The idea that humans are more important than animals is fairly frequently heard in defence of the consumption of animals. The argument holds that since humans are somehow inherently more important than animals, this means that eating them is perfectly justified. Often those making this argument do not specify in what precise way humans are more important than animals, but this is a necessary clarification. The proposition that humans are simply intrinsically more important than animals is irrational unless we can justify where this inherent importance comes from.
One possible justification, and perhaps the most common, is that humans are more important than animals by virtue of our greater intelligence. It is undeniable that most humans are indeed more intelligent than most animals, but it does not follow that humans are more important than animals because of this fact alone. If we are to assess the value or importance of a being solely based on their intelligence, we would be entering murky waters indeed. No just person would accept the notion that whether or not a human should have the right to live depends on how intelligent they are, there can be little justification then for applying this same intellectual ableism to animals. What’s more, it is not the case that all humans are more intelligent than all animals. There are adult pigs with higher cognitive abilities than some adult humans, and certainly more than many infant humans. It does not follow that since the pig is more intelligent, that they have a greater right to life. Pigs are widely considered more intelligent than dogs, so if who we eat depends on intelligence, dogs should be on our plates far more often than pigs. The mere fact that they are not reveals that we do not take intelligence into account as much as we claim when making decisions about which beings we choose to consume.
Alternatively, many people argue that humans are more important because we are more evolved; we are an apex predator and are higher in the food chain. The idea that any animal is “more evolved” is a misunderstanding of what evolution is, it is less a progressive process than a diversifying one. “More evolved” simply comes down to “more complex,” which is inaccurate since we only need to look into some of the complexities of the animal kingdom to appreciate that comparatively, the functions of our physical bodies are fairly simplistic. As for our being apex predators, we are certainly not physically adapted as such, with a lack of claws, strength, speed and sharp teeth associated with such. Even if we are, this argument reeks of a “might makes right” mentality wherein the strongest may do as they will to those weaker than them. This is not only a poor argument in general, but it has no ethical basis whatsoever.
A further justification that is commonly used is that humans are more important than animals because of our advanced technology. At its foundation, this argument is not much different to the argument based on intelligence, it states that since we are advanced enough to have this technology, we may use it however, and on whoever we please. By this logic however, more technologically advanced societies are more important and more worthy of life than less technologically advanced societies. This could be used to justify exploitation of these nations, the resulting poverty and even war. This argument essentially boils down to saying that because we have the capacity to do something, that means we should. If anything, the technology we have developed has been used to make lives worse for animals than they have been at any time in history, using its existence as a justification for continuing their exploitation is simply adding insult to injury.
The only argument that remains then, is to abandon reasoning and to simply conclude that we are more important because we are human; that valuing your own species over another species is perfectly justified. Since this viewpoint is based on an obvious and irrational prejudice, it makes little sense to attempt to rationally analyse it. However, for those who do subscribe to this viewpoint, we do not need to value the interests of animals above humans in order to stop exploiting them. Even if there is something about us that makes us more important than animals simply by virtue of being human, it does not follow that our interests in experiencing a particular taste sensation overrides the greater interests of animals simply to be alive. We can accept that we are more important without accepting that this importance is such that our interests render the interests of any “lesser” beings irrelevant and unimportant. We do not have to agree that humans and animals are equal in order to conclude that as sentient beings, animals at the very least morally matter, and as such, it is unjustified for us to exploit and kill them solely for reasons of taste, convenience, habit and tradition.