Sunday, May 07, 2006

On Animal Pain and Life

I think Julian Baggini is quite right:
It sounds callous but to be consistent, a carnivore who professes a concern for animal welfare must maintain that while causing unnecessary pain and distress to an animal is wrong, ending its life prematurely is not... good though it is to try to avoid needless suffering, the fundamental issue is whether animals are replaceable things that can be killed by the million to secure their meat for us. If you can't swallow that, perhaps you need to reconsider what you're prepared to chew.

I'm happy enough to bite that beef bullet, however.



  1. I think the line is more blurred between humans and animals than you suggest in your bite the bullet post. Chickens for instance do know who different people are, maintain pecking orders with birds they don't see everyday, etc. Now here all I am suggesting is that we shouldn't be totally committed to the: "animals definitely don't have identity over time" idea. I'm not saying they think about the future, but neither are they just instinctual balls of sensing and perceiving. Remember that the difference on a naturalist picture of humans and animals is one of degree, not one of kind.

    On the point made at the end of the quote: For some reason, those of us who eat meat love to use the hypothetical imperative model without actually supporting morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives. The implications of this is that the argument, "If you can't swallow that, [then you shouldn't eat meat]" simply doesn't work. Implicit in the imperative seems to be another imperative, "If you CAN swallow that, then there's nothing wrong with eating meat." This, I think though, will not suffice for most of us philosophers who do ethics.

    I think the main flaw is that integrity is considered a stand-alone good. That someone who can't stomach it/eats meat is not as good as someone who can stomach it/eats meat. Certainly the second person is more consistent, but does that mean what they're doing is okay? I think not. I think rather than being an intrinsic good, integrity is only a prima facie good--one that must be coupled with decent behaviors and character traits for it to be good all things considered. Do we really want to say that the bigot who acts racist consitently is a better person than the person who is a bigot but often acts kindly towards the group they have discriminating thoughts about? I think not, and yet this is analagous to the suggestion that the meat eater with integrity is doing something better than the meat eater who is inconsitent.

  2. great to hear that last pararaph from another persons mouth!

  3. Ben, I agree that consistency is not a moral end in itself, but I don't think Baggini (or anyone else I'm aware of) was suggesting otherwise. And the employment of hypothetical imperatives is, I think, used to make an argument "to the person", i.e. pointing out the implications of their own commitments. Here one is engaging with them from a rational stance rather than a substantively moral one. That's not to say that all ways to resolve rational inconsistency will be equally moral (or that "what they're doing is okay"). It's just to say, so far as the present dialectic is concerned, "I'm not going to try to force my own moral beliefs on you. But here are some implications of your own views. You're being inconsistent if you accept the premises but not the conclusion. Make of that what you will."

    Perhaps we will later muster further arguments to suggest that they should accept the conclusion rather than reject the premises. But that doesn't mean there's no value in the first step, i.e. of recognizing that one or the other is required.


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