Is eating people wrong? Why?
Yes. Kant had the answer to this one: it is immoral to treat a person as an object. If you eat someone,
that's what you're doing. Now, there is an interesting variant on this, however. One could conceive of
ritual cannibalism, where one eats the dead to show respect for them to symbolically join with them
by taking them into oneself, as moral, because then you're treating them as people, not as food. The
ritual cannibalism (yes, "communion") of the Catholic Church is something like this. Is that kind of
cannibalism moral? I'm not sure, but it seems that it could be, with suitable respect for the dead. But
aside from that kind of cannibalism, using a person as food is denying their humanity.
But, you say, what if you're on a desert island, a ship lost at sea, or whatever, and you and some
others are starving... and someone dies. Is it moral to eat them? I'd say yes, myself... I'd want to be
eaten in those circumstances, anyway, if it was me that died first. What's the difference between that
and, say, donating your organs after you die to medicine, to save lives?
Now there's another kind of cannibalism which I have not really thought through as to its morality, and
that's where human beings might clone their own flesh to feed themselves, in some future where food
is scarce. Is eating cloned human meat, grown in a vat a) cannibalism, b) immoral? After all, that's
nearly what we do now with chickens, commercially. Does it make a difference what the meat is,
genetically? My take on this is that it's only our cultural conditioning which makes us feel that this is
repulsive and immoral, and that there's not any real immorality there; humans are not treated as
objects or as food; there's just meat with human genes. On the other hand, taking human genes and
employing them in this fashion, it might be argued, is using the human blueprint, at least, in a way
that denigrates it and that opens the door to real abuses. That's certainly a reasonable response, and
that's why I don't know the answer to this one... I don't have what I'd consider a decisive reply to it.
Which isn't to say there isn't one... maybe there isn't; or perhaps I just haven't thought of it yet.
Anyway, you can see that this is a rather nasty but interesting issue... and quite relevant to today's
world, wouldn't you say?
Steven Ravett Brown
My own view that eating people is wrong is based on the idea that it is revolting. It is a human body.
This is eating someone: A person. Much as I like people alive, dead bodies have little appeal. My
attitude is the same when it comes to meat. Those who eat meat, seem to just think of it as meat. To
me it is the flesh of a dead animal, a being, and the longer I have been a vegetarian, the more it
seems unhygienic to have dead flesh in the kitchen. It seems perverse to prefer to eat a dead animal
to a pizza.
Most people in cities wouldn't eat meat if they had to kill it, skin it and take out the innards and cut it
up and cook it. (Of course, the innards are a delicacy, so once taken out, must be put in the fridge for
a special occasion). If the animal was a pet, people would have a deeper aversion to eating it. They
would especially have an aversion to the killing element.
But a more moderate stance on why eating a person is wrong is because we have ethical relations
human beings. Our attitude to humans is different from our attitude to animals. As Raimond Gaita
says in The Philosopher's Dog,no-one 'would respond to someone who served up infants in the way
they do to someone who serves up animal flesh'. People have a special place in our lives, as do pets.
Our respect for persons is shown in the way we bury or cremate them with a religious ceremony. Our
respect for pets is beginning to match this. The mass slaughter of animals in England that came with
the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease came with no such ceremony. We even have different words:
killing and slaughter. Slaughter implies a brutality that is inappropriate between human beings and is
only used in the context of war. Our brutality towards animals is something we find acceptable. We do
not find it acceptable when it involves humans.
But even if you were to eat a person who died naturally, would you serve the person at a dinner