Benevolence to the Non-Existent

Benevolence to the Non-Existent

[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] SIR,—As you have paid a good deal of attention to the subject of animal welfare, may I bring to your notice a queer assertion which is often made in such discussions—viz., that “it is presumably better from their (the animals’) point of view that they should eventually meet a violent death than that they should never have existed.” I quote the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the Strand Magazine, where, in like manner, Dean Inge expresses the opinion that “nobody has so much interest in the demand for pork as the pig.”

Now this is an ancient fallacy which was put forward by the defenders of pigeon-shooting as long ago as 1883, when they were satirically reminded in the House of Commons, by Mr. W. E. Forster, that what had to be considered was a “blue-rock” pigeon in existence, not before existence. To compare existence with non-existence “from their point of view”—that is, on behalf of the animals not yet born—is an absurdity. An animal, once born, may (or may not) consider himself fortunate in being privileged to die a violent death, rather than not to have lived at all; but the non-existent obviously cannot be affected by any such comparisons.

There is, actually, no such thing as a non-existent animal. Our duties to animals begin at their birth, are not ended till their death, and cannot be evaded by any references to an imaginary ante-natal condition. For these reasons I submit that benevolence to the non-existent, such as that which I have instanced, is (to put it mildly) misplaced.—I am, Sir, &c.,

Henry S. Salt
15 Sandgate Road, Brighton

The Spectator, May 26, 1928, p. 15