Friday, September 14, 2007


People like to make fun of utilitarianism. It's so easy to come up with hilarious examples showing how stupid it is. Serious people prefer something a little more Kantian, virtue ethics is unfashionable and pragmatism is just, well, embarrassing (I assume you'll make allowances for the fact that I actually have no real idea what I'm talking about).

So why do serious pundits on the blogosphere think that the old, "But they're so yummy!" argument is sufficient to explain why it's ok to eat animals? I'd guess it's because they think the topic isn't especially important. This begs the question though; it assumes that your current position is the correct one.

I just came across this post that makes a similar point
Same goes for meat eating. I should give it up rather than eat animals who lived miserable lives in factory farms. But if I can’t? Well, meat eating runs deep in a evolutionary, cultural and personal sense. Better to say “I should but I’m not going to” than come up with flimsy counterarguments.
Although of course I'm complaining about the exact opposite.

Added: This is the best essay on animal ethics I've read. It doesn't focus much on the ethics of eating happy animals though. Also, the title and opening paragraph or so are not exactly well judged to draw skeptics in. Trust me though, it's a good essay.


Trevor said...

`I should but I am not going to' implies they agree, especially seeing as they consider any counter-argument weak. They agree but they enjoy meat too much to change.

`the factory farm' argument only works for factory farm animals so in my mind is not a strong srgument for being a vegetarian but rather a strong argument for not eating factory farm produce.

Another question seeing as you have delved into this so much more than me... I presume you see the contradiction in the fact that vegetarians often put themselves forward as respecting animals more than meat eaters, but in fact it is rather condescending in a way since we are therefore `above' creatures such as Eagles, Lions and other predators?

I think someone who crusades against poor conditions for animals but happily eats meat from animals living `good lives' would probably have more success in achieving their goal.

But hey, thats just me.

stuart said...

“the factory farm' argument only works for factory farm animals so in my mind is not a strong srgument for being a vegetarian but rather a strong argument for not eating factory farm produce.”

I agree. Us vegetarians shouldn’t confuse the issues. I don’t have much of a problem with this approach.

We generally hold humans and animals to different standards. Eddie Izzard’s bit about evil giraffes is funny because animals don’t make decisions like us and they don’t have a concept of morality. We also hold children and mentally retarded people to different standards. I don’t think that means I put myself above them, but I do recognise that different capacities lead to different expectations of behaviour. I can think of some types of societies where I would enthusiastically eat meat if I could, like hunter gather type societies.

I might have more success if I ate some types of meat but that wouldn’t change m view that I would be wrong. Isn’t it enough to agree that one of the best ways to make progress is to encourage people to eat humanely farmed meat?

Trevor said...

It would...

if I didn't feel you were saying that eating meet was wrong or not moral.

If in general I consider myself a moral person... (and often there is quite a close connection to meet eating farmers and people who are very much committed to leading good lives) ... I would be inclined to not enjoy your argument.

The one thing you have convinced me not to eat is Veal. I do believe I will not touch it again since you told me what it is.

But the vehemence of vegetarian commentary... often pushes me in to a corner where I feel like hitting back because I am being told that I am immoral for eating meat. While I agree with your veal and `farm factory' arguments, I have still not heard a logical (in my opinion) argument why eating meat could possibly be immoral, and the idea (however open minded I try to be) offends me.

Stuart said...

Whenever I blog on this kind of topic, I’m always aware that there’s a fine line between stupefying boredom and lack of thoroughness. That said, here goes...

In addition to hunter gatherers, there are millions of people whose livelihoods depend on meat on way or the other and I don’t think they are immoral (without knowing details about how they farm). Life is complicated and there are zillions of justifying factors.

“The vegetarian community” is one which I feel a little uneasy identifying myself with, just like most people we know hold feminist beliefs but don’t want to identify themselves as such. But my views are still the ones that you object to in the end.

“I have still not heard a logical (in my opinion) argument why eating meat could possibly be immoral”

But there are loads of philosophical books and papers that do make the argument. The reasoning may be beyond us but we can’t describe it as illogical; we don’t even read it.

“and the idea (however open minded I try to be) offends me.”

Most of our views on morality are not reasoned, we acquire them subconsciously as a member of a community. I’m no different or anything, but if we do take moral reasoning seriously we need to try to be prepared to consider that not all our views are right.

Historically there are plenty of beliefs that were taken for granted and people would not have been thanked for bringing them into question. We can try and put ourselves in their shoes and imagine we actually believed the things they did rather than marvelling at how backward they are. How could we overcome those beliefs?

Stuart said...

We don’t expect to agree on all moral questions. Half the people in Fuller (and some in Smuts) though it was immoral to get drunk or have sex before marriage. We might disagree but we weren’t offended were we?

Trevor said...

Will didn't offend me...

I guess the reason I am offended comes down to placing a value on the opinion of those who have it.

I place absolutely no value on Will's opinion. I place as much value on his opinion as England scored points against the boks.

I normally value your opinion.

In the same way as I know Will thinks I am wrong drinking, I know you think I am WRONG eating meat. It is not a case of you thinking it is fine if I eat meat, you think it is wrong but you tolerate it or you wouldn't be able to function in a normal society.

as for not reading any justification that makes sense to me... point me in the direction of one.

In the same way as I may in fact be wrong... you may be wrong too.

Stuart said...

My views very well may be wrongl, but they are my current views.

I follow these debates on the blogosphere looking for new stuff I haven't read before. But I am definitely under-read on the subject.

I'll find a good article on the subject (don't expect to be convinced). The very short introduction to animal rights is great. It deals with just about everything I had thought of on the topic.

I wasn't really refering to Will. My sister thinks its immoral to get drunk (and to drink, but less so I guess)