Among the most glaring problems that I see with Utilitarianism is its inclusion of animals under the umbrella that blankets this theory. It seems irrefutable that there exists an inordinate number of cases where the consequence that is against the best interest of an animal is favorable to humans, yet that dictating action is one that has been continually taken and condoned by the general public. This is a fundamental challenge, as the Utilitarian philosophy decrees that the pleasure and pain experienced by all individuals, including animals, has equal worth and must be considered when determining the net benefit of an action’s consequences.
The most drastic and prevalent of examples that one could provide to illustrate this contradiction would be the practice of using animals to provide food. It cannot be argued that it is in the best interest of a cow, a chicken, or another animal to be slaughtered to serve the dietary needs of mankind. Accordingly, Utilitarian reasoning suggests, in direct opposition to the intuition of humanity, that it is morally impermissible to kill the animals. While a Utilitarian philosopher might provide the counter-argument that such is natural order of the world that there exist a hierarchical food tree. Further they would insist that the greater good is that humans be nourished and provided for by the meat, for our pleasure is superior in quality to that of the beast. This reasoning, however, is flawed in two ways. Initially, the method by which meat finds its way to grocery stores for our purchase and eventual consumption is not one governed by the ways of nature, but rather is one engineered for efficiency by humans. Animals are bread forcibly, then nourished with specific intent of managing fat content, meat flavor, and healthiness, each of which discounts the Utilitarian claim that nature makes our carnivorous methods ethically permissible. Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, such a claim is in direct contradiction to the Utilitarian tenet that each individual has equal value regardless of identity or stature. Because humans could be sufficiently nourished without the killing of animals, it cannot be argued that the consequence of causing death to an animal is equivalent or less substantial than that of feeding a man.
Conversely, there exist equally as many challenges to raise had the ethicist taken the alternate position that animals have equal value and accordingly that their pleasure is impermissibly infringed upon when they are killed for human interest. Arguments could be presented for a bevy of actions taken on a daily basis by society as a whole. One might address the fact that using animal testing for the advancement of medicine has benefits that outweigh the pains. Similarly, while the development of land effectively kills the previously animal inhabitants, it is an accepted result that society has displayed it is willing to disregard. In each of these cases, the majority of society condones such behavior, as evidenced by their existence as common public practice. While it is undeniable that opposition to each behavior does exist, the magnitude of this resistance is far outweighed by those in finding the long term benefits worthy of the negative consequences.
In the end, it grows apparent that while it may be valuable to consider the interests of animals when calculating the net benefit of a given action, neither their pleasure nor their pain should be equated to ours. Such a principle has been introduced through the ethical thought experiment The Dilemma of the Swine. Resultantly, human existence constitutes higher pleasure that does that of an animal and we are often better served by making such a distinction through intuitive analysis rather than applying “Hedonistic Calculus.” The fact that Utilitarianism can be forced into contradictions regardless of the stance they choose makes the inclusion of animals under their ethical umbrella a significant problem.