Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Questions for Meat Eaters

I've been a vegetarian for nearly twenty five years now. I've never had an in depth discussion about it with anyone outside of my family.

But I have had loads and loads of incredibly shallow discussions about it over the years.

I am not evangelical about it. But seeing as it is National Vegetarian Week I thought I would throw a few thought provokers out there;

If it is OK to eat meat then why is it not OK to eat all kinds of meat? What about horses, dogs and cats? What about people?

What is so different about people that it is OK to eat anything apart from them?

Give me your moral justification for eating meat.  One that doesn't make it OK to eat people as well.

Here are a few I have heard (with assistance from Stephen Law in The Philosophy Gym).

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Maybe it's the "killing" bit you object to? Ok then why don't we eat people who died? Granted that it has to be hygienic. Why not?

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Maybe you can draw a line between humans and other animals in some way?

Let's say intelligence. OK then is it OK to eat stupid people?

Let's say that it's an ability to appreciate morality. Animals do this. Babies don't.

An ability to enjoy life? Not much of a dividing line there either.

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OK but most people think it is OK to eat meat! A while back most people thought it was OK to keep slaves.

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We need to eat meat.

Sorry, no we don't.

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But it's natural. So is grit and birdshit but we don't eat them do we?

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Animals eat animals! But we can reason about right and wrong. Animals also lay eggs in the paralysed bodies of their prey and their young eat them alive from the inside out. That does not make this behaviour morally justified.

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Any more?

4 comments:

  1. I eat meat. I seek out vegetarian food quite often because of cost, health concerns with meat, and the ethics of it, as you've cited. I especially try and avoid fish because I think the seas are overfished and we are doing tremendous harm to the oceans and ultimately ourselves and planet by eating fish.

    With respect to eating any living thing, well, plants are living, too! They have cells that grow and divide using many of the same genes we humans have in our cells.

    My argument for avoiding fish could also spill into almost any area of agriculture. We have grown adept at making food for ourselves, but I'm not so sure of the ecological and health costs.

    Point is, the food we eat is largely of biological origin. Do we ethically place animals on a scale? Yes. Of course. Those animals with lesser brains are, in my book, better candidates for food than other animals. It's the same thing in science. If you can perform your experiment on a cat over a monkey, then you perform it on a cat. If a rat is possible, you do it on the rat. If you can use a chicken egg, use a chicken egg. By the time we're talking fruit flies and yeast, it's not really worth the discussion, but animals should always be treated humanely.

    Dogs, cats, and horses are eaten in other countries. I remember a fledgling burger chain called "Bronco Burger" that started up 35 years ago. I guess when people realized it was horse meat, they favored McDonalds. Truth is, the more intimate you are with a creature and the more of a "personality" it displays, the harder it is to eat it. If we had to kill our own meat, there would be many more vegetarians, myself included. I think size matters somewhat, too. Even though a whale can feed a lot of people, a guinea pig seems lesser of an animal. If it was just this one life, well gut the pig. If it takes 100,000 pigs to equal the whale, then that looks out of kilter the other way.

    Anyway, I guess put this in as another shallow discussion. My children don't seem to like meat much, so they are turning me more veggie.

    Do you eat eggs? Drink milk? Eat cheese?

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  2. We are most definitely animals. Most animals are not cannibalistic. Yes. Some animals may be cannibalistic but so are some humans. Eating meat is cultural and we have always done so. This has nothing to do with moral reasoning. That is a fallacious argument on your part.

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  3. Hi Tom,

    "I seek out vegetarian food quite often because of cost"

    Are you from Yorkshire ;-)

    "With respect to eating any living thing, well, plants are living, too! They have cells that grow and divide using many of the same genes we humans have in our cells."

    Yes I agree - I would draw the line at some level of consciousness and an ability to suffer. I don't see any evidence of this for plants. (I am just starting a module on plant physiology so watch this space)

    "Point is, the food we eat is largely of biological origin. Do we ethically place animals on a scale? Yes. Of course. Those animals with lesser brains are, in my book, better candidates for food than other animals. It's the same thing in science. If you can perform your experiment on a cat over a monkey, then you perform it on a cat. If a rat is possible, you do it on the rat. If you can use a chicken egg, use a chicken egg. By the time we're talking fruit flies and yeast, it's not really worth the discussion, but animals should always be treated humanely."

    I agree.

    "If we had to kill our own meat, there would be many more vegetarians, myself included."

    Interestingly I agree and sometime go on to make the opposite point - If I was starving on a desert Island I would kill to eat.

    "Anyway, I guess put this in as another shallow discussion. My children don't seem to like meat much, so they are turning me more veggie."

    Not at all - you haven't come out with arbitrary sweeping statements - like anonymous does.

    I am, of course, a hypocrite, like everyone else I know. So yes I do eat cheese and eggs and milk, I wear leather shoes.

    But I am aware of my hypocritical nature and try to minimise the "harm" I perceive.

    Many, many folks think that if you are a hypocrite then you can't possibly have a point. I think that the world would be better with more people realising that we are naturally hypocrites but then not using this as an excuse to make the world a little bit better anyway.

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    Psi

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  4. Hi Anon,

    You haven't read my piece have you?

    "We are most definitely animals. Most animals are not cannibalistic. Yes."

    I am asking you a morale question. If your reason that it isn't a morale question is because examples of the question exist in the natural world and a majority of cases agree with you then this is known as the naturalistic fallacy. You are arguing from "is" to "ought" this can't be substantiated. Look it up.

    "Eating meat is cultural and we have always done so. This has nothing to do with moral reasoning. That is a fallacious argument on your part."

    Just because we have always done something doesn't make it right.

    We always tortured animals to death for fun - e.g. Bear Baiting. Do you think that is right?

    Thanks,

    Psi

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