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There were some questions about vegetarian diets recently, and I'd like to ask a

There were some questions about vegetarian diets recently, and I'd like to ask a few follow-up questions if I may? First, what is the philosophy in favor of vegetarian diet? is it mostly that it is healthier, or is it moral objections to using animals for food? if the latter, how come so many vegetarians wear leather shoes and carry alligator bags? are they being poseurs or are they just superficial in their thinking? Second, if people object to the way cattle or chicken are raised to be slaughtered, that's fine if we don't want them to suffer. Eating shrimp, crab, insects, and the like would also give us plenty of protein we need for a healthy diet. Finally, in parts of the US prairie, protectect ungulate populations (deer, elk) have no natural predators. To prevent overbreeding which would lead to overgrazing which would lead to mass starvation, state Conservation Departments survey their ungulate populations every spring in order to determine how many hunting permits to issue each fall. If the...

On (1): Different people have different reasons to be vegetarian. Besides the ones mentioned, there are many others. One important one, nowadays, is an environmental concern. Animal farms emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases; they produce large amounts of pollution; etc. It's also true that animals raised for slaughter are fed a lot more protein (and other foodstuffs) than they will ever produce. They are, if one wants to think of them this way, very inefficient food factories.

Regarding the latter part of (1), obviously this depends upon one's reasons, but most vegetarians I know would never carry an alligator bag.

On (2), I'm not sure I understand the question, but perhaps the point is that shrimp, crabs, and insects do not plausibly suffer. If that is the point, I don't disagree, actually. If one's reason not to eat chicken, say, is that chickens are intelligent, sentient creatures, etc, etc, then this reason certainly does not apply to scallops, or shrimp, so far as I can see. There will be difficult cases, where we do not know what to say, of course, but those cases seem pretty clear to me. Even still, though, one might have other reasons not to want to eat those sorts of animals. The harvesting of scallops, for example, as it is generally done commercially, typically causes a good deal of destruction to the seabed.

On (3), this sort of question is difficult, in large part because humans are the ones responsible for the changes in question. But one might wonder if there are not other alternatives, such as attempts to re-establish a natural eco-system. In Massachusetts, for example, some natural predators of deer have been successfully re-introduced in recent years, and they now helps prevent over-population among our local deer. I just saw a coyote in my backyard the other day! Fortunately for them, our deer weren't around at the time.

On (1): Different people have different reasons to be vegetarian. Besides the ones mentioned, there are many others. One important one, nowadays, is an environmental concern. Animal farms emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases; they produce large amounts of pollution; etc. It's also true that animals raised for slaughter are fed a lot more protein (and other foodstuffs) than they will ever produce. They are, if one wants to think of them this way, very inefficient food factories. Regarding the latter part of (1), obviously this depends upon one's reasons, but most vegetarians I know would never carry an alligator bag. On (2), I'm not sure I understand the question, but perhaps the point is that shrimp, crabs, and insects do not plausibly suffer. If that is the point, I don't disagree, actually. If one's reason not to eat chicken, say, is that chickens are intelligent, sentient creatures, etc, etc, then this reason certainly does not apply to scallops, or shrimp, so far as I can see. There will...

Okay, this is an odd question probably but something about interacting with a

Okay, this is an odd question probably but something about interacting with a dog makes me feel strange and kind of awkward. There is a consensus that dogs aren't conscious in the way humans are because they don't have "self-consciousness" or at least that is what people believe. So when I am around a dog I am thinking why should I even pet this dog? The dogs seems to want me to pet him/her presumably because they want affection but is that motive even possible if they don't have self-consciousness? In human interactions affection has a subject-predicate relational structure of I- (like,want,love,want to touch)- you and you couldn't conceive of affection without some idea of at least two separate and self-aware selves. So maybe it is the same for dogs? Maybe the whole idea that animals such as dogs lack self-consciousness is disproved by the mere fact that they want you to pet them? But it is awkward because I feel like I'm around a being that society and general consensus says shouldn't be granted the...

This is an interesting question. It's related, in a way, to a famous objection to Descartes's "I think, therefore I am". The objection was: What's with the I? Why not just: Some thinking is happening? So maybe the dog can be thinking: Petting would be good. Eating is good. Baths are bad! Frisbee is good! Etc, etc.

Another important point to make is that one doesn't have to think that dogs have the same worth or dignity as human beings to think they have worth and dignity, even that they have quite a lot of worth and dignity. Personally, I'm more of a cat person, and, whether or not my cats are self-conscious, they are sophisticated social beings, with each of whom I have a complex, individual, and mutual relationship. There are no doubt limits to their mental capacities. But there are limits to our mental capacities, too. And I think it would definitely go too far to say that they have no appreciation at all of the difference between minded and unminded things. There are lots of things they do that suggest rather strongly to me that they have some understanding of that distinction.

This is an interesting question. It's related, in a way, to a famous objection to Descartes's "I think, therefore I am". The objection was: What's with the I? Why not just: Some thinking is happening? So maybe the dog can be thinking: Petting would be good. Eating is good. Baths are bad! Frisbee is good! Etc, etc. Another important point to make is that one doesn't have to think that dogs have the same worth or dignity as human beings to think they have worth and dignity, even that they have quite a lot of worth and dignity. Personally, I'm more of a cat person, and, whether or not my cats are self-conscious, they are sophisticated social beings, with each of whom I have a complex, individual, and mutual relationship. There are no doubt limits to their mental capacities. But there are limits to our mental capacities, too. And I think it would definitely go too far to say that they have no appreciation at all of the difference between minded and unminded things. There are lots of things they do...

One argument I've often heard in favor of vegetarianism is that we don't have to

One argument I've often heard in favor of vegetarianism is that we don't have to kill animals in order to survive. What if we, for biological reasons, were forced to eat other animals? If we couldn't digest plant matter, it would seem we wouldn't have a choice. By the logic of the argument, wouldn't that mean it would be less ethically problematic to kill other animals in order to feed?

But I think you have what philosophers call the "dialectic" of the argument here somewhat backwards. I take it that the argument for vegetarianism is suppose to be something like this: (i) The lives of animals are of moral significance, which is to say that one cannot permissibly kill an animal without good reason; (ii) The need to eat would constitute good reason, but (iii) as a matter of empirical fact, most of us, at least in developed countries, do not need to kill animals to eat, so we do not have such reason; (iv) Mere preference for animal flesh over plant-based foods does not amount to sufficient reason to kill an animal; (v) So we fortunate people living in developed countries ought not to kill animals for food. So the argument is not really that we do not need to eat animals to survive.

It should be clear that the argument does indeed grant that, if one has to kill other animals in order to survive, then that would be morally permissible. But even so, this does not mean that killing those animals has no moral significance under such circumstances. It is simply that other moral considerations are in play. And it does seem that how bad it is to kill an animal depends in some way upon one's reasons for doing so and, indeed, upon how one does so. But none of that seems to undermine the argument.

But I think you have what philosophers call the "dialectic" of the argument here somewhat backwards. I take it that the argument for vegetarianism is suppose to be something like this: (i) The lives of animals are of moral significance, which is to say that one cannot permissibly kill an animal without good reason; (ii) The need to eat would constitute good reason, but (iii) as a matter of empirical fact, most of us, at least in developed countries, do not need to kill animals to eat, so we do not have such reason; (iv) Mere preference for animal flesh over plant-based foods does not amount to sufficient reason to kill an animal; (v) So we fortunate people living in developed countries ought not to kill animals for food. So the argument is not really that we do not need to eat animals to survive. It should be clear that the argument does indeed grant that, if one has to kill other animals in order to survive, then that would be morally permissible. But even so, this does not mean that killing those...

Here is an attack on vegetarianism: Is it better for an animal to exist or not

Here is an attack on vegetarianism: Is it better for an animal to exist or not to exist? If it were better for it not to exist, wouldn't it be a virtue sterilising all the animals out there, so that no more come into an unfortunate existence? This would seem absurd. Thus let us conclude that in some cases it is better for an animal to exist. Now the cows, for example, on a farm only exist because someone will eat them later. Assuming also that the cow is kept in humane conditions, and has all the things a cow would want in life, we might conclude that it is better that the cow has been. As this good is wholly dependant on a human being a meat-eater, we conclude that it is virtuous being a meat-eater.

Sorry, but this is a silly argument. Replace "animal" with "person", and you get an argument in favor of breeding children for slaughter. (Apologies to Jonathan Swift.) But yet, surely, it's better for a person to exist than for it not to exist, right? Actually, that's not so obvious, as we'll shortly see. But if it's not obvious in the case of people, it's certainly not obvious in the case of animals.

The argument purports to show that it's (objectively) better for an animal to exist than for it not to exist by showing that, if it were (objectively) better for it not to exist, then we ought to sterilize all the cows. But this assumes that, if it's not (objectively) better for an animal to exist than for it not to exist, then it must be (objectively) better for it not to exist. But the obvious reply is that there's just no better or worse about it. It's neither (objectively) better for one more cow to exist nor (objectively) worse. But then the argument goes nowhere.

What's fundamentally wrong with the argument, however, is its underlying "utilitarian" premise: that we can judge what's right and wrong by adding up what's valuable and what's not; that's the basic idea behind utilitarianism. And utilitarianism has well-known problems in this area. For example, there seems to be some positive value to each human life. Otherwise, it wouldn't be wrong to kill people. But then it seems as if we ought all be making sure that there are as many people as possible. The mere discomfort people would experience due to the effects of over-population surely can't outweigh the value attaching to a single human life: Otherwise, it would be all right to kill someone and feed him to hungry people, which is absurd.

But the right conclusion here isn't that we should all breed ourselves as often as possible. It's that there is something fundamentally wrong with utilitarianism. The reason it's wrong to kill people isn't that there is some value to each human life, value that outweighs any degree of human suffering. It's wrong to kill people because people have certain rights, for example, the right not to be killed. Fundamentally, it's wrong to kill people not because it's bad, in some objective sense, that that person should die. (Maybe it is, but that's not why it's wrong to kill them.) Rather, it's wrong to kill Fred because it is bad for Fred or bad from Fred's point of view that Fred should die, and Fred's point of view is deserving of a certain degree of respect.

The central arguments for vegetarianism are arguments based upon the idea that animals too have certain rights. One can argue that animals do not have such rights, or one can argue that, even if they do, it's still permissible to kill them for food. But you can't argue against this kind of view in the way illustrated here. To counter such arguments with broadly utilitarian reasoning is to miss their point.

I should add, in closing, that there are people who still want to defend utilitarianism in one or another form. But such people have their own ways of evading the let's-all-make-babies argument, and the moves that work there are likely to work in response to this argument, too.

Sorry, but this is a silly argument. Replace "animal" with "person", and you get an argument in favor of breeding children for slaughter. ( Apologies to Jonathan Swift .) But yet, surely, it's better for a person to exist than for it not to exist, right? Actually, that's not so obvious, as we'll shortly see. But if it's not obvious in the case of people, it's certainly not obvious in the case of animals. The argument purports to show that it's (objectively) better for an animal to exist than for it not to exist by showing that, if it were (objectively) better for it not to exist, then we ought to sterilize all the cows. But this assumes that, if it's not (objectively) better for an animal to exist than for it not to exist, then it must be (objectively) better for it not to exist. But the obvious reply is that there's just no better or worse about it. It's neither (objectively) better for one more cow to exist nor (objectively) worse. But then the argument goes nowhere. What's fundamentally...

Is it possible to establish that dogs dream? If not, are there any possible

Is it possible to establish that dogs dream? If not, are there any possible future developments that could?

I think it probably has been reasonably well established. There is a plausible article about this by Susan Daffon at www.pet-tails.com/LPMArticle.asp?ID=234

Sleeping dogs exhibit a lot of behavioural signs of dreaming: they make running motions, lick their lips and so on. They exhibit rapid-eye movement sleep. And some tests have been done that tend to indicate that what goes in their brains when they sleep is pretty similar to what goes on in ours.

The best explanation for all this is that they do indeed dream. As Richard says, this doesn't constitute 'proof'. But it does give us reason to believe.

Sure, it's possible. And here's how it could be established. Suppose it were found that, when and only when people dream, certain things happen in their brains. And suppose that dogs' brains are similar in relevant respects to people's brains and that, lo and behold, their brains exhibit similar behavior when they sleep. That, it seems to me, is excellent reason to suppose that dogs dream. It's not "proof", but, as has often been said here, we don't have "proof" of very much: I don't have any proof that you dream, or even that you exist, but I nonetheless know that you do.

Why don't humans think of all lives as equal, and instead that other creatures'

Why don't humans think of all lives as equal, and instead that other creatures' lives hold more importance than others? For example a human kills an animal such as cows or pigs and no one (except animal rights activists and the like) has a problem with that, but if that same person killed another human they would be charged and sent to prison. In both cases a life is taken but (one human) and that person's life for some reason holds more importance than the animal's.

It is crucial, I think, to recognize that the relevant question here is not: Are the lives of humans more valuable than the lives of (other) animals? The objection to killing animals need not presuppose that animals' lives and humans' lives are of equal value. Most defenders of animal rights would not, I think, hold such a view. Their claim, rather, is that animals' lives are of sufficiently great value that they ought not to be killed. Note that saying that animals ought not to be killed does not imply that it is never morally permissible to kill an animal. Humans ought not to be killed, but most people would hold that it is sometimes morally permissible to kill human beings, for example, in self-defense. If (say) cows lives are of less value than are the lives of humans, then there may be circumstances in which it is permissible to kill a cow but in which it would not be permissible to kill a human being. But it does not follow from that fact that it is permissible to kill a cow just because you feel like it, or because you would like a leather jacket, or because you would like some filet mignon. Maybe it is permissible to kill a cow for such reasons and maybe it is not, but it does not follow that it is if cows' lives and humans' lives are not of equal value.

My own view, though, is that talk of "value" is not really appropriate here. I think Nicholas is right to suggest that the real question here is: What kind of life does a creature have to have in order that it should be impermissible to kill it (or to harm it in certain other ways)? The question will then be whether there are animals other than human beings that meet the relevant conditions, whatever they might be.

It is crucial, I think, to recognize that the relevant question here is not: Are the lives of humans more valuable than the lives of (other) animals? The objection to killing animals need not presuppose that animals' lives and humans' lives are of equal value. Most defenders of animal rights would not, I think, hold such a view. Their claim, rather, is that animals' lives are of sufficiently great value that they ought not to be killed. Note that saying that animals ought not to be killed does not imply that it is never morally permissible to kill an animal. Humans ought not to be killed, but most people would hold that it is sometimes morally permissible to kill human beings, for example, in self-defense. If (say) cows lives are of less value than are the lives of humans, then there may be circumstances in which it is permissible to kill a cow but in which it would not be permissible to kill a human being. But it does not follow from that fact that it is permissible to kill a cow just...

'Zoophiles', as they call themselves, often claim that committing sexual acts

'Zoophiles', as they call themselves, often claim that committing sexual acts with animals is okay because animals are capable of consenting, either by sexual displays (lifting tails, humping hapless human legs, etc), or by not biting/fighting back, or by allowing the human access to them, so to speak. The problem I have with this is that an animal can't attribute the same idea to sex as a human can - for a human sex may be bound up with love and other types of emotions where by and large for animals it is another biological duty. In my opinion that would mean that there is no real consent between an animal and a human because the two are essentially contemplating a different act. Am I missing something here? And is there any validity in the idea that it is wrong to engage in sex with animals because for most humans it is intuitively wrong? If it doesn't really harm anyone - if the animal is unscathed - does that make the whole argument pointless?

I haven’t given much thought to the ethics of sex between humans and non-humans, but it seems to me that the fact that sex between humans requires consent does not imply that sex involving non-human animals requires consent. We require consent in sexual relations between human beings because we believe that making informed choices about intimate relationships is a significant good for human beings. Such choices cannot be part of a good life for non-human animals because such animals are permanently incapable of making them. That’s not to say that non-human animals are to be used as one pleases; it’s simply to say that whether consent occurs or does not occur cannot be a relevant consideration.

It seems to me that it is sufficient if there is a description of the act under which both parties consent to it. (I find myself tempted to say: ...and under which they both perform it. That may not be necessary but probably is.) Whether there are other descriptions under which one or another of the two parties has not consented to it seems irrelevant (especially if it is not a description under which they perform it): It will always be possible to find such descriptions. (Note that this is different from saying that there are descriptions under which one of the parties would withhold consent. Whether the existence of such descriptions would be relevant is a more difficult question.) If so, then the fact that X and Y, in the first example, happen to think of the consequences of their encounter in different terms does not seem to undermine their consenting to: having a sexual encounter. (And that, of course, is a description under which both of them perform the act.) There are undoubtedly...

The questioner for

The questioner for http://www.amherst.edu/askphilosophers/question/149 got the question wrong, so the response was wrong too. The question isn't do animals feel pain, because the consensus among animal behavorists is that they certainly do experience pain sensations which are in almost every way akin to the pain which humans feel. The correct question is whether animals can experience "suffering", and by extension, whether it is possible to "torture" an animal. For example, if someone were to step on your toe accidentally, a human (or animal) would feel a sensation of pain. But the pain would be momentary, and you wouldn't "suffer" from it unless you thought they had done it on purpose or vindictively. For that matter, a human can be harmed or "suffer" from some real or imagined act done to them when there is no pain (or even when there is pleasure) associated with the event. The argument being made by some researchers is that all animals (including apes, dolphins, etc.) except humans lack the...

A few points. First, I don't understand why you think one can't suffer without reflecting on the reasons for one's pain. That just seems false, and the OED seems to agree with me:

suffer (v.) To have (something painful, distressing, or injurious) inflicted orimposed upon one; to submit to with pain, distress, or grief.

Nor do I see why one cannot be tortured if one cannot reflect in this way. And again, the OED would seem to agree:

torture (v.) 2. To inflict severe pain or suffering upon; to torment; to distress orafflict grievously; also, to exercise the mind severely, to puzzle orperplex greatly. Also absol. to cause extreme pain.

That said, it's an interesting empirical question to what extent animals are capable of "reflect[ing] upon the reasons for or context of the pains they experience". So far as I know, however, the view you ascribe to "some researchers" is not a majority view.

A few points. First, I don't understand why you think one can't suffer without reflecting on the reasons for one's pain. That just seems false, and the OED seems to agree with me: suffer (v.) To have (something painful, distressing, or injurious) inflicted orimposed upon one; to submit to with pain, distress, or grief. Nor do I see why one cannot be tortured if one cannot reflect in this way. And again, the OED would seem to agree: torture (v.) 2. To inflict severe pain or suffering upon; to torment; to distress orafflict grievously; also, to exercise the mind severely, to puzzle orperplex greatly. Also absol. to cause extreme pain. That said, it's an interesting empirical question to what extent animals are capable of " reflect[ing] upon the reasons for or context of the pains they experience". So far as I know, however, the view you ascribe to "some researchers" is not a majority view.

If it was proved tomorrow that plants can feel pain, what would happen to the

If it was proved tomorrow that plants can feel pain, what would happen to the arguments of vegetarians who are vegetarians because they don't believe in causing animals pain?

The main way we cause pain to aminals is through the way we raise them in factory farms, so even if plants could feel pain (though like Richard, I bet they don't), we might be able to grow and harvest them without causing them any more pain than, say, we cause a free-range chicken. But if forcing them to grow in those straight rows causes them severe and prolonged distress....

Well, if that were the argument one had used, one would be in a bind. But I doubt many people are vegetarians for that reason. Nonetheless, most people, vegetarian or otherwise, think it wrong to cause animals unnecessary suffering. If it turned out that plants (say, grasses) feel pain, then I take it most people would be in a bind. Fortunately, there doesn't seem much prospect that organisms with no nervous system (let alone a central nervous system) feel pain.

Do animals know they are mortal?Bill Reay

Do animals know they are mortal? Bill Reay

Here's a more basic question: Do (non-human) animals know that they are? Do (non-human) animals have a conception of themselves? Are they, as it is put, "self-conscious"? Self-consciosuness seems to be a necessary precondition of knowledge of one's own mortality.

Obviously, one need not give a single answer for all (non-human) animals. Perhaps birds are not self-conscious, but chimpanzees are. If one thought, as some philosophers have, that one cannot be self-conscious unless one is a user of language, then of course that would answer the question. But I don't find that view terribly appealing or well-argued.

The question which animals are self-conscious is, presumably, an empirical one. I'm reasonably sure that flies are not self-conscious, but would be prepared to believe that cats are, and I've encountered some evidence that chimpanzees are. But there is a philosophical question here, as well, namely: What exactly is self-consciousness? What is involved in having a conception of oneself? I find it reasonably intuitive that, to have a conception of oneself is to think of oneself as one among many things in the world. (The idea traces to Kant.) If so, then a conception of oneself necessarily involves a kind of "objective" conception of the world and of one's place in it. Such a conception would not require one to be aware of one's own mortality, but it would come pretty close, since that would arise from an awareness of other creatures' mortality together with an awareness that one is oneself a creature like those others.

Here's a more basic question: Do (non-human) animals know that they are ? Do (non-human) animals have a conception of themselves ? Are they, as it is put, "self-conscious"? Self-consciosuness seems to be a necessary precondition of knowledge of one's own mortality. Obviously, one need not give a single answer for all (non-human) animals. Perhaps birds are not self-conscious, but chimpanzees are. If one thought, as some philosophers have, that one cannot be self-conscious unless one is a user of language, then of course that would answer the question. But I don't find that view terribly appealing or well-argued. The question which animals are self-conscious is, presumably, an empirical one. I'm reasonably sure that flies are not self-conscious, but would be prepared to believe that cats are, and I've encountered some evidence that chimpanzees are. But there is a philosophical question here, as well, namely: What exactly is self-consciousness? What is involved in having a conception of...