Thomson takes for granted that it would be wrong to slit the violinist's throat. Why? Who says? How does she know? And on what rational basis can she assume this when she acknowledges the outcome of both possible courses of action (slitting his throat or walking away) is the same? It seems the principal difference between the two cases is that the philosopher, like almost all of us today, is squeamish at the sight of blood, and even at the thought of the sight of blood in a completely fictional Gedankenexperiment.
Most human societies, in most places and times, have done significantly better than we do at facing the gore of our earthly existence, rather than “preferring not to see it” in both of the meaningful senses of that phrase: both finding it unpleasant (an affective state) and going about your life in denial as to its reality (a form of moral blindness). Now you might think that there is a basis to such denialism: you might think, with Steven Pinker and other recent Enlightenment defenders, that the modern world is growing progressively less violent, and that therefore, at this rate, it is not a facing up to the reality of bloodshed that is the most moral and mature thing to do, but on the contrary we should be helping to hasten its ultimate elimination.
But do not forget: every year billions of animals are slaughtered for human consumption. Moral philosophers will often qualify the term “animals” with the adjective “sentient”, but an anthropologically more salient term would perhaps be “blooded” (which has an admittedly Aristotelian ring to it): these are creatures that are such that, when you slaughter them, blood pours.
People think I am exaggerating when I say this, but I mean it: the greatest moral transgression of the contemporary world is that we have, first, desacralized slaughter and the consumption of animal flesh, and second, moved this slaughter behind the walls of unmarked, remotely located slaughterhouses, rendering it structurally invisible. This is a historically unprecedented development, and if you are not prepared to call it a sin, either because you do not believe in sin or because you do not believe that animals have a moral status that enables them to be sinned against, you still must acknowledge that our treatment of non-human others as a mass-scale commodity comes with “wages”, in the form, namely, of ecological devastation.
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