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I have some questions with vegetarianism. The main thing is that I do believe

I have some questions with vegetarianism. The main thing is that I do believe that animal suffering is a bad thing, but I don't think that that is a reason for people not to eat animals. I'm not asking here about the whole issue, but only about the following real case: I own a small piece of land which has been mostly unused. Last year, I bought a dozen of chicks, gave them a nice place to live, bought them some grain, gathered other kinds of food for them (plants, insects, snails, etc.) and took care of them generally. Now I have a dozen of chicken that I am about to slaughter and eat. Is there a reason for me not to do so?! Should I feed them eternally? Should I free them so that a car will smash them? Shouldn't I have bought them in the first place?

I don't think you are doing anything wrong. But I think that precisely because I think that animals suffering is a bad thing and should be avoided if possible. It sounds to me like you are avoiding it as much as possible--and I assume that when you slaughter them you will do so in a way that minimizes pain and suffering (and likely will not be any worse, and may be much better, than their natural death would be).

So, I may be misunderstanding what you mean when you say that you think suffering is bad but you do NOT think "that [suffering] is a reason for people not to eat animals." My own view is that there are many reasons to try to phase out factory farming, the main two being animal suffering and environmental harm. But both of those problems might be minimized by raising animals in other ways--for instance, the way you are raising your chickens. Others may want to provide arguments for why it is wrong to eat animals no matter what. But I have not been convinced by those arguments, mainly because I don't think that most non-human animals (and all the ones we eat, though pigs might push the boundary) lack the mental capacities needed to deserve moral respect other than the capacity for suffering which is sufficient to provide a reason for us not to make them suffer (all else being equal).

The arguments for vegetarianisms seem to be very convincing to me. Are there

The arguments for vegetarianisms seem to be very convincing to me. Are there any good arguments philosophers have made that eating animals is not immoral?

Good question. There have been at least two lines of reasoning that have some following among philosophers. The first consists of seeking to object to the positive reasons that are advanced for vegetarianism and against raising animals for food. So, Peter Singer initially built his case for vegetarianism on a utilitarian foundation to the effect that raising animals and killing them causes undeserved suffering. Arguably, however, it seems that he would not have a strong reason to object to painless killing. And if you breed animals who have happy lives, there might even be a utilitarian reason for having large numbers of animals that then meet a painless end. A second kind of argument has been launched by R.G. Frey (who, sadly, died last year), Peter Carruthers, and others that animals lack morally relevant interests. Frey and Carruthers argue for this on the grounds that animals lack language. The argument is quite controversial as it is based on the view that there cannot be non-linguistic or pre-linguistic thought and consciousness. This is also quite troubling as it would seem to entail that pre-linguistic human children lack morally relevant interests, but this seems quite counter-intuitive. One may also argue that some animals have language or at least the power to communicate and this is evidence that they have reflection and possibly self-awareness (something that seems reasonable in cases when animals pass what is called "the mirror test," being able to recognize their reflection and act accordingly. Ockham's razor has also been deployed to argue that it is not reasonable to believe that the animals we eat have higher order thoughts and reflection that would make them objects of moral concern. Ockham's razor is, essentially, the policy of only positing entities or phenomena that is necessary to describe and explain something. Arguably, some of our intentional behavior can be explained without positing higher order self-awareness. I, for example, very occasionally sleepwalk and some persons have even been known to sleep drive. These are cases when we are able to do complex things opening doors, getting into a car, turning it on, and so on without knowing what you are doing. If you like, this may involve a subject knowing which car is his, but not knowing that he knows it. Could it be that chicken, cattle, lambs, fish... might have some sensory life and cognition, but they lack the higher order self-reflection necessary to be taken seriously ethically?

I do not personally adopt the above arguments, especially the last one which has the consequence of assuming that nonhuman animals are on a par with sleep walkers!

If I was in a situation that impose me to choose between an animal or a human to

If I was in a situation that impose me to choose between an animal or a human to save their life, which one should I choose ? and why ?

Not an easy question to answer as one can imagine all kinds of factors entering the picture: imagine the human being is s murderer who threatens to kill you or someone who intends to commit suicide after the rescue or imagine the human asks you to rescue the animal instead of him or herself. Leaving aside that humans are also animals, the nonhuman animal may be carrying a deadly disease or a being with very little evidence of thought, emotion, and rationality (like an ant) or it may be a porpoise who rescued you when you were drowning (there is a record of such a rescue in the first history in the west by Heroditus (Book I of his Histories). But leaving aside all these complications, I think we humans are naturally disposed to value other humans because of our being thinking, feeling, reflective individuals who are capable of appreciating and protecting values, being creative and imaginative, capable of entering into worthy, loving relationships, beings who have meaningful goals and desires, and other such properties and capabilities. There may also be religious reasons that enter the picture. But while I would opt for saving the human (assuming that all the other facts noted at the outset were not in play) and if I am the human I hope you will rescue me, some philosophers such as Tom Regan and Peter Singer regard your question as very important and they allow for cases when (in principle) it would be better to rescue the nonhuman animal rather than rescuing you or me. See Regan's major work on animal rights.

Is it morally wrong to eat my pet dog? Why is it right to eat beef and pork, but

Is it morally wrong to eat my pet dog? Why is it right to eat beef and pork, but our pets?

I agree with Andrew: the dog/pig distinction won't get us anywhere. And I might even be persuaded that we shouldn't eat animals at all. But there's a sliver of a distinction that may be worth noting.

If a stranger asks me to drive him to the grocery store, I don't have any obligation to say yes. If my friend asks me (and if it's not a lot of trouble to do it) then it's not so clearly okay for me just to say no. If my daughter asks me, the obligation seems even stronger. Our relationships with people can make a difference to how we ought to treat them.

We can and do have relationships with our companion animals. And those relationships could make a difference to how we should treat them. I have an obligation to feed my dog, for example, but not to feed yours.

Now it may very well be that it's wrong to eat animals at all. But even if it's okay to eat animals in general, it doesn't simply follow that it's okay to eat my own pet and the fact that it's my pet is the reason why it doesn't follow. The moral dimension of our special relationships with some of our conspecifics may well have an analogue in our relationships with our pets.

All that said, the point I've made is a very weak one: it's only that my special relationship with my pet might have moral weight. That still leaves us with the serious question of whether it's ever okay to slaughter and eat other creatures.

Should we as humans actively try to maintain the existence of other species

Should we as humans actively try to maintain the existence of other species (like we do now due to their cuteness/rarity)?

Hm; who would think we shouldn't, all else being equal? Although I suppose some might question whether "all else is equal." After all, "maintaining" has various costs (devotion of time, money, resources etc) that might better be spent elsewhere (for example, helping suffering human beings). But then again, not too many people think that we should each devote all of our resources to helping other human beings. (If you did then you probably should not be doing almost anything you are doing -- including spending time on the computer asking philosophers questions -- because that time could have been more directly spent helping someone in immediate need!) So as long as one agrees we are not obligated to spend all/most of our time helping other human beings in need then I suppose there are many things it is perfectly all right to do, including maintaining other species just because we like them. (One very useful resource here might be Peter Singer's recent book, The Life You Can Save, which focuses deeply on the question whether it really is okay for us to spend so LITTLE of our resources helping other people .....)

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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.

The responses to questions on this site regarding the ethics of eating animals

The responses to questions on this site regarding the ethics of eating animals seem to indicate that many of you endorse vegetarianism (in some form or another) but have not made a commitment to actually becoming a vegetarian. Though I understand the difficulty of truly living in accordance with certain philosophies that one might, in theory, endorse, the only major challenge faced by vegetarians in today's America is self control. If philosophers themselves find it so difficult to simply not put a piece of flesh in their mouths, how can we hope for considerable progress on this issue? One would think that the people who think so much about the minutiae of the arguments for and against eating meat would be the most likely to make a shift in their behavior. I can't help but worry.

Well, weakness of will is a human frailty, and philosophers are humans. But I share your intuition that someone who has accepted strong arguments for a conclusion, such as "It is wrong to eat meat," and who faces few difficulties acting on that conclusion, should be able to act on it. It may make you feel better to know that there is a much higher proportion of consistent vegetarians among philosophers than among the general population. But people who study ethics may be no different than other philosophers (except that they condemn meat eating more). See here.

Personally, I think that there are good reasons for our society to shut down factory farming (it causes a lot of unnecessary suffering, hurts the environment, and contributes to unhealthy eating habits). But it is not obvious how best to act on that view. I try to avoid factory farmed meat, but mainly to avoid hypocrisy rather than to further the cause (my not purchasing meat is unlikely to have an effect on the industry). But should I avoid eating all meat? Should I scold others who eat factory-farmed meat? Should I spend my time working to shut down the industry? Those questions become more complicated because of both competing ethical concerns and complicated empirical issues.

Oh, did I mention that philosophers are particularly good at coming up with rationalizations?

Have animals rights? If so, which ones?

Have animals rights? If so, which ones?

There's no clear reason why animals shouldn't have rights. After all, humans are animals and on our usual view, even infants and the severely mentally disabled have at least some rights. Certain rights – for example, the right to sign a contract – presuppose certain abilities and so non-human animals typically won't have those. Other rights don't presuppose any abilities and non-human animals might well have at least some of those. The right not to be tortured is a plausible example.

Which rights animals have is controversial. To this we can add that there's a lot of controversy about exactly what rights are. On that question, you might find it useful to take a look at this article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But for some issues, the notion of rights may be less important than it might seem. For example, someone might reasonably be persuaded that they shouldn't eat animals even if they're not sure that this is a matter of the rights of the animals.

This isn't to say that rights aren't important. It's just to say that the concept of rights isn't the only tool in our moral toolbox.

I was recently thinking about what it means to be count as a vegetarian, but I

I was recently thinking about what it means to be count as a vegetarian, but I think it's much harder than I originally thought. What does it mean to be a vegetarian? There are several cases where it isn't clear for me. What if a self-proclaimed vegetarian accidentally consumes meat, for example because it was hidden inside other food, or they were lied to about the contents of a meal? Are they still vegetarian? Is a person who just happens not to eat any meat, without having any sort of personal rules about eating meat (perhaps because of poverty, lack of interest or sheer coincidence), a vegetarian? If a vegetarian consents to eating meat meat once, it seems they stop being a vegetarian (or maybe never were?); when do they become a vegetarian again, if they don't eat any meat afterwards? Is there a time limit? If a person wants to avoid eating meat but is occasionally and predictably pressured into eating meat by their friends or family, are they only sometimes a vegetarian, or never one? I...

Like a great many words, "vegetarian" doesn't have a fully-precise meaning; it almost certainly means slightly different things in different contexts and when used by different people. Take your case of the person who just "happens" not to eat meat - not by design, not on principle, but just as it turns out. Whether we call this person a vegetarian or not isn't something that usage fully settles. We might, for example, call them a "de facto vegetarian" as opposed to a "deliberate vegetarian." Part of what we generally mean when we use the word "vegetarian" has to do with what people actually eat, and part has to do with what their intentions are, but there's no simple formula here. A person who intends not to eat meat but eats it accidentally from time to time (e.g., because of misleading labels) would probably count as a vegetarian by most people's standards. If the accidents were frequent enough, many people might hesitate to call the person a vegetarian and would qualify what they say.

As for the person who consents to eating meat on rare occasions, my guess is most people would say s/he is a vegetarian who occasionally lapses, or a vegetarian who will eat meat if there's a good enough reason. (After all, the reasons that lead people to be vegetarian are often not beyond all possibility of reasonable exceptions.) But people will no doubt differ over cases, partly because they will differ about how good the reasons are.

So there's no precise answer to your question, but there do seem to be clear cases of vegetarians: people who have made a deliberate decision not to eat meat, who work hard at sticking to that decision and who are successful in their intentions with, perhaps, very rare exceptions. However, there's really nothing special about vegetarianism here. A great many terms clearly do apply in some cases, clearly don't apply in other cases, and generate variations in usage in yet other cases.

Suppose a species is brought to another region, where it quickly overruns its

Suppose a species is brought to another region, where it quickly overruns its local rivals and drives the native species to extinction. This is something that has been suggested might happen with the larger grey squirrels that are slowly overwhelming the smaller red squirrels in Europe. Many people would suggest that this is a problem, but I wonder if that is really the case. One way or another, individual red squirrels will end up dying, either because other red squirrels are eating their food, or because grey squirrels are eating it. If more red squirrels die than would otherwise, the flip-side seems to be that there are more grey squirrels flourishing than otherwise. For the starving red squirrels, it doesn't seem to matter who is eating their food; and for the flourishing grey squirrels, it doesn't seem to matter where exactly they are flourishing. Of course, there is the risk of the newcomers ruining the entire local ecology and turning things into a barren wasteland, but that doesn't seem to...

You ask a fair question and I suspect that some of the answer, in the case of the squirrels, is that the red squirrels are thought to be more attractive than the grey squirrels, so many people would prefer that the grey squirrels do not take over. But there are also reasons for environmental concern (i.e. not just aesthetic preference) in that there is reasonable fear of a loss of genetic diversity and also fear of upsetting the ecological balance. Invasive species cause the extinction of other species without replacing them with other new species, hence loss of genetic diversity (and vulnerability to future environmental challenges). Invasive species also often upset the ecological balance e.g. rabbits in Australia and then cause the extinction of several species, not only the species that they directly compete with. Grey squirrels are thought to damage the woodlands in England, and thereby the environment of some bird species.

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