Advanced Search

"Eating animals can't be bad because how do you know plants don't have feelings

"Eating animals can't be bad because how do you know plants don't have feelings" is a common argument against vegans. Is that a good argument?

No. Many vegans (and vegetarians) aim to minimize unnecessary suffering and believe that eating animals causes unnecessary suffering. A crucial premise of this argument is that animals can suffer pain, discomfort, and possibly even more complex unpleasant thoughts or emotions. What is the evidence for that premise? It's a best explanation (or abductive) argument. We have good reasons, based on a wide range of scientific evidence from psychology and neuroscience, to think that complex nervous systems are required to experience suffering, and the mammals we eat (and probably the birds and perhaps the fish) have nervous systems that support these experiences. Plus the behavior of these animals suggests that they can feel pain and discomfort.

Plants do not have nervous systems (or anything analogous) and they do not show the behavior associated with experiencing pain (or anything else). So, we have no reason to think they suffer while they live or when they are harvested. (Personally, I think humanely raising and killing animals is ethically defensible.)

Ironically, souls might be brought into the discussion to cut in both directions. Someone might argue that animals do not have the ineffable soul or mind required to experience suffering, so it's OK to do what may *seem* to cause them pain. Or someone might argue that, even though they don't have nervous systems, plants have the sort of soul (or being) that allows them to experience suffering.

Do non-human animals have self awareness?

Do non-human animals have self awareness?

I presume you're asking about animals on Earth. Otherwise I'd be inclined to answer "Almost certainly!" given the vastness of the universe and the mind-boggling number of planets that astronomers estimate are out there.

You've asked a question that's at least partly empirical, so as a philosopher I'm not especially well-equipped to answer it. But some who are better-equipped have answered "yes": see this link.

The probability in my mind that I am correct in attributing extensive moral

The probability in my mind that I am correct in attributing extensive moral personhood to other humans is very high. With non-human vertebrate, I attribute slightly less extensive but still quite broad moral personhood, and I am in this too quite confident. But I accept given I am a fallible human being I might be wrong and should give them no moral personhood or moral personhood of the kind I ascribe to humans. Continuing in the same line, I ascribe almost no moral personhood to bacteria and viruses. But again given I am fallible musnt I accept some non-zero probability that they deserve human like personhood? If so, and I am a utilitarian, given the extremely large number of bacteria and viruses on the planet it seems even if I am very sure that bacteria are of only minimal moral importance, I still must make serious concessions to them because it seems doubtful that my certainty is so high as to overcome the vast numbers of bacteria and viruses on this planet. (I am aware it is not entirely clear how...

It's a very interesting question. It's about what my colleague Dan Moller calls moral risk. And it's a problem not just for utilitarians. The general problem is this: I might have apparently good arguments for thinking it's okay to act in a certain way. But there may be arguments to the contrary—arguments that, if correct, show that I'd be doing something very wrong if I acted as my arguments suggest. Furthermore, it might be that the moral territory here is complex. Putting all that together, I have a reason to pause. If I simply follow my arguments, I'm taking a moral risk.

Now there may be costs of taking the risks seriously. The costs might be non-moral (say, monetary) or, depending on the case, there may be potential moral costs. There's no easy answer. Moller explores the issue at some length, using the case of abortion to focus the arguments. You might want to have a look at his paper HERE.

A final note: when we get to bacteria, I think the moral risks are low enough to be discounted. I can't even imagine what it would mean for bacteria to have the moral status of people or even of earthworms.

Can we assume that our pet dogs feel love towards us?

Can we assume that our pet dogs feel love towards us?

There are numerous complex issues here in the philosophy of so-called animal cognition or comparative ethology, but it seems to me that the burden of proof is with anyone who says no. The same issue arises, clearly, for human beings. So if we say that we do not know that the beagle feels love when he wags his tail and bays a bit and licks us and even gives us little nips behind the ears, and is obviously happy - more than happy - to see us, and delights in our presence, why would we not say the same about the human being doing these things, or their non-beagle equivalents? It's no good saying that he's doing it because we feed him. The same is true in the human case, but the manner of feeding is different, as is what is fed. It is difficult to imagine an ant loving us, but I think that is because there is no demonstration of affection from ants, no licking or running round in circles and so on. They would be ignoring us, if they were human and doing what they do. None of this is an assumption, though; it seems to be more of a common sense observation, but one that ignores false philosophical paths.

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food

If animals have feelings then isn't that enough reason not to kill them for food? Some would say that self awareness is required. Why would that be relevant? Could the idea that a creature without self awareness lacks a unified state of being over time be a reason? They just sort of exist one moment to the next. Death for them would no different than the passage of time. But then how can mere concepts of self awareness have such an ontological significance? Much of their experience probably or may not be especially pleasurable and many wouldn't exist in the first place if they weren't bred to be eaten. I wonder if the inability of most people to form a moral opinion opposed to animal eating shows something dreadful about the human condition. Here I am sitting and eating meat while asking these questions in the abstract while I've never had the willpower to go vegetarian for any extended period just in case my fears about meat eating are right.

Terrific question, and I completely share your intuitions (not to mention your weak-willedness....). If pain or suffering are somehow intrinsically 'bad', then it must be right that killing animals is bad (assuming that involves inflicting pain, of course). Or more precisely, causing that pain without having some more compelling overriding reason is bad (and presumably we don't with respect to animals for food -- since human beings can live without meat, and even live well -- and indeed many argue that, economically, meat-eating causes horrible suffering all over the globe etc.) My guess is that those who might invoke 'self-awareness' as a justification for meat-eating -- who must merely presume that animals lack it, by the way; hard to know! -- are perhaps thinking that having self-awareness increases the degree of suffering of the animal. after all, knowing you are about to die, to be killed, along with some idea that the process will be unpleasant, indeed increases the suffering (and empirically it seems that animals in slaughterhouses clearly know something is up ....). But (to expand your thought) that doesn't somehow override the first point but emphasizes it: if self-awareness is bad because it increases the suffering/pain, then that must be because pain is bad -- in which case self-awareness must not be necessary for the moral impermissibility of meat-eating. (and if the self-awareness does NOT increase the suffering in the process, then, as you suggest, it's not so clear why having it would rule out the eating of meat.) so, basically, I agree with you ...!

best, ap

Is torturing an insect less immoral than torturing a non-human primate?

Is torturing an insect less immoral than torturing a non-human primate?

I take it that being tortured implies the experience of pain or other suffering (physical or psychological) or, at the very minimum, the frustration of the victim's desires. Now, insect brains are surprisingly complex: according to Wikipedia, there are 100,000 neurons in the brain of a fruit fly, and as many as 10 million synapses; no doubt there are many more in mantids. But are insect brains complex enough that insects can experience pain, suffering, or frustration? I don't think anyone knows. But the answer may well be no, in which case your question would rest on a false presupposition.

But suppose an insect can be tortured. If a case of torture is otherwise gratuitous, then its degree of immorality probably varies with the suffering that it causes. It seems highly likely that at least some nonhuman primates can suffer to a greater degree than insects can, making it worse to torture them, all else being equal.

I'm thinking about cutting back my meat consumption for the sake of the

I'm thinking about cutting back my meat consumption for the sake of the environment, but I don't want to go completely meat free. I'm thinking about continuing to eat pork but not beef, since I respect cattle more than pigs as the former have been a vital part of human agriculture for centuries yet the latter would eat human babies trapped in its pen. Am I right in setting up this hierarchy of life unworthy of life?

I'd suggest doing some research on both the environmental impact of cattle and pork farming and production and the reasons to respect, as you put it, each species. My own research is incomplete, but from what I've seen, pig factory farming is particularly nasty for the environment (e.g., the sewage leaking into waterways in North Carolina), and pigs are likely the most intelligent of the animals we raise for food (some claim they are roughly on par with dogs). I'm not sure how relevant it is that they might eat human babies! (If true, let's make sure not to leave any babies in their pens.) In any case, I think the decision to cut down our production and consumption of all factory farmed animals is overdetermined: there are good reasons based on morality (preventing mass amounts of unnecessary suffering), protecting the environment (note that animal farts contribute to global warming!), and improving our health. Having said this, I admit I still purchase some factory farmed meat for my family. And until we make a concerted effort to change our society's dietary habits, it will be difficult to phase out factory farming in the way we should. For now, can the fast food joints at least offer veggie burgers!?

Is it immoral to keep an animal as a pet, or is this question not within the

Is it immoral to keep an animal as a pet, or is this question not within the domain of ethical philosophy? My reasoning is this, there are other much more self-involved things to do than spend time taking care of a pet, such as reading philosophy or even asking questions on this site. Pets can cause all kinds of problems, especially for its owner, and perhaps do not reciprocate affection.

I'm puzzled. Why would doing something more "self-involved" be morally better than keeping a pet? Perhaps by "self-involved," you mean self-improving, but morality doesn't call for spending all our time improving ourselves. And even insofar as it does, caring for a pet might help some people to become more empathetic and responsible.

Of course, pets sometimes cause problems. But so do cars, DVD players, the computer you wrote your question on, and—for that matter—friends and family. And in any case, morality doesn't call for avoiding all problems. If anything, it arguably calls for the opposite, since if we spend all our time steering clear of difficulties, we're likely to end up stunted and selfish.

Some pets probably don't reciprocate affection; goldfish almost certainly don't, for example. But once again, what of it? Even if a fish-fancier agrees that her fish don't fancy her, how would that make her a worse person?

Maybe I'm missing something, but I'd have thought the moral questions about keeping pets would mostly be about the welfare of the animals. Even if they don't make us better (and that's open to doubt), it's hard to see how they make us worse.

I find Peter Singer's argument that animals' (specifically mammals') capacity to

I find Peter Singer's argument that animals' (specifically mammals') capacity to feel pain which according to him makes them intrinsically worthy of special status rather faceious as evolution is scientifically proven to not be teleological. If I uproot a cabbage (in the process killing microbes and insects) and eat it, how am I any more immoral than if I kill a cow or a dog and eat it? Why is an organism's place on the phylogenetic tree so special?

I'm having trouble seeing what evolution has to do with it. Many animals, Singer supposes, feel pain. Pain (roughly; the refinements won't matter here) is intrinsically bad, no matter what sort of creature experiences it. Whether animals (or humans) feel pain because of evolution, because a God made them that way, or because we're all sentient animaldroids, designed by mad scientists from Mars is beside the point. Singer's thought is that pain is bad for us, and animals are no different from us in that respect. He isn't making a point about the phylogenetic tree. Cabbages don't feel pain; cats do. So when we're calculating the balance of pleasure to pain, the cat's pain (or pleasure) should be included in the calculation. But since cabbages aren't sentient (so far as we know), there's nothing about the cabbage to add or subtract.

there has been talk about the use of dogs in medical detection of cancer and

there has been talk about the use of dogs in medical detection of cancer and also dogs are being used to monitor the sugar levels of people with diabetes 24 hours a day. i was wondering what ethical issues there are surrounding the use of dogs in such a way, ie should we be breeding dogs specifically for use in hospitals and other moral dilemas. also the uk will not accept the use of dogs to detect cancer because there has been little study on how it works i was thinking is this relivent when this could save lives?

Apart from fairly radical views that would prohibit any human use of any animal, I see nothing wrong with the basic idea of having dogs providing diagnostic assistance. We know that dogs can be really good at sniffing out explosives and bed bugs, for example, as we already use them for such tasks. If they turn out to be also especially good for medical diagnosis or troubleshooting, it seems like a reasonable thing to have dogs do for us. Obviously, the same rules about humane treatment for the dogs applies in these cases as for any others, and we would also want to have strong support from medical studies to confirm that the dogs really were helpful and reliable for these tasks.

Even if we have only some reason to think that dogs are good at this, then they could be regarded as potentially good indicators of some problem. So if a cancer-sniffing dog reacted in such a way as to indicate that I had cancer, I think I would be well advised to go and get a check-up, even if there was not yet the level of medical evidence we would want or need to adopt cancer-sniffing dogs as a regular part of diagnosis.

I fails to see any serious ethical problem here, again, as long as the dogs are well-treated. people and dogs have gotten along well together for a long time. A little shared working together doesn't strike me as anything wrong at all. But again, this is to set aside the objection that any human use of dogs is wrong. I don't agree (obviously), but this is not the place to take on that sort of objection.

Pages