Beneath the surface: killing of fish as a moral problem

B. Bovenkerk, V.A. Braithwaite

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Are we morally justified in killing fish and if so, for what purposes? We do not focus on the suffering that is done during the killing, but on the question whether death itself is harmful for fish. We need to distinguish two questions; first, can death be considered a harm for fish? And second, if it is a harm, how much of a harm is it? In order to answer the first question, we explore four lines of reasoning: (1) fish desire to stay alive; (2) something valuable is lost when fish are killed; (3) death deprives fish of future happiness or goods; (4) killing fish reflects badly on our character. Some argue that we should not kill animals if they desire to stay alive and that a being can form a desire to stay alive only when it has the capacity to be aware of itself as a distinct entity existing over time. We cast doubt on this view: Do we value continued life because it is desirable or do we desire continued life because it is valuable? It seems more plausible that it is not the desire to live that matters, but being able to enjoy goods, and death thwarts future opportunities for enjoyment. This would entail that a being can have an interest in continued life, without actively being interested in it. Next, we discuss the second question of how harmful death is for fish. A widely shared intuition is that it is worse to kill a human being or mammal than a fish, because human or mammal life is in our view more valuable. But how can we account for this intuition? Finally, we address some implications of the view that killing fish is harmful.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe end of animal life: a start for ethical debate
EditorsF.L.B. Meijboom, E.N. Stassen
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Electronic)9789086868087
ISBN (Print)9789086862603
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Desire-account
  • Fish
  • Foregone opportunities account
  • Harm of death


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