The phrase “essentially contested concept” (ECC) entered the academic literature in 1956 in an attempt to better characterize certain contentious concepts of political theory. Commonly identified examples of contested concepts are morality, religion, democracy, science, nature, philosophy, and certain types of creative products such as the novel and art. The structure proposed to identify an ECC has proven useful in a wide variety of deliberative discourse in the social, political, and religious arenas where seemingly intractable but productive debates are found. Where a strongly held moral position is contradicted by law, a portion of the citizenry see the law as illegitimate and do not feel compelled to respect it. This paper will attempt to apply the analytic structure of ECC to the concept of animal wellbeing at the time of slaughter specifically a “good death.” The results of this analysis supports an understanding that the current slaughter debate is a disagreement in moral belief and normative moral theory. The parties to the dispute have differing visions of the “good.” The method of slaughter is not an essentially contested concept where further discourse is likely to result in a negotiated resolution. The position statements of veterinary organizations are used as an example of current discourse.
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