How do atheists justify eating meat on an ethical basis?

As we all evolved from common ancestors, and atheists reject the idea that we have god given dominion over the other animals, what ethical justification is there for not considering then suffering of other species?

It seems that to discriminate on the grounds of species is just as arbitrary as to discriminate on the basis of skin colour, sex etc.

I base my ethics on minimising unnecessary suffering and death and promoting well being and happiness. What are others ethics based upon?

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@John D,


This is a very candid reply and very refreshing. In saying that it does not matter to you that animal feel pain etc you make your position quite clear and it is easily understandable. I think you are saying the same about the environment.


hardly more need be said but I would be interested to know of your ethical stance to other humans is the same. Do you feel ethically obliged to ease their pain & suffering?


You should really look up logical fallacies. You are committing several of them repeatedly in this thread in order to make personal attacks, …not very nice …or ethical.

I know what a logical fallicy is. Point out the one's you think are logical fallicies and I will consider your comments. Where have I made a personal attack?

I would but I don't believe it would make any difference, you've already dismissed Richard Carrier's objective and fact filled arguments as "self justification". Your loaded questions already presume that those who don't agree with you are your moral and ethical inferiors, so the personal attack was and still is preemptive on your part.

We've just had the identical polemic and admonishment from another making the same "I'm better than you if you don't agree" stance. Many of us have seen it, many times from different sources. My wife's a vegetarian, and these kind of screeds even make her cringe.

Ok. You believe everything Carrier wrote in that article. Is that your position? Where have I said I am better than you? Please provide that quote.

John Major, John D did answer this question, " I would be interested to know of your ethical stance to other humans is the same. Do you feel ethically obliged to ease their pain & suffering?"  John D said this, "Your ethics are about reducing suffering.  Mine are not.  and.... this is true for humans as well as animals. "  

Yes I missed that. I have to that eating animals and causing suffering in the process of doing so seems entirely consistent with an ethical position that does not recognise the need to consider the suffering of an animal, human or otherwise.

While I don't like to hear this because it is so much at odds with my own outlook, it is a bold thing to say and completely negates any challenge on ethical grounds. In practice, I would be interested to.know how it works, whether he has a family and how he can have no consideration of their suffering. But that is not my reason for posting my comments.

I am more interested to hear from those who do think it is ethically important to consider the suffering of others and how they reconcile this with meat eating.

to John D

"To me, ethics is a blend of our social contract and our personal desires and emotions.  There is no effective and cohesive ethical system that supports the idea of "perfect" or "absolute" ethics.  We make choices constantly within the context of our emotions, rationality, and culture.

Everyone is a pragmatist or some form of utilitarian.  They just often deny it.  A vegan who claims that they will not eat meat because it causes suffering still swats a mosquito or takes medicine to rid themselves of pin worms.  What this shows is that some suffering is of less value than other suffering."


Yes, I am pragmatic, and utilitarian.  I don’t deny it.  The difference between my swatting a mosquito, and eating a cow, is that I kill the mosquito because he is drinking my blood, while I kill the cow because I want to drink her blood.  It shows I think I have a right to defend myself.  If a human tries to drink my blood, I will defend myself against him, too.  I will not kill someone because he tastes good.  Surely, anyone can see the difference.

"An ethical system that claims that greatest goal is to reduce suffering is broken at the start.  It you really want to reduce the suffering you cause (as an individual) the best solution is to commit suicide.  This is the logical conclusion when reducing the suffering of others is the greatest goal.  And so.... we can see that even the "ethical" vegan is actually a pragmatist and utilitarian (but they hate to admit it).

  "It you really want to reduce the suffering you cause (as an individual) the best solution is to commit suicide."  Is THIS the ETHICS site?  Is that really what you want me to do, John?

Now, if someone wishes to claim that cows are more important than pin worms I guess I can live with that.  So a vegan might say, I like cows more than pin worms so I don't want to do things that hurt cows.  Okay... this sounds a bit more reasonable.  Of course.... this means that the idea that veganism is more ethical is only based on how the individual parses up the value of other creatures on earth.  This is all pretty fuzzy but at least it is honest."


The next time a cow starts drinking blood from your intestines, John, you have my stamp of approval to kill her –(what do the army movies say?  With prejudice?)

"As I have stated before, I understand and embrace the idea of rights.  Rights are given to all individual actors in our society.  This allows us to optimize options for each other within a safe and secure culture.  I cannot give "rights" to animals because they are not individuals.  Individuals have the ability to provide a tit-for-tat social agreement.  It is incoherent to me that an animal can have rights."


  “Rights are given to all individual actors in our society”  WTF???    By whom are these rights “given”?


.  “I cannot give "rights" to animals because they are not individuals.  Individuals have the ability to provide a tit-for-tat social agreement.”    What an unusual definition of “individual”.  Other animals are individuals.  My “FUNK and WAGNALLS begins with: Existing as an entity, single, particular.  My thesaurus gives these synonyms:  creature, being entity, personage, separate.

Nowhere does it say that to be considered an individual entity, one must able to provide a social agreement with you.

"And I would further like to clarify that there are many virtues in our culture.  Empathy (a rather recently defined term) is only one of them.  I actually agree with Stephen Pinker who states that Empathy should really be called Sympathy.  There are many other concepts that MUST be balanced against our sympathy/empathy.  What about fairness, or justice, or sharing, or hard work, or freedom of action?  There are MANY positive "virtues".  They must be balanced against each other."


 “What about fairness, or justice, or sharing”?  Yes, indeed, what about it?  That is what we are talking about!

"Claiming "emapthy" is the great and "only" virtue blasts a hole in other virtues and is strangely one-sided and a bit perverse."


Who made the claim that empathy is the only virtue?

John D says, "I don't think empathy is the right word for how you feel."  I will decide how I feel.  I will decide what word best describes my feelings.

I never used the word "rights", you did.  I am not talking about terminology for legal contracts, you are.  I am not calling cows citizens.  I am calling them individuals.  I do not parcel out my compassion and respect for another according to the size of his frontal cortex.  And, OF COURSE COWS HAVE CONSCIOUSNESS.

Well said Dogly. It is all too common in the west, particularly amongst Christians, that they believe they are special. Sometimes this is on the basis of intelligence which is such a weak argument. It is surprising to me that atheists have not grasped the full implications of evolution. We are all animals here. Discriminating on the basis of species is difficult to and so people get heated.
John D

What do you mean ethics is a social contract? Explain please.
John D

You have made your position very clear in that you do not care about the suffering of others, humans or other animals. I do. I believe that humans have the greatest capacity suffer. They have very developed nervous systems like many other higher order animals. What makes humans different is their capacity to contemplate the future. They can anticipate the loss of future lives, other animals cannot. You make this point too. So on most occasions it is more ethical to avoid pain and suffering to humans than to other species. This is not to say that we can ignore the interests of other animals, they are worthy of equal consideration, it is just the outcome that may be different. But, it will not be in every instance more ethical to favour the interests of humans over other animals.




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