Looking for an argument in support of eating meat

The discussion group last week was attended by two vegetarians and five non-vegetarians. No-one was able to advance a decent argument that eating meat is morally acceptable. This resulted in a lengthy discussion on how we all think eating meat is wrong but do it anyway. The explanations offered danced around a single word: selfishness. Our meat-eating is an example of bad self-interest, self-interest which harms others unnecessarily. A sad state of affairs indeed.

I offer one last opportunity for someone to advance a good argument in defence of eating meat, otherwise I will be forced to conclude that philosophers despite spending vast amounts of time talking about morality are actually no better, morally speaking, than anyone else.


71 responses to “Looking for an argument in support of eating meat

  1. Here’s an attempt to justify meat-eating; the reason is not a moral but a practical one.

    If the world’s human population were to become vegetarian, would there be sufficient arable land to cultivate crops/veg products to sustain them?

  2. Hi Karyn,

    I don’t have a handy reference, but I believe that meat production is actually less efficient in terms of land use than other means of food production. Remember that all of those cows, pigs, and chickens need to be fed, and calories are lost as grain is turned into meat.

  3. Hi David,

    It’s true that cows, pigs and chickens need to be fed, but what are they fed on? In many parts of the world, they’re fed not on grass/grain but on by-products (eg. husks) that are leftover waste from human food production.

    In addition, isn’t it also the case that we need to eat a disproportionately larger amount of grain/veg products to get the same amount of protein than we can from a small piece of meat? i.e. we’d need much more arable land if all our crops were to feed all the humans.

    On the other hand, there would be processed food products of non-animal origin that could have comparably high levels of protein as meat sources. Someone would have to fill me in on that.

  4. Karyn,

    Is there enough leftover waste from human food production to support the amount of meat that we currently consume? It may be possible to feed some animals in this way, but surely not all of them. I’m speculating — I’m no expert on this matter.

  5. “No-one was able to advance a decent argument that eating meat is morally acceptable. This resulted in a lengthy discussion on how we all think eating meat is wrong but do it anyway.”

    This was not my experience of the discussion, nor my conclusion.

    The idea that eating meat is wrong seems confused from the start.
    Jacinta wrote: “That we consider ourselves entitled to take the lives of animals merely to satisfy our taste buds astounds me. Its sooo self-centred and anthropocentric.”

    The lion on the savannah eats an antelope, surely for some reason sufficiently similar to “to satisfy [his] taste buds.” Is that self-centred and anthropocentric? Can we reasonably criticise the lion or wish that he knew better so he could stop himself? Animals eat other animals. That’s the way of the world. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ about that. Morality doesn’t even come into it.

    Humans are a slightly different case as our consciousness raises (invents?) many more issues than other animals have to cope with. We can question whether or not we should eat meat, but this ability to question our actions does not automatically make the actions wrong. We could question whether we should be altruistic, but this clearly doesn’t make altruism wrong.

    So we have a degree of consciousness and a sense of morality that separates us from animals.
    Still, I maintain that there’s nothing wrong with humans eating meat either. This is a position that has to be proved by the vegetarian instead of insisting that the burden of defence lies with the meat-eater. “No-one was able to advance a decent argument that eating meat is morally acceptable”? I’ve yet to hear a decent argument why eating meat is wrong.

    Animals farmed for their meat are caused to suffer.
    So we make sure the animals have full, satisfied lives before taking the care to kill them painlessly. Meat-eating does not necessarily cause suffering, so this is not an argument that proves meat-eating is wrong.

    The production of meat is harmful to the environment, in terms of land usage, etc.
    So we should eat less meat, or try to develop more efficient forms of meat-farming (without causing suffering). Again, this is not an argument that shows meat-eating to be wrong.

    The production of meat involves killing and killing is wrong.
    This line makes more sense than the previous two, but still fails to achieve the conclusion. Killing is not wrong. There are a great many reasons that justify killing. Self-defence is an obvious one – but I’m not for a second claiming that I’m justified in killing a cow because ‘self-defence’ means I need to eat its meat in order to survive. The cow has never threatened me. In a different world, we could have got on very well.

    We could all eat a vegetarian diet and thus save the lives of millions of animals – and surely saving lives is a good thing wherever possible? Again, no, saving a life is not always a good thing. There are a great many reasons that justify not saving a life. If we think that saving the life of an animal, any animal, is the right thing to do then we have reason to interfere with the lion on the savannah and prevent him from killing the antelope for food. This conclusion seems ridiculous so there must be something wrong with our starting point.

    Part of the problem with the issues of animal rights and vegetarianism is that they sit on the border between our animal nature and our human nature. Animals kill (and eat) other animals. There doesn’t appear to be any problem with that. There is a problem with humans killing other humans. This problem arises because morality arises in the human sphere. Questions of vegetarianism often appear to parallel questions about the nature of morality. When we try to apply notions of moral right and wrong outside the human sphere, it all gets very messy. For example, animals cannot have rights, as other people have pointed out (For an entertaining example, see Richard Sharvy’s explanation of why there’s no right to life and why women do not have the right to do whatever they choose with their own bodies, in his Who’s to say what’s right and wrong), because the rights of one imply the duties of another and it is evident that animals are not capable of taking part in such a system of reciprocity. A cow has no duty to treat me in any particular way at all.

    Since animals are not part of our global moral community, we don’t owe them the same things as we owe other people. Killing an animal is not wrong in the way that killing a human is. If we accept that point, together with the assertion that there’s nothing wrong with a lion killing an antelope for food, then it remains to be shown what if anything there is wrong with humans killing animals for food. The meat industry is a horrible beast that we should work hard to reform. And anyone who chooses not to eat meat has my full support. But let’s not insist that meat-eating is wrong without being able to supply a clear justification of what makes it wrong.

    • andy
      i’m not trying to have “an advance a decent argument that eating meat is morally acceptable.” but simply surious as to how you can compare a human with an animal. Using your lion and antelope example, if you think about it, A lion for instance would instinctively kill and eat an antelope whereas a human being has a moral obligation which ultimately leads to individuals making choices, depending on their situations, cultural and religious beliefs (as you said) However I understand that we live in a world which comprises of humans, animals and the general environment which are interdependent and have to constantly interact with each other. So I feel that it is possible for us to live in a meat free world as we have an alternative to meat unlike other animals like lions etc. So we should exercise this freedom of choice. The benefits of living in a meat free world would seem to far outweigh the arguments for eating meat. i mean, we don’t have to eat meat because we have an alternative… the lion doesn’t. we can just go off and make some kind of jamie oliver mushroom curry, but a lion is not caple and just uses general animal instinct. Now am not saying meat eating is wrong coz i do believe that we live in a democratic country where freedom of choice is greatly encouraged but i don’t feel that eating meat is a necessity. we do not need it. so why do we eat it?

  6. A preference utilitarian (which I am not) could run the following argument:

    (1) A person is anything with the properties x, y, z (where x, y, z are some set of cognitive abilities which include humans and exclude some non-human animals. Candidates include: self-consciousness, concept of self, second-order desires, possessing future directed goals)

    (2) An action is morally permissible if it maximizes the preference satisfaction of persons

    (3) Some forms of meat-eating maximise the preference satisfaction of persons

    Therefore: Some forms of meat-eating are morally permissible

  7. Andy,

    “This was not my experience of the discussion, nor my conclusion.”

    I may have simplified things slightly. 🙂

    “Meat-eating does not necessarily cause suffering, so this is not an argument that proves meat-eating is wrong.”

    When deciding if an act is moral we should consider not just the consequences of the individual act, but what would happen if everyone behaved in the same way.

    It is true that it is possible to give an animal a good life, and then kill it painlessly. This is not possible on the scale that we currently consume meat.

  8. As I wrote: “So we should eat less meat, or try to develop more efficient forms of meat-farming (without causing suffering). Again, this is not an argument that shows meat-eating to be wrong.”

  9. Andy,

    Fair enough. I concede that eating meat is not wrong in itself, it is only wrong if it causes suffering. So, imagine a world where all animals live and die without unnecessary suffering. How much meat would be available to eat? My guess is not very much – perhaps enough for a rissole once a fortnight and a chicken at Christmas.

    My original post was framed badly. What I’m looking for is an argument in support of eating meat from the meat industry as it currently stands. Most of us don’t buy free-range all of the time, and therefore by eating meat we are supporting the meat industry as it is now, not some hypothetical industry in which no animals suffer.

  10. After the discussion group last week, I started to think that the problem is not really about eating meat at all but that it comes down to global over-population. If there were far fewer people, meat production could be much more sustainable and far less cruel. But with so many people in the world wanting to eat meat, as so often happens economics decides, not ethics.

  11. Andy, woooo i so dont agree with anything you said.

    “If we think that saving the life of an animal, any animal, is the right thing to do then we have reason to interfere with the lion on the savannah and prevent him from killing the antelope for food. This conclusion seems ridiculous so there must be something wrong with our starting point.”

    Yes there is definitely something wrong with this reasoning – and it lies in the mere comparison of an animal eating an animal, and a human eating an animal. These two situations are completely different.

    The ample distinctions:

    1) We Humans do not require meat in our diet to survive. The lion does. Full stop.

    2) Certainly humans may share some animal instincts or aspects of a baser, primitive nature, or even on a physical level we may share some biological characterisics that connect us with animals – which make us partly animal. But im sure no one would deny that humans do have additional faculties of thought and reasoning that distinguish us from other animals. As u pointed out Andy, we have a consciousness (although i think it has yet to be proved that animals themselves dont), but nevertheless humans definitely have this consciousness and ability to moralise and reason. What does this mean?

    Andy: “We can question whether or not we should eat meat, but this ability to question our actions does not automatically make the actions wrong.”

    This mental ability does not as u (bizarrely) suggested mean that everything we question must automatically be morally wrong. Rather this consciousness and ability to morally question gives humans the responsibility to make decisions based on our intellect and to choose to do the morally right thing. We have the mental ability to consider what is right and what is wrong, what is ethical and what is not, therefore we have the responsibility to do that and to act appropriately with those considerations.

    Andy: “The production of meat involves killing and killing is wrong. Killing is not wrong. There are a great many reasons that justify killing. ”

    Perhaps there are some justifiable reasons to kill, however i cant think of any that relate to humans killing meat for food. It is not necessary for humans to eat meat. Therefore the killing of animals for meat is unnecessary. Even you Andy, cannot justify unnecessary killing. The eating of meat is a social and cultural custom, part of the human lifestyle, but that does not automatically grant it the label of ‘morally right’.
    The tired old justification from meat eaters that “its been happening for centuries and millions of people do it” and the excuse that it’s all just a natural part of ‘the food chain’ is such a big cop out. Imagine if the food chain changed one day – How about this then: imagine that in 2018 a new advanced species of humans suddenly evolve that are bigger, smarter, faster, richer, more powerful than us old ‘original’ humans. These new ‘advanced humans’ one day taste human flesh, and think “mmm thatd be great chucked on the barbie with some onions and tom sauce” and so they started herding up all us old ‘original’ humans, categorizing us and caging us and pumping us with whatever the necessary medicines and hormones and antibiotics, and fattening us up until off we go to the slaughterhouses and abattoirs, and then what’d’ya know? Theres a great new product on the market – Its called “original human meat” (and thats us by the way). Do you think then that people (well some of us would be on the supermarket shelves by then) would still be able to justify the killing of a living being for its unnecessary consumption? Somehow i think we may change our tune when the show is on the other foot.

    Andy: “Since animals are not part of our global moral community, we don’t owe them the same things as we owe other people.” Who defined this “global moral community”? Seems very arbitrary to me. Certainly animals dont have the same rights as humans do. However they do have some. Anyone been watching the TV show RSPCA lately? There are actually laws that protect animals from harm and abuse. Humans who mistreat (which is a easier way of saying ‘do not treat well aka morally’) actually get landed with official fines and punishments etc. Therefore if animals are enough in our ‘human sphere’ as to be the subject of humans laws that relate to human actions, then obviously animals ARE in our ‘global moral community’. I highly resent the claim that human actions and the effects of those actions are only morally relevant when directed at other humans. Just because animals cant talk and cant defend themselves intellectually doesn’t mean we have the right to take advantage of them and mistreat them. Morality applies to every situation and every living being – human or not.

  12. Oh and just to direct my argument, i was trying to point out why i don’t think it is only the suffering inflicted on animals by the meat industry, but also the act of killing itself, that makes eating meat morally wrong. But i admire your philosophical determination to try and find some reasoning that supports the morality of meat-eating – for the pure sake of philosophy though of course. Good luck 🙂

  13. First off, for Karyn Lai on meat production, here is one reference to the effect that meat production uses much more land than vegetable / crop production: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/04/15/the-pleasures-of-the-flesh/. Monbiot’s article contains links to real data, not just his thoughts.

    And, what Monbiot says is that by eating meat, we inflict unnecessary suffering on OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS – i.e., members of the same “moral community.” I think that’s a pretty good argument against Andy’s it’s-the-status-quo-so-it-must-be-OK.

    By the way, have any contributors actually themselves killed a (large) animal for food?

  14. Chris,

    Thanks for the Monbiot link. Although I note that he argues for a dramatically reduced meat consumption rather than no meat at all.

    He’s also making a stance against the unethically inequitable distribution of food resources across the world.

    But I find one of his statements intriguing as it’s culturally-loaded: “For both environmental and humanitarian reasons, beef is out. Pigs and chickens feed more efficiently…”

    Why is it ‘humanitarian’ not to kill cows but, on the same token, okay to kill pigs? Apparently, pigs have quite high levels of cognition (I can understand the environmental efficiency point) and make excellent pets.

    Finally, in response to the posts here, I believe we need to make a very clear distinction between the ills caused by excessive meat consumption (and the factory farming associated with it), and more morally-conscious meat-consumption. A lot of the arguments against meat eating (discounting Jacinta’s ‘killing is just plain wrong’) focus on the outcomes of excessive and inequitable consumption, and factory farming rather than moderate meat eating.

    We also shouldn’t bypass Andy’s comment that “Part of the problem with the issues of animal rights and vegetarianism is that they sit on the border between our animal nature and our human nature.”

  15. Chris, my argument was not “it’s-the-status-quo-so-it-must-be-OK”. That was a cheap shot – and for that I expect a beer. My appeal was for an explicit justification of the anti-meat starting point ‘eating meat is wrong’.

    I agree with what Karyn wrote. The Monbiot conclusion functions as an argument for reduced or more efficient meat-production, rather than as an argument against meat-eating. This ties in to my earlier comment about viewing the debate in terms of global over-population.

    Jacinta, before I respond let me say thanks for being so pleasant and considerate while still disagreeing with me. Why do you not come along to any of the discussion groups or Monday night drinks? You’d be a great addition at both.

    My reply is going to be long.

    I did not appreciate the implication that I was simply regurgitating “The tired old justification from meat eaters that ‘it’s been happening for centuries and millions of people do it’ and the excuse that it’s all just a natural part of ‘the food chain.’” As I responded above to Chris, I’m looking to reframe the debate, searching for a justification for the common vegetarian starting point that ‘meat-eating is wrong’, instead of meekly accepting that the burden of proof lies with meat-eating.

    My bizarre suggestion – and I agree, it did sound bizarre – was driven by the sense that the anti-meat argument seems to have jumped from asking ‘Is this wrong?’ straight to stating ‘This is wrong’ without being clear on what grounds the question mark has been dropped. In fairness to you, you mostly understand this and seek to do so through the ‘killing is wrong’ grounds, which is probably the most fruitful line to try. So let’s investigate the notion that killing is wrong.

    You wrote: “Humans do not require meat in our diet to survive. The lion does.”

    So your idea here, I take it, is that (1) our killing is unnecessary while the lion’s killing is not, and (2) if killing is unnecessary, it is therefore wrong.

    One should always be wary when dealing with the slippery notion of ‘requirement’, or rather ‘necessity’. What sort of necessity are we dealing with here? It seems plausible that we could train the lion to survive on a meat-free diet – pack him full of beans, vitamins and other supplements – in which case we cannot strictly say that meat is necessary for the lion’s survival. One of your distinctions collapses, as does premise (1).

    This doesn’t immediately appear to do serious damage to your argument. It simply says that ‘necessity’ is not a good ground on which to distinguish between these two killings. Both are unnecessary, which, if (2) stands, entails that both killings are wrong. As I’ve said before, I believe we have strong reasons to resist any line of argument that renders the lion’s killing to be morally wrong (reasons that I will set out below). Such a conclusion appears to give us justification to interfere with the lion in order to prevent his now ‘wrongful’ killing, providing of course you think ‘killing’ is worse than ‘interference’. Given that you rely heavily on the wrongness of killing, I would guess you’d say that killing is worse, which seems to compel you into interfering with the lion and forcibly changing his ways. As I said before, I find this conclusion incredibly creepy (and, dare I say, anthropocentric) and I hope you share this sense with me. I feel there’s something far more wrong about believing we are justified in fundamentally interfering with nature than with the lion’s killing, but I’m not going to offer any further argument here to this effect.

    (2) If killing is unnecessary, it is therefore wrong.

    Some varieties of shark investigate strange objects by biting, so some shark attacks on humans are the result of simple curiosity. When these attacks are fatal, the killings are ‘unnecessary’, in any meaningful sense of the word, but we’d be reluctant to call them wrong. When a woman shoots an attempted rapist in the head and kills him, this action is unnecessary for she could have shot him in the leg – or, more appropriately, the groin – but again we don’t think the action is wrong. ‘Unnecessary’ doesn’t necessarily entail ‘wrong’. I suggest we drop the notion of ‘unnecessary’ altogether and return to the simpler idea that ‘killing is wrong’.

    So: Is killing wrong?

    Your ‘advanced humans’ analogy seemed to suggest that my argument rested on the claim that we are “bigger, smarter, faster, richer, more powerful” than animals, and that this justifies our killing them. That is not my line at all – the notorious ‘might makes right’ argument.

    Killing is part of the animal world (to be contrasted with the human world). Lions kill antelopes. Birds kill worms. To say that these killings are wrong is to resort to hopeless anthropomorphism. One animal killing another is not morally wrong because animals are not subject to morality. They are simply not the sorts of creatures that can be moral or immoral. A lion has no duties. A bull cannot be virtuous. A shark that kills me has done nothing morally wrong, regardless of whether I was killed for food or out of curiosity.

    Your claim that “Morality applies…to every living being – human or not” is straightforwardly wrong (in the sense of incorrect). It would follow (indirectly) from that that a lion has a duty not to kill me. This is absurd. The lion has no such duty for it is not the sort of creature that can have duties. Morality does not apply to every living being. When a man sexually forces himself on a woman, we call it rape. When a bull sexually forces himself on a heifer, we call it reproduction.

    To digress briefly on the subject of rights since it has already been mentioned, since rights are a moral concept, it follows from the previous two paragraphs that animals cannot have rights. Animals are simply not the sort of thing that can have rights. You moved from my claim (3) ‘animals don’t have rights’ to attributing to me the claim that therefore (4) ‘we have the right to take advantage of animals and mistreat them’. This is a distortion of my line. (3) does not entail (4) and I do not want to claim (4). Animals should have laws protecting them. Human beings should not mistreat animals. None of what I’ve said entails that we are justified in treating other species however we please. It simply entails that the good treatment of animals must be based on something other than their rights.

    As I said previously, issues get messy on this border between the animal world and the human world. When one human kills another, we call it ‘murder’ (with certain other qualifications being understood). When one animal kills another, we call it ‘nature’. When a teenager sets fire to a cat, we call it a cruel, horrific act of killing, and we demand punishment and psychiatric help for the teenager, but we do not call it murder. When a dog bites me out of fear or anger, it has done nothing wrong, but if I were to bite a dog out for the same reasons, I would have done something wrong (and worrying). Why is the dog’s action not wrong and the teenager’s action not murder? Because animals are not the sorts of things that can be moral therefore they can not be recipients of the full range of moral language. Humans are subject to morality; animals are not.

    This idea of ‘the subjects of morality’ is what motivates my distinction. It is wrong for a human to be killed by a human but not wrong for a human to be killed by an animal. Why? Because an animal is not the sort of thing that can do something morally wrong. Similarly, it is worse for a human to kill another human than to kill an animal. Why? Because humans are subject to morality and animals are not. I can murder another human, but I can never murder an animal, if we are to use the term ‘murder’ to pick out anything significant. Let me stress again at this point, this does not mean we are justified in treating other species however we please, nor that there can be nothing bad about killing animals. The point is that humans and animals are different and different standards apply to both.

    What it does mean is that a lot more conceptual work needs to be done than simply stating that killing is wrong. I’m prepared to accept the claim that the killing of a human by a human is wrong, although it is justifiable in many circumstances. (Let me state at this point, I find moral language in these regards to be often unhelpfully general and I am now trying to use the word ‘wrong’ in a very specific manner.) A killing by an animal – whether it is animal or human that is killed – is not wrong, because such a concept cannot apply to an animal. Which leaves us with the killing of an animal by a human – is this wrong?

    Morality is what Alasdair Macintyre refers to as ‘a network of giving and receiving’. If animals cannot ‘give’ morally, they cannot ‘receive’ morally. If animals cannot be subjects of morality, they also cannot be its objects. Just as animals cannot do moral wrong as humans can, I am inclined to claim that animals cannot be morally wronged in the way that humans can. This is not to say that animals cannot be harmed, made to suffer, treated cruelly, etc. Again, I believe the difficulty in what I’m trying to express here is tied up in the paucity and inexactness of moral language. The killing of an animal can be bad, but it cannot be wrong in the sense of ‘a wrong’.

    It is feasible that another species could evolve to such a degree that it would be capable of moral action – perhaps we will be joined by saintly chimps – in which case they could become moral subjects, included in the moral community, and in which case they could be wronged. By the same token, your analogy is feasible that humans could evolve to such a degree to exclude us as moral subjects. It’s not obvious that these “bigger, smarter, faster, richer, more powerful” ‘advanced humans’ would necessarily have a morality of which we were not subjects. It would have to be quite some evolutionary leap to have that consequence, a leap so great that it would be a stretch to maintain that we and they are both ‘human’. But if humans evolved to such a degree, it is reasonable to maintain that we ‘old humans’ would be outside the new morality, in which case, according to this new morality, it would be equivalent for ‘advanced humans’ to kill and eat us as it is for us to kill and eat animals. So according to the new morality, I’m happy to bite the bullet and say ‘Yep, they’re justified in eating me’. However, since we are outside this new morality, it follows that we are incapable of understanding it (for understanding is at least part of what makes a creature subject to morality), in which case it is impossible for us to speak meaningfully about it here.

  16. This is in reply to enquiries as to whether livestock is damaging to the environment and whether they consume more kj in grain than are produced in meat. This is an empirical matter so I did a web search and the answer is yes and yes.

    According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (can be downloaded here http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html),

    the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.

    Says Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

    other disturbing facts from the same report:
    Livestock now use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 percent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. I wonder if this makes a meat eater pause. Repeat those proportions over to yourself a few times.

    At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 percent of pastures considered as degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification.

  17. For those that were not at the discussion group, I will outline my position. Daniel Dennett happens to share some features in common with it, so good for him 😛

    1. The more like me a creature is, the more I care about it. Humans are the gold standard. You can take this literally as the more like an individual person, or more generally the more like homo sapien sapiens a species is, the more we care for that species. Whatever works best. I’ll use the later in my arguments below.
    2. Care means that treat well (via laws, rights, empathy whatever). If a species is 99.99% like homo sapien sapiens then they get treated as if they are human (with some rounding up).
    3. There is a fuzzy boundary, a fuzzy line, or better a fuzzy zone, that divides the species we can unquestionable, unambiguously use as we see fit, and the species that get to be treated at least as partially human (being treated as a full human is the gold standard), and get at least some of the care that humans get. In between these two categories full the species in the fuzzy zone. Do they get any care? Hard to tell.
    4. Now this can be a guide for individual decision making (and I urge you to make it so, and follow through with it at the end of this article) or it can be a collective guide. What I mean is I can personally divide up the biosphere and decide what species I care about and which one’s I don’t. I don’t care about insects. I just don’t. Bacteria? Nope. Mozzies. Hate mozzies. Wish they were extinct. Once something as a complex nervous system you need to slow down. Plants and bacteria don’t have a nervous system so who cares about them. (Remember I’m using care technically as explained in point 2). Insects DO have nervous systems, but I still don’t care, the rule of thumb about nervous systems is just that.
    5. Approaching the fuzzy zone. What about fish? Well, not really. Individual fish – not really. Starting to get closer to the fuzzy zone. But I don’t really care about individual fish. Maybe I should and I will one day, but I don’t. However I do care about maintaining the robustness of ocean ecosystems. This is about caring about the pain and suffering of the fish but it’s more pragmatic. I want a functioning ecosystem and that probably needs fish. So we should exploit them well. However we are not, the oceans ecosystems are almost certainly doomed due to humans (if you eat fish, due to you and people like you) eating fish. So you should stop. This ‘I don’t care about the individual organism but I care about the eco-system’ argument applies to livestock too. The world ‘corrupt’ means ‘to break absolutely’ which means you can’t repair it. That’s what we are doing to the oceans. Bad, bad business and you shouldn’t want anything to do with it.
    6. On the other side of the fuzzy zone are species that get partial human status. For me these are certain squid and octopi, dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, goats, cows, horses, chickens, primates, whales, dolphins. Probably most mammals. Probably reptiles but I don’t really have to worry about that as I don’t have any desire to purchase lizard, and no one else around me is cooking up croc. So I don’t have to think about it. So I won’t. But probably reptiles make it out of the fuzzy zone too. Birds make it out. So personally, for you, which animals are ‘no-brainers’? Dogs are so like people that if you would eat I dog then I think you’re disgusting. How’s that for judgemental. I’m disagreeable  Some people like it…… Anyway back on topic. Make a list of the animals that are no-brainers. They should include apes, monkeys, dogs, people, and some others. Okay, if you are eating any of these now –STOP eating them. EAT SOMETHING ELSE. Eat an animal that you DON’T care about.
    7. Are there any animals that you don’t give partial care to that you should? What I mean is, if you care about apes, and won’t eat them, but you think a cow is enough like an ape (or you) in the relevant ways (complex nervous system that allows it to suffer in a somewhat similar way perhaps) then STOP EATING THAT ANIMAL, EAT ANOTHER ANIMAL INSTEAD.
    8. Lastly, this paradigm is very practical. Moral concerns (i.e. care) isn’t the only thing. I care about people but sometimes other factors win out, convenience, pleasure, whatever. But if it is EASY to care then I should. With supermarkets, and good restaurants that have plenty of vegetarian options (Thai, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Greek, Lebanese, pizza, all have good vegetarian options), it is EASY to not eat an animal that you care about. If it is not so easy, then eat the animal. But most of the time it is EASY, not difficult. Don’t be bringing up desert island scenarios. If I’m stuck on a desert island I might eat YOU, but I’ll exhaust other options first (if they are easy).

  18. 9. I forgot to point out the importance of EASE. Because it is EASY not to eat animals on the human side of the fuzzy zone I choose to be generous and round, to treat them as fully human in care factor or close to it (well at least enough not to eat them). If it gets more difficult to not eat that animal, then I will have to be more precise in my caring, stop rounding up. But because of supermarkets and restaurants, I don’t have to be precise and I can just round up.

  19. Notice how this nicely side steps all the questions of ‘is it wrong to kill’. Everyone’s behaviour fits. I don’t really care about cows enough not worry about ‘is eating cheese and drinking milk wrong?” I just don’t care enough. Maybe I should but I don’t. I like the taste and the convenience of eggs and dairy more than I any concern about the chickens or cows. I need my protein afterall and eggs and whey protein are excellent sources (much better than animal muscle by the way). I’m sure some vegans would not like me very much.

    So if you eat chickens or cows just admit to yourself that you like the taste and convenience of that animal’s muscles more than you care about that animal.

    Taste wins for you. The suffering of the animal, you just don’t care that much about. The texture of that muscle in your mouth, the juicyness – that’s more important to you. Now this should only make you uncomfortable if the animal is on the wrong side of the fuzzy zone. If the texture and juicness referred to insect flesh, or billions of bacteria (yeast perhaps in your bread), then WHO CARES? I don’t. No one does.

  20. If someone has raised this point already, I apologise.

    Is it morally justifiable to ‘waste’ meat? I raise this question with the suggestion that in certain circumstances it is a waste not to eat meat.

    In Australia we cull kangaroos, from time to time. We do this because kangaroo populated areas are at risk of becoming over-inhabited by kangaroos. As people we:
    1) only allow kangaroos to live in certain areas, arguably for our own safety.
    2) do not provide kangaroos with food, but limit them to the food/resources naturally present in the areas in which we confine them.
    3) save kangaroos from death through starvation (which is only likely as we confine them) by first culling them.
    4) use the meat of (some) ‘culled’ kangaroos as a food-product for people.

    This raises a number of ethical dilemmas:

    – can we justify restricting kangaroos to certain areas? if so,
    – can we justify culling kangaroos that WILL die of starvation? And is this akin to euthanasia when starvation is likely as a result of our actions? If so,
    – can we justify ‘wasting’ kangaroo meat and preventing those who want to eat it from eating it.

    Kangaroos are not farmed and you will not see joeys (baby kangaroos) on the menu at your local dinner. Kangaroos are culled, and would be still were they inedible.

    One final question: if you had the choice of curbing our kangaroo population by genetically interfering with reproduction; or by controlling numbers through culling; or by allowing starvation to naturally limit numbers, which would you prefer?

    This is of course only one example and a point limited to a very few animals/potential-foods. Thoughts?

    (I should add, in case it is not obvious: the carcasses of kangaroos dead from starvation simply rot / are of little benefit to the often arid soil on which they rot, and do not support any life-form exclusively)

  21. OK, Andy, I owe you a beer. I will probably owe you two beers by the end of this post, but I am not convinced that anything you have said changes my summary of your position.

    Your post above seems to say that killing animals is not wrong because animals are not moral subjects. There are a number of ways of resisting this:

    1. First, I think your post is something of straw man. The “humane” (yes, scare quotes, because I do not wish to unpack the notion) reason for being vegetarian has a great deal more to do with animal suffering than merely killing them.

    2. Modern, “efficient” meat production (not scare quotes, but quoting you, in an earlier post) simply could not work without inflicting the enormous suffering that it does. There is plenty of documentation on this – try Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” or Singer & Mason’s “The Ethics of What We Eat”.

    3. However, this should not worry you as animals are, according to you, not moral subjects. Hence, presumably, animal suffering counts for nothing. In a sense, animal suffering is not suffering.

    4. The price you pay for this internally consistent position is that there is nothing in it to distinguish it from Descartes’ vivisection of dogs.

    5. Yet your own post says that “we” describe cruelty to a cat as “horrific.” This suggests that you, as one of “we” think that animal suffering is at least to some extent a bad thing.

    6. The only line I see open to you is to eat organically produced meat. The problem here is Malthusian: as Monbiot’s article says, a lot of the world’s poor people are being pushed further into chronic malnutrition and outright starvation because the rich world is hooked on meat. Organic meat production is even less efficient than industrial production, so the price you – or, more accurately, sub-Saharan Africans – pay for alleviating animal suffering is that more people starve.

    7. The moral facts of the situation therefore suggest that the morally right thing is to do what little you can to alleviate human and animal suffering by simply ceasing to eat meat.

    8. The alternative is to deny that suffering is bad. I haven’t thought that one through, but I suspect it degenerates into a form of egoism which, as Rawls says (Theory of Justice, somewhere in Part 2), is not so much a system of ethics as an alternative to ethics.

    However, the reason I did not take your earlier postings seriously is not the logic, but the shoot-from-the-hip character of your (and Kai’s) postings. This is supposed to be a philosophical discussion. Yet you (and Kai both) seem to have entrenched positions which you support by claiming authority from a single author who happens to have said something that you take to lend support to your position(s). Yet there is whole body of stuff out there: Peter Singer (Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics and the more recent work cited above) makes a utilitarian case; Tom Regan’s “The Case for Animal Rights” takes – as the title suggests – a deontological approach (and one that is, to be polite, rather more nuanced and informed than your latest post). There are responses to both of these. Or you could start with the Stanford Encyclopedia entry http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/.

    I guess I’m up to about 4 beers by now. Just as well we have the debate tomorrow night to drink them at!

  22. Chris, at many points you unfairly misrepresent me, so I intend to take you up on all four beers.

    My point was not a straw man, but I accept it was a sub-issue and never supposed to be exhaustive in its treatment of the reasons to be a vegetarian. As I said above, I think there are many good reasons to be a vegetarian. They are often similar to the reasons to give to charity. The only point I was trying to make is that meat-eating of itself is not wrong. This doesn’t mean that there are not many good reasons not to do it.

    Animal suffering does count for something. I tried to be very clear on that point, that my argument did not entail that we were justified in treating animals any old how. Causing suffering and killing are two different things. There should be measures restricting animal suffering, for all life has worth or value, but ‘rights’ are not the way to do this.

    I think you’re right to say that my line leads to eating only organically produced meat or something similar – certainly no factory farming. Your point 7. “The moral facts of the situation therefore suggest that the morally right thing is to do what little you can to alleviate human and animal suffering by simply ceasing to eat meat.” is entirely consistent with my line that eating meat is not inherently wrong. An action can be not wrong while there are still compelling reasons not to do it.

    My biggest problem with your response is describing my line as “shoot-from-the-hip” and an “entrenched positions which you support by claiming authority from a single author”. Again, cheap shots – ad hominems perhaps – and not true. Firstly, my line was considered and very specific and was actually – surprisingly – silent on the question of ‘Should we eat meat?’ All I was seeking to assert, as I keep saying, was ‘meat-eating is not inherently wrong’. Secondly, my position is not “entrenched” any more than yours is for being “that which I believe”. The fact I quote two authors did not mean I was trying to claim authority from them. Sharvy gives a helpful discussion of the nature of rights in case my own was unclear. Macintyre writes very well and widely on the nature of morality. Neither of them say, as far as I have read, anything about the issues we have been discussing.

    It’s certainly not good to write “This is supposed to be a philosophical discussion” but then to misrepresent and misinterpret my position. That’s quite disrespectful in fact. I actually agree with most of what you have said on the reasons why we shouldn’t eat, or at least should eat far less meat. But that’s not the topic I was addressing.

  23. Chris,

    It is simply inapt to characterise my intial setting out of my position as ‘entrenched’. I hope other new members aren’t similarly discouraged from posting. Once you or someone else cares to respond to my argument, then there is a possibility of me refusing to see the errors of my ways.

    I would characterise my my reference to Dan Dennett as fleeting – I was hardly committing the fallacy of authority.

    For this medium and this audience, I am happy with my style, and will adapt it what the topic at hand but not to delicate tastes and sensibilities. I think the argument I presented above is water tight, but if you think you can find any leaks and wish to post them you would have my gratitude.

  24. Andy, i’m afraid you have yet to convince me of any of your arguments. In fact, we are more opposed than ever. Oh, but thanks for the invite to the meetings, ive been meaning to go, but i’m either busy or simply forget. Will try to get there soon.

    “Morality applies…to every living being – human or not” I’m sorry, i should have been more specific – let me clarify myself. Ill reiterate my fundamental argument: Morality applies to all human actions, no matter who the subject of those actions are. I mean ‘subject’ as in the ‘receiver’ or ‘recipient’ of those actions perpetrated by humans. Speaking of “anthropocentric”, what could possibly be more ‘humans are the center of the world’ than your claim that what humans do is only morally relevant when applied to humans? I find this just stunning. I acknowledge that the term or notion of ‘morality’ is a human creation, and i agree with you that only the actions committed by humans can be judged morally. Animals are exempt from being judged morally accountable for anything. But in contrast to your belief, i believe that ALL human actions are subject to morality, and that the recipients of those actions, whether they be humans, animals or aliens, is completely irrelevant.

    OF COURSE we shouldn’t hold the lion or the shark morally accountable for its actions. In order to do that we would have to assume the lion and the shark have the same intellectual power and ‘consciousness’ as humans. When a dog attacks a child, we do not consider that dog to be ‘morally’ bad – we blame the attack on the dogs emotions or hormones or instincts, not on its moral values or intellectual ability. This is because we (humans) believe animals to have a lesser consciousness and intellectual ability than humans. Therefore naturally we do not expect them to think and act ‘morally’ because that requires the mind of a human. Therefore your whole argument about intervening in a lion before he kills a duck or something is completely irrelevant, as they, unlike us, do not have to morally account for their actions.

    However this is not a a statement you can simply reverse. Humans do have this intellectual ability, hence morality applies to all our thoughts and actions, and whether those actions effect a human, a cow, the earth… they are all still subject to morality and ethics, because those thoughts and actions are human. Do you see the distinction i am making? I am trying to point out that your premise that to charge a lion with being immoral towards a human is the equivalent of charging a human for being immoral to a lion, is fundamentally invalid and incorrect, because morality does not apply to the lions (or any animals) actions, but does apply to all human’s actions.

    I know i may be flogging a dead horse here (wince-worthy inappropriateness of context for that line i know) but please let me defend my argument that “killing is wrong”. That’s a big generalization – it was intended in the context of eating meat. Specifically, i meant that humans (not animals) killing animals for food consumption is morally wrong. I am not referring to killing animals in self-defence, or to put them out of pain.

    You’re right that “necessity” isn’t a totally sufficient criteria for defining when killing becomes morally ‘wrong’. I guess many aspects must come into it, such as intention (did the woman deliberately intend to shoot the man in the head and kill him rather than in the leg?) and also the innocence or morality of the subject who is killed – if the man was trying to rape her, then perhaps he did not deserve to die (a life-long scentence would have been a more satisfying punishment), however he certainly was not acting morally himself, and the woman did shoot him out of self-defence, therefore he was partly responsible for his own death, as he forced her to physically defend herself. Therefore, i agree with you that even when a killing is unnecessary it may still not be ‘immoral’, because i don’t think the woman killing the rapist when she could have just injured him is immoral.

    However this hypothetical situation you have created is totally separate to the issue of humans killing animal for food. For (1), animals are largely defenseless – the cows and chickens and pigs we farm and slaughter cannot defend themselves and cannot pose any threat to us. (The meat industry is truly killing in cold-blood.) (2) As im happy to claim the above articles have failed to disprove, there is no justifiable reason to kill animals for human food consumption. We dont need to eat them, they dont need to be eaten. SO there is no reason, no cause, no provocation, no justification for our killing them. Therefore, i claim it is simply morally wrong.

    My previous analogy about humans that are “bigger, faster, smarter, richer” is a direct reflection of our own self-image in relation to everything else in the world. The human general consensus is that we have the ability, we have the desire, (hence) we must have the right to take whoevers life we like (oh except the lives of our own species of course – anthropocentrism!!!). In short, we think we are the most important species in the world, so we don’t have to be held morally accountable for anything we do to all the other species that are ‘beneath’ us. When our consciences pricks us, we futilely try to pull philosophically defendable justifications out of thin air, in order to get us out of the red. Ill say it again, i appreciate the academic-based intentions, and debate is a wonderful, healthy past time, but finding corresponding or symptomatic benefits of the killing of animals for food, such as ‘decreasing the threat of kangaroo over-population’ or some of the other interesting but vaguely-relevant ideas shown on this topic, does not equate to sufficient justifications for the killing of animals for food. They are simply little side bonuses of a human-driven industry that’s purpose is fundamentally to feed and serve itself. Human selfishness is probably the root of the problem… “the root of all evils”?… (Im hearing a quote from somewhere in my head… cant place it tho…)

    Hope you guys aren’t getting sick of me trying to thwart your plans to find a justification, coz im really enjoying myself 🙂

  25. I think any argument that is based more on economical or environmental principles will be far more damning than one based on morality.

    For instance I don’t remember anyone mentioning the increased risk of a pandemic (such as bird flu) from breeding generations of animals in captivity, feeding them antibiotics along with grain etc. I consider this a major reason for restructuring either the modern diet, or modern animal husbandry practices.

    As to a good reason for eating meat –

    1) I believe that historically, raising livestock or hunting from herds of animals would have been easier for early man than agriculture (which is immobile and requires a stable weather pattern, and irrigation, constant fresh water etc).

    Animals are a way to store accumulated energy – particularly live animals. Keeping a live animal is like a primitive ‘meat fridge’ – depending on crop yields and seasonal foods, eating animals would make sense for early society, particularly in seasons like winter. Even better, since it is a ‘meat fridge’ on legs!

    It is likely easier to manage 9000 cattle free roaming on a pasture of a million acres than to manage the million acres. Land has certainly been abundant up until this century.

    Some animals eat foods humans would consider inedible – like grass – and it is scaled up to complex forms such as animal proteins or milk.

    These traditions have simply persisted through ancient and up until modern society. Food has been abundant and the living standards of ordinary people have risen so much so that they can now contemplate ‘animal rights’ 🙂

    I also have a suspicion that in evolutionary terms, a diet rich in meat may have had a role in the evolution of the human brain.

    Nutritionally, I am not sure what the bioavailability of plants compared to animals is, and an argument made to nutrition could go either way, but would at least be more scientific than other arguments.

    2) meat is delicious!

  26. also, I forgot to add – we would do well to remember that animals don’t share this sense of morality in return.

    Plenty of animals would attack and kill you, evidently often for the reasons of territoriality or aggression – animals don’t just kill to eat.

    Asking a person who lived in another time whether or not they considered the morality of killing an animal is simply silly. They probably would have laughed at you!

    I’m sure that a way to raise and kill animals without suffering would be possible (free roaming and painless euthenasia), and I wonder if that would alleviate philosophers from their meat eating shame.

    Earlier this year my pet dog was put down with an overdose of anaesthetic – a painless death I was told.

  27. Hi Patrick, thanks for posting.

    What is the current consenus on best practices in nuturion?

    Okay, nutrition. I will simply make assertions. These will not be based on ethics but health. If you challenge them I may provide supporting documentation, or just say find it yourself 🙂

    Best Practice 1: Completely remove meat from your diet. If you can’t completely remove (can’t do best practice) then reduce. This is two fold: meats consumption is a causal factor in cancer, and the plant substances you will eat instead will have active protective effects against cancer. If you can’t stomach Best Practice 1 (don’t eat any meat), but find the watered down version more appealing, you may be surprised how much meat is recommended: a piece of meat the size of a pack of cards 3-4 times a week.

    Best Practice 2: Eggs are good. Concerns about cholestorol where based on incorrect assumptions. Cholesterol actually goes down (on 2 eggs a day more probably the same) because the body makes less of its own, in a similar way to how men who take steriods stop producing much of their own (and their testicles shrink). Half the fat in eggs is also unsaturated.

    Best Practice 3: Whey Protein is cheap and superior to any other form of protein. It is pure goodness. It also has lots of gluco-proteins such lacto-ferrin that have immune boosting properties (lacto-ferrin also increase the absorption of iron, important for vegie-women).

    Best Practice 4: Heme-iron only found in animals, once thought good for you because it is very easliy absorbed, is a causal factor in stomach and intestinal cancers. A healthy diet has plenty of non-heme iron.

    Best Practice 5: Fish are good, but you have to be careful for three reasons. First, it is very common in restaurants for the fish you buy to be a different, cheaper species. This makes it difficult to control what you put in your body. Second, fish from fish farms can have problems. I forget why. High levels of heavy metals, maybe. Can’t remember. Thirdly, some fish accumulate heavy metals in theire bodies more than others. So eat low on the food chain, (a good rule of thumb). However perhaps heavy metals even is small amounts is something you don’t want in your body. Maybe there is no such things as a safe level of (for example) mercury. If you don’t eat fish regularly take a Omega 3 supplement.

    Best Practice 6: Eat fruits and vegies that are relatively low in sugar, and high in pigments. Blueberries are the classic example.

    Best Practice 7: Replace saturated fat with mono and poly unsaturated fat.

    I left the worst to last. Hey it’s just best practice, who said you have to do all of them? And since this thread is SUPPOSED to be amount morality, I’ll add that alcohol is made from plants, so you can get pleasure without worrying about their suffering 😀

    Best Practice 8: Remove alcohol from your diet. If you want the protective effect on the cardio-vascular system that the consumption of a small amount of red wine each day gives, drink grape juice for the same benefits without any costs. Any amount of any alcohol consumed increases the risk of cancer. The watered down version of this best practice is to stick to 1 or 2 standard drinks a day – a standard drink is tiny and most people don’t stick to it.

  28. http://www.gentleworld.org/philosophers.html

    I nicely present page of quotes from very clever and famous men (no women) promoting vegetarianism. No, Hitler is not on the list.

  29. Jacinta,

    “I am trying to point out that your premise that to charge a lion with being immoral towards a human is the equivalent of charging a human for being immoral to a lion, is fundamentally invalid and incorrect, because morality does not apply to the lions (or any animals) actions, but does apply to all human’s actions.”

    This is absolutely right and cuts to the heart of what I was trying to say. I made a couple of comments about the paucity of moral language and I believe that is largely responsible for the communication difficulties we’re facing. To clarify, I was not intending to portray those two cases as equivalent. I do not think that “what humans do is only morally relevant when applied to humans.”

    Animals actions are non-moral; we agree on that. Morality applies to all human actions; I think we can agree on that too. So there we have the two extremes. Holding these two poles in mind is very important when looking at the middle ground.

    Morally, it is worse for a human to kill another human than to kill an animal. I’m not sure where you stand on this claim. My justification for this is that humans are moral subjects and the life of a moral subject is worth more than the life of a non-moral animal. (That sounds very crude, even to my ears, but I hope the point is clear.) If you agree with me on this, then you accept that it is wrong to kill a human in a way it is not wrong to kill an animal.

    This point is significant as it means we cannot extend the sense of ‘murder is wrong’ to cover animal killings, hence my objection to the blanket ‘killing is wrong’.

    This distinction does not mean there are no further questions to ask, no further work to be done. What it shows is that ‘the human killing of an animal’ lies midway between the morally wrong human killing a human’ and ‘the non-moral animal killing anything’. What are we to say about these midway cases?

    My inclination is that these midway cases come down to the wrongness of causing suffering. This can then form the grounds for the prevention of animal cruelty.

    If you wish to make the stronger claim that it is wrong to kill an animal, but uphold my distinction that it is worse to kill a human, then you need to give an account of what makes it wrong to kill an animal.

  30. Kai,

    Your argument is unanswerable: “I can personally divide up the biosphere and decide what species I care about and which one’s I don’t. I don’t care about insects. I just don’t.” … “I don’t really care about individual fish” to take a couple of excerpts.

    As it stands, this is not an argument, but a (psychological?) profile of your behaviour. The only possible comment on it is whether or not it’s an accurate profile, and I am not qualified to establish that.

    But let’s generalize “I” by taking “I” in the above to mean something along the lines of “and the reader too should think in the same way that I do” or “the reader does think like this but doesn’t realize it.”

    But all that leaves me with is a statement that boils down to “A person, X, shouldn’t eat stuff that is like X because if the stuff is like X, X cares about it and X should not eat stuff that he cares about.”

    Why shouldn’t I eat stuff that I care about? (I care about = “treat well” my next meal very well – so do many meat farmers!)

    Over to you!



  31. Response to Chris.

    Your quotes are misleading. They are the ‘flesh’ on the ‘skeleton’ of the position I am arguing. Not sporting. I will repeat my position at the end of the post in 21 words, all skeleton baby!

    Perhaps some of the problem was my second point:
    “2. Care means that treat well (via laws, rights, empathy whatever). If a species is 99.99% like homo sapien sapiens then they get treated as if they are human (with some rounding up).” I shouldn’t have used ‘treat well’ and ‘treat as if’ in the same post, let alone the same point. Confusing, but if you keep the different meanings clear in your head, no real problem there, especially since I’ve now pointed it out. To state it simply the animal is ‘treated well’ because it is ‘treated as if’ it is human.

    I’ll now use you’re boiled down version of my argument replacing care with ‘treat as if it is human’:
    “A person, X, shouldn’t eat an animal that is like X because if the animal is like X, X treats the animal as if it is human and X should not eat animals that he treats as if they are human.”

    Yes, that’s about right.

    So ‘Why shouldn’t I eat stuff I care about’ becomes: Why shouldn’t I eat an animal that I treat as if it is human? Because of the Golden rule, so intuitive that even children understand: The Golden Rule (As I would be wish to be treated, treat others).

    As promised here is my position in 21 words:
    I don’t want to be killed.
    The cow doesn’t want to be killed.
    The cow and I relevantly alike.
    Golden rule.

  32. Kai,

    We got there in the end. I doubt Andy would agree with your position, and I’m not sure that I do, but at least I am clear about what it is.

    No one seemed interested in my anthropocentric, utilitarian idea.

    However, the steam seems to have gone out of this, so let me cut your 21 words down to a 17 syllable haiku, and end on that:

    Sameness in beasties
    Equal treatment does merit
    So do not eat them

  33. classy stuff chris 😉

  34. Chris,

    Communication of a philsophical position with a post, a counter-post and a counter-counter-post – that’s what I would call ‘getting there in the end’ with remarkable swiftness.

    Love the haiku! 😀

    As for Andy agreement or disagreement, he is welcome to challenge my argument if he wishes. My suggestion would be to argue that we can eat animal X because it is NOT relevantly similar (and define what ‘relevantly similar’ should be).

  35. “If you agree with me on this, then you accept that it is wrong to kill a human in a way it is not wrong to kill an animal.”

    Actually, while i agree with you that the loss of a human life is worse than the loss of an animal life, i still belief both are morally wrong. Because while the extent of the tragedy may differ according to the species of the subject, they are both still losses, both still tragedies.

    The reason killing an animal is still morally wrong (and you asked me to provide a reason) is because killing is generally wrong(maybe because we don’t have the right to take someone/somethings life), and is especially wrong when there is no provocation, no serious cause or no justifiable reason to do so.

    That is my fundamental argument: the reason killing (ANYTHING: human or animal) is morally wrong is because there is no satisfactory reason for its death. Certainly kill a rapist out of self-defence, or kill Adolf Hitlers because they deserve it, because the subject poses a threat or a risk; because their life causes more harm than good.

    But you cannot use any of these reasons to justify killing when it comes to the meat industry. Killing animals for food when we can choose not to, when they do not deserve to die, when they pose no threat to us… that killing is immoral. It is immoral because there is no justifiable reason for the killing. Unless you want to argue that our tastebuds are a satisfying enough reason to kill? Hmm seems just a teency bit selfish to me… and totally UNreasonable.

  36. Jacinta – I know we’re never going to settle this, it being philosophy and all, so before I write anything I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed engaging with you. Please come along to some SocSoc event and think about writing a full post for the blog. I’d love to read an argument from scratch of yours.

    Since we’ve been getting more and more specific, I really only have one thing to say. Your claim that “killing is generally wrong” seems to have to extend to the actions of animals. An animal can kill “when there is no provocation, no serious cause or no justifiable reason to do so” – many animals kill for reasons other than simply for food. If killing is generally wrong, then one animal killing another is morally wrong, and this is a conclusion I find untenable.

    It seems to suggest that if animals knew better, they would not kill – or should not kill. It is this conclusion I find anthropocentric, for it overlooks the evolutionary nature of humanity and of morality. It seems to laud us over animals instead of recognising that we are part animal, that we evolved out of the animal kingdom.

    On that note, and suspecting we’ve gone more than full circle and are back where we started, I’ll end – hoping to see you at a society event soon…

  37. Chris,

    I had a look for your post on your ‘anthropocentric, utilitarian idea’ but couldn’t find it. Is there one?

  38. dear Kai,
    i did not read the previous comments posted as the laziness:content scale was way off balance.

    i do however, have what i think is a decent argument on why we do, and want, to eat meat.

    to understand such behaviour, we have to look at it from 3 main perspectives.

    Social (or moral)
    and a selfish perspective.

    now, i am no scientist, and do not claim to be. but i do know that there is certain minerals, vitimans and other general do-gooder chemicals that aid our health and growth in meat that we CAN’T survive without. such as protein, iron and the like. sure, we can find these little wonders in other foodstuffs, but why bother? its more convinient to eat meat. more on this point covered soon.

    next, from a social point of view. well firstly, we are raised (or most of us) with a staple diet of meat and two veg. sure, we survive as small babies on mushed fruit and vegitable, and we dont eat meat. but this is because of two reasons. firstly because simpler is it to feed a baby moulched fruit then meat. (why you ask? try putting a steak in a blender.) and also because all of the chemical goodness is provided in the form of Brest(behave yourselves) milk. as we grow, and the mothers tear becomes tired and empty, meat is, in my opinion, the next step up.

    we live in a society where the consumption of meat is not only acceptable. its practicaly a part of our daily routine as much as driveing a car to work is. sure you could walk, but you’d never make it to work on time (assumeing of course that the place of work was of significant distance that driveing was nessisary. yes, i’m covering my arse from somantics.)

    but morally is it ok? assumeing we are raised to belive that killing is bad, and assumeing we are raised to belive that meat is food. we are left at a tricky spot.

    do we condem ourselves for the “slaughter” of animals for our own “selfish” gain?

    do we condem a lion for stalking its prey? do we condem an Owl for Rending the Rat’s Flesh with its beak?

    no. we dont. we draw them into disney movies.
    so i ask again. is it moral? from a darwin perspective. yes. its natural selection, kill or be killed.


    but is it selfish to eat meat? self preservation is of itself a selfish act.

    but is it NESSISARY to eat meat? yes and no. we could derive all the nessisary parts from meat from other food, but that is slightly complicated and takes more time then buying a bag of ribs.
    and also. the most selfish point of this defence of meat eating….meat….tastes…..good.

    i’ll take a well cooked steak over a salad anyday. its warm, its juicy and its delightful. its comfort food.

    and in our short time on this earth, why should we deny ourselves that oppertunity of pleasure.

    its selfish, but my, isn’t it grand?

    also, i wont go into it today, but there is also the theory that plants are just as much alive as animals. they move, grow and die just like the rest of us. some vegitarians say “why kill animals”. i say back, “why kill plants”

    and sure its possible to harvest fruit without killing a plant. but thats like cutting off an animals leg, and waiting for it to regrow.

    hope this has given you some….”food for thought”



  39. i just realised that kai isn’t the name of the person who wrote this blog… so to kai and the blogger…


  40. Thanks Floom I needed a good laugh. Seriously you have demonstrated to my satisfaction that some people are just too stupid to be vegetarian.

    Good luck, you’re going to need it.

  41. Kai, that’s hardly appropriate. This is no place for being aggressive or abrasive. Please, if you don’t have anything to say about someone’s argument, keep it to yourself.

    Floom, I think you should firstly read the other blog entries before commenting. I think you’ll find that what you have written here is covered by other people in their posts. It was certainly covered in the discussion group itself. There is no need to stir the porverbial pot.

    Keep it clean boys.

  42. Yeah, I don’t regret thinking it but I regret posting it.

    It was the “I gleefully exclaim I’m not going to read any that has been written by anyone else, so here’s my DECENT argument on eating meat.”

    The problem as I see it is that a philosopical journal, or any sort of publication would have an editor that wouldn’t dream of letting that piece of trast through. So without someone deleting these posts (which I don’t recommend), and no tolerance for ridicule, what’s left? Well, I guess your response was pretty good….

    Okay Rosie, your right, I’ll play nice. In light of the group discussion yesterday on conformity, I will conform my behaviour 😉

  43. Hi Kai,

    “So without someone deleting these posts (which I don’t recommend), and no tolerance for ridicule, what’s left?”

    I understand your frustration, especially since your contribution to this discussion has been of a very high standard and you have obviously put a lot of work into your comments.

    The answer to the question “what’s left?” is that you can ignore the person who has irritated you. If you think his/her arguments are obviously flawed, it is likely that most other readers agree, and so there is no need to respond.

  44. Floom,

    You’re way wrong on the nutritional stuff. A large number of scientific studies show that a vegetarian diet is no less healthy – and probably a lot more healthy – than a meat one. The meat industry spends a lot of money trying to make us think otherwise, though!

    I accept that Australia (I’m not Australian) is a meat-eating society – and how! – but if what society does is taken as what’s right, then we’d still be treating women as chattel and trading slaves.



  45. David,

    You are right of course.

  46. firstly, kai i am sorry if you didn’t like my oppinion on why meat eating is ok. i felt there was no need to be so harsh in your reply. it is clear you feel passionate about this topic, and i certainly didn’t mean to offend. even if i am “too stupid to be a vegitarian.” i understand that some of my points were covered before, but i didn’t want to write half an argument because the other half had previously been stated. in any case, i appolagise, to kai and my year 1 spelling teacher.

    secondly, to chris,

    i totaly agree that a vegitarian diet can be equaly if not more nutritional and healthy then a mixed diet, but the vegitarian diet requires more attention to what is eaten and each meal must be ballanced. also vegitaran meals and food stuffs isn’t as readily avalible, at least it isn’t in australia. there is less effort involved when it comes to a meat diet. that dosn’t make it better or worse.

    yes, australia is a meat eating society, and there are alot of contries that have a less meat orientated culture, and thats fine too.

    but by australia’s standards and a great deal of other contries, eating meat is commonplace.

    now this dosn’t mean we treat women badly or trade slaves. nor does it mean we wont morally progress.

    my view is that every person is equal (women, all colors creeds and nations etc.)

    but animals, humans and plants are not all equal.

    as an example. in india, cows are viewed as sacred, and are above humans, in australia they are for food and milk.

    anyway. thanks chris for the info

  47. animals, humans and plants are not all equal

    On what basis are they not equal?

  48. well chris,

    in gods eyes, all things were created equal… but i’m not particularly religious, so from an agnostic view point i belive that equality is a condition only attatched to sentient beings.

    another point i thought of, the native americans had an interesting view on the killing of animals, they belived that it was nessisary, but so as not to disrespect the kill, they would use every part of the animal in some way as to not waste the kill.

    that point of view strikes a chord with me. i think it is a very intelligent way to look at this topic.

  49. Ok, so in relation to equality (your religious views and the American Indians aside for a moment) you think that sentience is the condition for equality – am I correct in ascribing that view to you?

    So this would exclude plants from consideration – as they aren’t sentient.

    So then, due to shared sentience, human beings and animals are equal.


  50. well yes and yes.

    but do animals and humans share a sentience?

    in my view i dont belive animals can be described as sentient although its a matter of oppinion.

    and to clarify, i belive to be sentient is to have independant thought and not rely on instinct alone.

  51. Well we need to be clear that we are talking about the same thing when we say “sentience”.

    Here is a standard definition: Sentience

    Unless you have a unique definition of sentience – then yes human beings and animals share sentience.

    Judging from your defintion you aren’t talking about sentience.

  52. haveing read the standard deffinition of sentience, i will agree with you chris. i was under the impression it ment what i said before.

  53. Floom, I thought your post was absurd because you start it by saying something to the effect of ‘I can’t be bothered to read the others posts but here is my spin on things’. So it was that that made me think your post was absurd. And the content.

  54. Ok Floom so if you agree that humans and animals share sentience then that can’t be used as a category to say that humans and animals are not equal. So we are back to the original question (sans plants) – on what basis are humans and animals not equal?

  55. Kai, that’s enough. We know already, and you’re just creating a negative atmosphere on the blog. Any more of this and it’s quite possible you’ll be removed.

  56. Chris,

    (It’s confusing to reply to someone with the same name as oneself!).

    If humans and animals are different, it is because we can supply reasons for our actions and animals cannot.


    Actually, native Americans would not accues modern industrial meat production of waste. From a cow:

    1. The good bits are eaten by humans
    2. The offal is used for sausages and pet food
    3. Bones used to be mushed up and fed to other cows (hence mad-cow disease – I think they feed them to fish these days)
    4. The skin makes your shoes.

    So, very little goes to waste.

    That does not make the life of meat cattle any less unpleasant, though!


    Chris M

  57. Of course there would be enough land to produce enough crops to feed the world. The amount of land it takes to feed ONE PERSON who eats meat compared to non meating poeple is enormous. You can feed 10 vegetarians compared to 1 meat eater with the same amount of crops of land.
    I suggest everyone check into cultured meats and start bugging our congress to get it on the market. everyone wants to eat meat, but raising animals to get that meat is destroying our health, contributing to world hunger, and destroying our enviroment. Why not get our governments to promote and fund cultured meat? It is REAL MEAT grown in lab type factories. It uses a few cells from an animal and the flesh, muscle and tissue that makes meat is grown from these cells. A living animal is never needed or raised or slaughtered. So the crops used for livestock could be used for humans. the enviromental problems from raising animals would be elimanted. The meat is healthier, it would not have the antibotics, growth homones, fat and colestial in meat from living animals. So our heath issues would improve. Jobs would not be lost, because there still need to be factories to grow the meat, proccessing plants to process and send the meat to markets. It is time the world stopped being barbaric in its way of producing meat and comes into a modern way of providing healthy meat that would also help all our other world issues.

  58. As a free-market proponent, I believe that if information about cultured meat is spread far enough, then a market may naturally arise for this product, without any necessary intervention by government. I seriously question your assertion that raising animals contributes to world hunger. Bad weather aside it is usually statist interventionist and protectionist government that causes hunger by trying to manipulate the economy, creating and subsidizing artificial and coercive farming monopolies while shutting the door to competition. Also, when enough consumers demand organic, free-range, hormone-less meat, farmers will respond to the demand by changing their ways to satisfy that demand or risk losing their profit.

  59. This board looks pretty dead, but I’m going to post anyway.

    I’m going to take the subject back to the beginning.

    Question: Is it morally wrong to eat meat?

    If you don’t want to read what I’m about to type: in short, the answer is… surprisingly, Sometimes. Just… sometimes.

    WARNING: Opinions ahead.

    Personally, I believe the main argument here has been one of manufactured meat (slaughter houses, for an example) and ease of a wide variety of vegetarian foods. Really I think people here are debating “Is it morally wrong to eat meat BY TODAYS STANDARDS?” (sorry for caps, theres no italicizing)

    Consider for a moment we are living 5000 years ago in . Trade routes are almost non-existent, and we may or may not be farming, depending on the place you pick. How do we eat? Hunting and gathering. Why? It’s available. (Stay with me vegetarians, I’m not done yet) If I understand correctly, a reason supporting vegetarianism is that all of our dietary staples can be achieved through a well balanced diet. This is perfectly true, but did our ancestors REALLY have that convenience? Even if they did, did they have the KNOWLEDGE about foods that we have now? Not only this, but they killed for more than just the food, animal remains were used for many daily things (shelter, clothes, etc). How would they have achieved these things otherwise? If we accept these things (and you don’t have to) then our whole notion of “we must not kill animals because there are alternatives” falls apart (in the past, not today).
    And along with that, the original question is answered: No, it is not morally wrong to eat meat (in the past and under certain circumstances)

    Now consider a very oddball example: The pig who wants to be eaten. (This is not an original argument)

    A new variety of pig has evolved! One who has learned to speak English, one whose single goal in life is to be eaten. These new pigs consistently argue that growing up nice and fat in a free-roaming ranch then being quickly and painlessly killed and butchered and served on a platter is their one and only goal in life. For the sake of argument, let us call it an Instinct rather than a simple pleasure. Is it now morally wrong to eat them? Personally, I don’t think so. But since none of this special variety of pig exist (yet…) I won’t take it into consideration.

    ***Now consider the who is genetically grown comatose (no cognitive abilities). This animal is then farmed for its meat (which has less fat and more nutrients than “regular” meat of its kind). ***
    ***’s mean this is one of my more important points. With no clear definition of “meat” then this seems to almost Definitely become morally acceptable. (well, I haven’t read many science vs. morals debates, so maybe it would be “wrong” in some sense.)

    Now come the flip sides. Animals that have to suffer for my taste buds should not (in my opinion) be eaten. However, free-roaming painless death meat seems to be fine to me. I can see how it would upset many other people.

    Let’s consider the whole world went vegan. What would happen? For a start, thousands (millions?) of jobs would disappear. Everything from cattle ranchers to fisherman, (a very popular job, especially in Asia, if I’m not mistaken) from leather companies to fast food chains. That’s a lot of unemployment. Secondly, what would happen to all the current animals used for food? Last time I checked I think there were more than 20 BILLION (no, not a typo) chickens on our earth. That figure doesn’t even include cows or pigs. Obviously it would be wrong to just KILL them, but then overpopulation ensues, and the greenhouse gas problems worsens. (On the bright side, we would have plenty of fertilizer for our new farms.)

    The obvious solution would be to gradually phase out meat eating, but even then we’re using a morally “wrong” thing to achieve a morally “right” thing. (We’ve dug ourselves into a pretty big hole, eh?)

    One last thing, although I’m not sure about this one. In places in Africa, I don’t believe they have the convenience of multiple plants for a healthy diet (or really any kind of healthy diet). Is it morally acceptable for a starving African to kill a n animal and eat it?

    To wrap up: I don’t believe the way a lot of people currently eat meat is right. It is not, in my view, morally acceptable to eat an animal that has suffered when there are alternatives available. Thus the answer to the question: “Is it morally acceptable to eat meat?” is… sometimes.

    Please, anyone who reads this and has differing opinions, Email me. I would very much like to hear them, no matter how convoluted or disorganized =)

    Also, has anyone answered Travers? I rather like his kangaroo argument.

    ~Mike (sorry for the long post)

  60. Email is Koover@comcast.net, if anyone ever decides to mail me…

  61. The Grammarian

    I’d just like to register a fact that seems under-represented here: There are innumerable practices which we do not regard as immoral, and this is not because we have successfully argued that they’re OK.

    Basic facts of human life are prior to human discourse. By arguing, you can cause people to think and feel differently and thus change facts of life. But that is not the only way, and there is no reason to believe that it is possible in every case where we want people to change their ways.

    Look at it this way, and I think you’ll be less inclined to pose the question ‘Is eating meat morally wrong?’. You can, as a meat-eater, ask ‘How could we argue so that vegetarians leave us alone? Or so they eat meat with us?’, and as a vegetarian ask a converse question. As a fence sitter, you can soul-search about what you ought to do – look for ‘arguments’ or considerations that would be decisive for you.

    And, as Wittgenstein would have said, that’s all that actually happens! Any talk about ‘moral facts’ must just be a queer and misleading way to discuss the same phenomena.

  62. Eating meat is any person given choice, a person chooses what he wants as long as its under the guide lines of the Constitution he should not be judged on what he eats , As the great Darwin said :”Survival of the fitness “

  63. Meat tastes good. I am talking beef and pork and chicken. It provides protein. My forefathers were meateaters. Mother taught me to enjoy meat.
    He who does not eat meat seems to be thin, slight, and weakly. I do not wish to be thus.

  64. Do other omnivores wonder whether it is moral for them to eat meat? Do they decide to limit themselves to a vegetarian diet in order to prevent harm to other animals?

    I do think we should be held to a higher moral standard than other animals since we are able to think morally about it. All livestock should be free range and should be killed painlessly. To say that killing animals without causing them suffering is immoral would be like saying its wrong to kill plants even though lacking a central nervous system they are unable to suffer (and even thats debateable as they do send out chemical signals when harmed which could be experienced as pain). Humans are different as sentient species dying even without any physical pain or without awareness beforehand harms the person because as sentient beings we don’t just act on instinct, we have free will, killing a person takes away their free will and destroys the many unique things in the human mind. Some other animals might exhibit human-like thoughts such as chimps and dolphins and we shouldn’t kill those but most animals do not and so killing them without causing them suffering is no different than killing a plant.

  65. ooyyyy yoouu fukerrrs leave the chickenss aloneeee
    eat theee pigsss we dooooomt like piggies dey ugly creatures just like you ugly fukin buttas face dat your mum created u mother fuker

  66. I meat meat bc I like meat. Thats more than enough moral argument in the same way I like an apple. Why complicate things by creating an argument out of bs.

  67. As a vegetarian of 25 years, I have made many arguments against eating meat including health, environment, moral/spiritual, compassion, etc… But the most powerful and consistent argument comes from meat eaters themselves. It goes something like this: I meet someone new, we share a meal, and I simply don’t eat meat. They notice and ask why. I simply reply that I don’t eat meat and nothing else. Almost always, they launch into how they were vegetarian for a while but had to eat meat again for any number of reasons OR that they could “never” not eat meat because of some reason or another. Or they tell me they “only” eat fish or chicken or something like that. The less bright ones launch into tired old pro-meat eating arguments they apparently think I’ve not already heard a hundred times. And they always assume I’m interested in their justification even though I didn’t ask and could care less. The common thread is that people seem to automatically shift into defense mode even when I simply answer thier question with no other commentary. It’s bizarre but quite consistent.

    Simply coming face to face with a vegetarian seems to magically flip some kind of guilt or shame switch for many meat eaters. Ask any vegetarian and they will say the same thing.

    Why would anyone need to defend or justify themselves if there is no threat and they feel good about thier choices? As a vegetarian, I never feel a need to justify or defend my diet. So seeing meat eaters so often in that defense mode is tiresome, but also quite interesting.

  68. Sorry to be so late to the party, but here’s an extremely relevant resource. Mylan Engel, Jr. teaches philosophy at Northern Illinois University, and he’s the author of “The Immorality of Eating Meat”: http://www.uta.edu/philosophy/faculty/burgess-jackson/Engel,%20The%20Immorality%20of%20Eating%20Meat%20(2000).pdf
    It’s a brilliant argument. It rests not on any particular ethical approach, but on beliefs which you, as a “minimally decent individual,” already hold. I have yet to see an effective rebuttal to it.

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