Loughborough University
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Not only humans eat meat: companions, sentience, and vegan politics

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-04-14, 11:00 authored by Josh MilburnJosh Milburn

This paper considers the under-analysed ethical issues involved in feeding flesh to companion animals, and, in particular, how cats – nonhuman animals who may need to consume flesh to survive – might fit into an animal rights-respecting, vegan, state. I cautiously take it for granted that the current ways cats are fed are ethically untenable, but suggest that only as a last resort could states endorse cats’ extinction. Instead, this paper considers, but rejects, a rights-based “size matters” argument – the suggestion that it is better to kill a small number of large creatures than a large number of small creatures – as a solution. The paper then develops a moral risk argument to suggest that, though we have an obligation not to kill nonhuman animals who are plausibly sentient, such as shellfish, when the gains from doing so are very minor, we may be permitted to kill them when the gains are significant. In practice, this means that we are not permitted to kill these animals to satisfy our gastronomic curiosity, but we are when it allows us to avoid the need to make cats extinct. This suggestion, though, should be understood in the context of a broader vision of a society in which no sentient nonhuman animals are killed for consumption. As the argument necessarily relies on uncertainty, it could only ever be a temporary solution.


Department of Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • International Relations, Politics and History

Published in

Journal of Social Philosophy






449 - 462




  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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© Wiley

Publisher statement

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Milburn, J. (2015), Not Only Humans Eat Meat: Companions, Sentience, and Vegan Politics. J Soc Philos, 46: 449-462, which has been published in final form at https://doi.org/10.1111/josp.12131. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.

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Dr Josh Milburn. Deposit date: 28 March 2022