Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky is a doctoral student in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. He recently shared his thoughts with us on his article, “A Linguistic Method of Deception: The Difference Between Killing Humanely and a Humane Killing” from the Journal of Animal Ethics.
Suppose you’re at a supermarket. Walking through the aisles, you look to your right and see an unrecognizable dead animal packaged in plastic with a sticker carelessly slapped on the front that says, ‘humane’. Seeing this word, what comes to mind? It strikes me that most people will think about the means by which the animal was killed. Was it painless? How quickly did the animal die? Here, the concern is whether an animal is killed humanely.
However, this isn’t the only way to think about the application of the concept ‘humane’ when it comes to the death of factory farmed animals. We can question whether or not the animal ought to have died in the first place. In this sense, we are concerned with a humane killing. And this is how we tend to think about ending the life of companion animals – we consider whether a beloved family dog has had her best days before making a decision as to whether she should be euthanized. If she has not lived her best days, we judge it to be inhumane to have her put down. We consider more than just a pain-free death.
So, why is this distinction important? It matters given our commitment to living well. If the meat-eating industry is able to utilize moralized concepts in a way that invites us to make judgments about the method of killing animals, all the while ignoring whether such animals ought to be killed, then this can confuse our ethical sensibilities. We will become
disposed to make immoral decisions owing to the intentionally obscured moral concepts that guide our action. We will judge the eating of meat to be permissible only if an animal has been killed humanely, and not whether it was humanely killed.