thought listens to reason but is not reason itself(Aristotle, 2000). The reason why a person decides to do something good, must be in and of itself virtuous inorder for the actual action to be virtuous. Wisdom, comprehension and prudence are some attributes of virtues of thought(Sachs, 1999). Aristotle believed that emotions in along with rationality produce virtues of character(Athanassoulis, 2000). A virtuous character is born from habituation(Sachs, 1999).
Factory farming is unethical because the action and the reason are not virtuous. Aristotle believes that for an action to be virtuous, the reason behind it should be good and contain no expected self interest. In the case of factory farms, the corporations that produce these animal products torture them in order to maximize the profit. Forcing the animals to endure poor treatment would be a non-virtuous act, as the reason behind it is also non-virtuous and is expected to incur self interest, factory farming is not ethical based on Aristotle’s philosophy on virtue.
Mill on Utility
Utilitarianism according to Mills, is the philosophy that actions are right as long as they promote happiness (Mills, 1863). Happiness depends on the consequence of the action, this also determines whether the action is right or wrong. For example, cheating at Florida State leads to getting expelled, which is a bad consequence thus making the action of cheating bad as it promotes unhappiness. Mills goes on to define what happiness is in line with utilitarianism as pleasure with no pain (Mills, 1863). An action is right or wrong based on the absence of either pleasure or pain, pleasure and no pain being rightness and happiness (Mills, 1863). All happiness is valid, but when evaluating happiness one is accounting for everyone’s pleasure and not just their own (Mills, 1863).
Factory farming is unethical because it promotes unhappiness. Mill’s utilitarianism states that happiness depends on the outcome of the consequence providing pleasure and no pain (Mills 1863), and this is not the case for the animals on the farms nor the people who consume their produce. The chickens, pigs and cows experience all pain and no pleasure as they are confined in tight, body altering spaces, tortured, and pumped full of antibiotics (Aspca,n.d.). The consumers may experience pleasure in eating the food they make using the contaminated produce, but experience varying levels of pain resulting from sickness due to previous meat consumption. Since Factory farming produces more pain than pleasure, based on Mill’s utilitarian philosophy it is unethical.
Kant on Duty
Kant views the concept of duty as goodwill within limits (Kant, 1998). These limits are not there to hinder or depreciate the good of the action, but makes the person complete the action because they feel impelled to do so. Following through with an action because of the inclination from duty, is not good in and of itself, according to Kant (Kant, 1998). This is because the inclination may be a result of self-interest or other morally worthless motivations. Moral duty is when one does not expect anything in return but does it purely because it is right in accordance to their duty, not because it is their duty.
Factory farming is unethical because the corporations do not do their duty. Kant says that duties are the rules, limits and inclinations in which an action is done, that are purely good (Kant, 1998). The companies and corporations that make factory farming happen, can be said to have a duty to their consumers, which is to provide food that is healthy for them and their families. Instead, the companies choose to meet the federal requirements set by the States and disregard the moral requirements of duty to the people and animals. Providing food that meets only the federal standards is done out of inclination from duty, as the inclination is not pure goodwill but is from an expected self interest. Since factory farming is not done in accordance with duty, based on Kant’s view on duty it is unethical.
Factory farming is unethical, and though Aristotle, Mills and Kant all had ideas that supported this, I feel that Kant’s idea of duty is the weakest. I say this because, though Companies have a duty to the people to provide food, this does not necessarily include any duty, moral or otherwise, to the animals being subject to cruelty in the farms. Kant would have to expand his idea to include nonhuman ethics, since animals cannot express or speak on their own behalf. Moral duties are not tangible enough to universally set rules that stop the practice of factory farming. Morally the companies that supply the food are bad because they actually do the of torturing the animals, but the same can be said of the consumers who demand and purchase the food because they make it the duty of the companies to fulfill the need. This is why I say that Kant’s argument of moral duty is weak, because even though the company expects something in return, they do factory farming since it is needed to fulfill the duty and they are inclined to quickly produce animals in harsh conditions.
- From Immanuel Kant, edited by Mary Gregor, Introduction by Christine M. Korsgaard. Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Pp. 7 – 11, 25 – 26, 30 – 32, 36 – 39. Copyright 1998 Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with permission of Cambridge University Press.
- From J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, chaps 1 and 2. First published in 1863.
- From Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated by Terrance Irwin, 2nd ed.(Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000), pp. 7 – 12, 16 – 25. Reprinted by permission of Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
- Aspca, (n.d.) Farm Animal Welfare [Website]. Retrieved from: https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/farm-animal-welfare