The philosophy of hunting is a subfield of the philosophy of food, which deals most importantly with the ethical, environmental, and evolutionary aspects of the practice of hunting. Among its central questions: can hunting ever be regarded as morally good? Which methods for hunting are most ethical? Is hunting for sport rather than for food, e.g. fox hunting, ever morally permissible? Can hunting better reconnect us with wildlife? Can hunting shed light on our evolutionary past?
1. The Ethics of Hunting
Hunting is often opposed on ethical grounds because it inflicts unnecessary pain to animals. Here are some reasons why hunting may be regarded as morally bad. A population of animals that is predated experiences fear; hunting disrupts families of animals; hunting inflicts pain over the hunted animals (different hunting techniques will be unequal under this regard, with bow hunting being the most questionable although the least dangerous for human concerns); finally, hunting is not necessary, both from the perspective of a vegetarian diet and because humans have access to alternative sources of meat, such as beef and lamb.
It should be noticed that different considerations apply to the reasons for hunting. Hunting for food is regarded as morally permissible or even as a moral obligation under certain conditions. Different considerations apply to hunting as sport, like fox hunting, which is considered by most unethical (but see Roger Scruton’s On Hunting for a recent defense). Even less plausible are the ethical odds of hunting for fur.
2. Hunting and the Environment
The importance of hunting has become increasingly evident as the study of environment and wildlife management developed over the past decades. In contemporary New England, for example, the damages to the environment and the threat to human life and property (because of car accidents and disruption to gardens and the like) inflicted by the deer and moose population is inducing many people, including environmentalists, to regard hunting as morally good. After all, deer and moose live in an environmental virtually free of predators, if we exclude humans.
3. Hunting and Evolution
Human ancestors started hunting around half a million to a million years ago. The magnitude of importance of this change to our evolution is hard to overestimate. Valerius Geist, one of the leading figures in the field, has argued in a number of works that hunting can explain in large part the development of human brain, biology, and culture.
First of all, hunting allowed human ancestors to defend themselves from large and scary predators even in open environments such as the savannah. Humans are the only hominids capable of escaping predation without climbing a tree. Considering that we sneeze and snore or that our children cry out loud, it was impossible for humans to defend themselves just by hiding. The development of tools for defending ourselves from predation, the ability to build protected spaces out of thorn bushes and the like, the capacity to devise hunting techniques: these are among the key reasons for the success of human evolution and for the development of human culture.
In order to hunt, humans had also to start detecting and imitating the sound of other animals: it is today believed that hunting played a major role in the evolution of human brain in relationship to musical abilities and the origins of music. Moreover, the development of hunting and butchering tools and the group techniques employed by Homo sapiens for predating likely played a major role in the development of ethics: one you have weapons, you need also rules in how they should or should not be put to use.
4. Hunting and Gender
Is hunting a sport for male? On the one hand, if we look at the contemporary hunting practices in Western countries, most people would tend to believe so. On the other hand, in a number of societies women were leading the practice of hunting; also, still today fox hunting typically involves entire families, with no particular gender distinction; moreover, mythical figures such as the Amazons and Demeter witness to the importance of the female figure in hunting.