I wanted to go through some of the arguments I regularly hear from otherwise intelligent people. It just doesn't make sense to me how someone could take these arguments seriously.

1. "Animals aren't rational."

And children and the mentally disabled are? In a slightly more humorous note, has anyone read the news recently? How many times have you read that some dude superglued his penis to something? And does this mean we can eat Christians?

2. "You've got to kill something either way. Either it's the plants or it's the animals, and I choose to eat the animals."

But... animals eat, too, so even here, veganism wins out. Generally speaking, it takes ten pounds of something on the lower step in the circle of life to get one pound of something on the higher. In other words, every pound of meat you eat generally takes ten pounds of plant to grow, so you're really killing not just the animal, but ten times as much plant, too.

(To be pedantic, I've heard that the ten-to-one ratio is only a guideline, and that - so I've heard - cows, for instance, actually have closer to an eleven-to-one ratio. Of course, factory-farmed cows also eat a lot of ground-up cows, so that lowers the ratio...)

More to the point, animals have nervous systems and can suffer, whereas plants don't. In fact, most of the things we eat off of plants are designed by the plants to be eaten. It's what a fruit is!

3. "We need to kill animals for nutrition."

Not according to the American Dietetic Association.

4. "Hunting/fishing/eating chezburger is fun."

So is stealing! And beating the crap out of people you don't like, and a host of other bad things. We don't do them because they're wrong, not because they aren't fun.

And my personal favorite,
5. "You don't have any right to force your moral philosophy on me."

To which, of course, I have to disagree. Ethics just is about what we are required to do, and to prevent others from doing. This isn't a lifestyle decision, this isn't something that affects no one but you and is therefore no one else's business, this is a crime you're committing against someone, and the rest of us have a right and more importantly a responsibility to try to stop it. That's just what ethics is. Ideally, we'd be able to reason with each other and come to some sort of agreement, but I'm not going to let someone else rape that child because I don't want to appear dogmatic or like I'm "forcing my moral philosophy" on the rapist. That's just silly.

Some of the more reasonable ones I've heard, though, include:
6. "Farming kills animals through pesticides and habitat destruction, so since I'm killing animals anyway, I might as well get chezburger out of it."

That almost appears rational until you remember that animals need to eat, too, and growing meat to eat actually causes more environmental destruction than even the worst plants to eat. Plus, um, you're still killing the animals.

7. "We all have to draw a line between sentient and non-sentient. Is a bacteria okay to kill? What about a fly? What about a cow? I just draw the line nearer to humans than you do."

This I have to say is the strongest argument against veganism I've ever heard. It's actually pretty good. However, I have two objections to it.

First is what I like to call the Vegan's Wager (I think I made it up myself, I haven't heard anyone else say it that I know of): in areas where an organism's moral status is reasonably unclear, we ought to extend moral consideration as far as possible, because, well, what if you're wrong? One way you lose chezburger, and the other way you're a murderer. Which is worse? I'll keep my moral high ground any day.

The other objection is that real morality is never about right versus wrong, it's about better versus worse. Is it better to swap the spider, or to catch it in a net and let it out? Is it better to kill something and eat it, or not? (Perhaps more appropriately, is it better to kill and eat a lot of things, or just a few things?) Once you've found the option that's better, the only issue left ought to be one of putting it into practice. Yes, change is difficult, but know what? So is life. Get over it. If you don't like hard things, then, well, there's nothing easier than dying and nothing harder than living, as the saying goes.

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Replies to This Discussion

You're right, putting abstract arguments into practice is extremely messy, and I wouldn't necessarily rule out even the hunting of animals under various circumstances. However, I don't think that changes the basic issue at hand, which is whether or not, to argue in a vacuum, killing or harming animals is basically moral. In certain circumstances it's obviously justified, just as there are plenty of circumstances when it would be moral to kill a human being.

Getting to milk and eggs, it depends (as you referred to) on how the animal is treated. Due to the oddities of urban sprawl, I literally live next door to what's basically a free-range farm. I have cows next door (and chickens, pigeons, goats, horses, and an occasional llama) that graze in a pasture and are basically treated amazingly well. A number of the children in the neighborhood help out with the chores sometimes, keeping the animals fed and all. I have a hard time getting upset about it, though in a perfect world, I'd like to think that the animals wouldn't be killed, full-stop. I can't really see a problem with the goat milk or cheese that's produced there, since the goats at least aren't killed for meat, but it's possible that I'm not fully aware of the risks involved. I have heard that eggs, even free-range ones, harm a chicken's health and reduce their lifespan because chickens just aren't designed to be producing eggs 24/7 - but at least it's not a factory farm :P

Animals for research is a toughie for me, because unlike animals for food and clothing (at least in the developed world), there's an actual benefit to it besides someone's personal taste. There are still problems, though. First of all, the vast majority of animal research isn't applicable to humans because our biology just is too different, so that a) the research is still going to have to be done human beings, anyway and b) immense resources are basically wasted on research that's not going to be valid, anyway. Second, how many discoveries are accidental? I think it could be reasonably argued that by performing research on animals instead of humans, you're actually losing a decent amount of benefit, which reduces the effectiveness of the argument that animal research is justified due to the benefit received. Third, animals generally can't give permission like humans can. Of course, this argument has its issues, because human beings are smarter and basically just do have to make some decisions on animals' behalf. But, should we be making those decisions based on what's best for the animal, or what's best for us? And finally, I'll just add that, at least in the U.S., we put plenty of people on death row every year, anyway. Why are we electrocuting them instead of experimenting on them - I know it's a bit morbid, but that's at least one way they can pay back their debt to society.
I wholly disagree on you on a couple points :P It's not at all like telling an atheist to believe in God because you have nothing to lose, because you have in fact very many reasons to believe that there is in fact no God. On the other hand, I was very careful to word my argument that one should err on the side of morality only when there is reasonable doubt. We have no reasonable reason to believe that killing plants hurts them because first, most are designed to be eaten, and second, none of them even have a nervous system which is a prerequisite for feeling. Animals, on the other hand, generally don't fit either category (milk is a slightly different issue.)

Doing these out of order, and getting to you on #5, it really doesn't matter that you have to kill things in order to live. That's totally beside the point. The question is, are all living things on equal footing for being killed? That's the issue at hand, not whether it's necessary to eat other living things, and the arguments being made is that there is a very clear hierarchy, at least between animals and plants.
It is always, always best to swat the spider. Always.
Query: In a vegan world, what would you do with all the domestic farm animals? Due to centuries of artificial selection most domestic animals would die without human care, such as cows that need to be milked on a regular basis, and are unlikely to survive in the wild - if not from lack of care then from predation.
Realistically, changes wouldn't happen overnight, and as demand lowered, they'd stop being produced. I assume that some might be kept as pets or something, but for the most part they'd stop being bred.
How do you feel about domestic animals being used to grow human organs for transplant patients? I've heard this idea being put forward but I don't know if it's had any success. I've also heard of pigs being geneticly modified to produce human insulin.

I almost included this in my previous question, but decided to leave it out incase you addressed it in your answer. It seems to me that if America stopped eating meat farm animals would be repurposed rather than slowly phased out. If a farmer is losing profits by selling his animals to the slaughter house he'd likely search for another means of income rather than lose his business.
That's possible, and it does certainly muddy the waters a bit. To put it this way, how would you feel about humans being farmed for body parts for other people? What if the person is a criminal?

Ideally, the question would become moot whenever stem cell technology is developed enough that we won't have a need for this sort of thing, which hopefully isn't far in the future.

I agree with you that farmers will probably make attempts for find alternative markets for their products, but that's why vegans don't use any animal products whatsoever. In the hypothetical vegan world put forward, farmers wouldn't have anywhere to turn and would eventually have to find more meaningful and beneficial forms of work. In the real world, it'll probably cut into their profits, which will get them more government subsidies, which will lead to public backlash and hopefully a cutting of those subsidies, and slowly, slowly, more and more of them would have to find new work. If they started using animals to grow human organs, it'd take longer to turn public opinion against it, but I think it would happen eventually.



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