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< Back to question Is cannibalism ethical? Show more Show less

Cannibalism - the practice of eating human flesh - is illegal in every country on Earth. Yet, the moral context is far from straightforward: is it always wrong? What about in matters of life and death? Should having the victim's consent impact the way it is viewed?

Forms of cannibalism already exist in mainstream society Show more Show less

Whether in religious ritual or post-natal diet, forms of cannibalism are already widely accepted.
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Endocannibalism is a customary rite based on spiritual beliefs

Certain tribal communities in recent history have carried on the practice of endocannibalism to this very day. They believe that it not only brings them closer to their ancestors in spirit but also in wisdom.
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The Argument

Endocannibalism is the customary anthropophagy (the consumption of humans) of those belonging to the same community. As opposed to exocannibalism which is more violent in nature and involves the consumption typically of one’s enemy to assert dominance, endocannibalism is a funerary ritual to honor the dead. It is seen as a way of absorbing their virtues, like their bravery or wisdom. It was considered to be a way of helping the deceased transcend into the spiritual realm as in the Yanomami tribe of South America, and continuing the circle of life and death and as a process of grieving like in the Amazonian tribe of Wari’.[1] The Amahuaca tribe, on the other hand, practiced endocannibalism as a means of pleasing the gods through sacrificial offerings. This ritual was also practiced in communities which were not anthropophagic in their roots, like in the West African tribe of Junkun where the chief of the tribe consumed their predecessors to maintain their authority.[2] With so many societies which have not only accepted cannibalism into their culture, but embraced it as a religious or spiritual rite, how can cannibalism be considered to be immoral and unethical? If done for the right reasons such as in endocannibalism, there should be no problem with letting people consume the flesh of their fellows in such as way as to honor them.

Counter arguments

Whatever the reason for practicing cannibalism, one cannot ignore the serious health risks associated with with the consumption of human body parts. Eating the brain can result in Kuru, a deadly disease which affects the brain and nervous system, and is just about the human equivalent to mad cow disease. Consuming the placenta is dangerous because it can contain bacteria which is harmful to both the mother and the baby. With such health risks associated with cannibalism, one cannot condone the practice as ethical for the simple fact that is is a hazard to human life. No spiritual or religious reasons for eating human flesh can outweigh the dangers of cannibalism.


[P1] Ancient tribes believed that by eating their ancestors, they maintained an eternal link with them, even after their death. [P2] Endocannibalism is a form of cannibalism which should be considered ethical.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Eternal link or no, there are serious health risks involved in consuming human flesh which cannot be ignored. [Rejecting P2] Cannibalism, no matter what form it takes, can't be considered ethical when it has such potential to harm or even end human lives.




This page was last edited on Friday, 14 Aug 2020 at 16:15 UTC


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