Zeno:  The philosopher David Hume pointed out that one can not logically deduce an "ought" from an "is."  There is nothing that we "ought" to do.  Morality is not an element in the periodic table, nor is it an objective and inalterable property of the universe.  Our morality will depend on our desires and circumstances.  If we wish to live and be happy, there are certain things that we need to do, but there is no "ought."  There is no universal cosmic code of justice that we can hold up as our standard for comparison.  

It is not obvious that we "ought" to do anything.   Oughts are metaphysical baggage from an earlier time.  The concept does not bear close scrutiny any more than the traditional concept of the soul.  There are however things we "need" to do in order to be happy and healthy.  If a sound argument can be made that veganism can make us happier and healthier, then we might say that it is reasonable to adopt it if we wish to be happy and healthy, though there is the further problem that different people may of course mean different things by "healthy" and "happy."

Plato:  Sam Harris says in the Moral Landscape that morally good actions are ones that increase the well-being of conscious creatures.

Zeno:  Yes, he takes that as an axiom.  But people may or may not agree with this choice of axiom.  If we agree, then his argument is valid.  Why should we however prefer the well-being of all conscious creatures?  And how shall we define "conscious"?  This is murky territory.

I for my part agree with Sam; this is my preference, but I am not sure that he has demonstrated that there is anything we "ought" to do, only what we need to do in order to be consistent with this particular choice of axiom.

Plato:  I think he says science can tell us what we ought to do in order to move towards the well-being of all creatures.

Zeno:  It seems that he is using "ought" to mean what is "necessary."  If we first accept that our objective is the well-being of all conscious creatures, then he makes a good argument.  I am just not sure how one could logically justify taking the well-being of all conscious creatures as an axiom.  It seems that this can only ever be a preference, and not all people have the same preference.  Though I share Sam's preference, my neighbor might prefer the well-being of only aardvarks for example.  

We observe that most people value their own well-being and that of those closest to them, but if we wish for people to adopt a principle such as veganism, can we make the case that people will be healthier, happier etc. if they adopt it?

Science can not tell us to prefer chocolate to vanilla, life to death, health to sickness.  We have basic desires, and science can show us how to be consistent with those desires, or how to achieve our targets.  People may disagree about the definitions of happiness, health, etc.  Most of us agree that it is better to be alive than dead, fed than starved, clothed than naked, but this is not a universal.  If we agree on our preferences, then we may proceed from that basis to determine whether a given principle, in this case veganism, is consistent with that set of preferences.

Plato:  But what else could be more morally good than the well being of conscious creatures? If we accept this then surely science can direct our choices.

Zeno:  That is a good question.  What if my neighbor believes that morality is defined as what is good for our species?  Yes, I agree that once we accept an axiom, science can indeed inform our decisions.

Plato:  I think the axiom would still hold because it is self-evident i.e. the wellbeing for all conscious creatures has to be better than the wellbeing for just some conscious creatures? True your neighbour probably wouldn't accept it but that shouldn't change our thinking any more than another neighbour who favours his own race, or sex.

Zeno:  It is not self-evident.  If it were, everyone would agree on the axiom.  

Evolution has meant that we tend to favor our own survival over that of other species.  One might argue however that the continuation of other species is relevant to our own well-being.

The cold, hard question is why should one care more about a rabbit than a radish?  Where do we draw the line?  Why exactly are lions more important than bacteria?  And even if we do agree that consciousness is relevant, how do we determine what is sufficiently conscious to deserve our protection?  Consciousness lies on a continuum.  Where we draw the line will be arbitrary.  If you say that rabbits are more deserving of our protection than ants, you will have to justify that.  

But why have we decided that some types of life are more worthy of our consideration than others?  This is a matter of preference.  I hope perhaps that people will share my preference, but I can not pretend that there is some universal moral standard that obligates people to treat rabbits differently from radishes or bacteria.  

Consider cultures where it is acceptable to eat dogs.   Those people who choose to eat dogs apparently feel little to no empathy for their food of choice.  I find their choice disturbing.  It certainly seems self-evident to me that one should not harm dogs, but it is not self-evident to them,

One must make a sound argument to support the notion that we should consider the well-being of all "conscious" (however that is determined) life.  Self-evident notions on the other hand require no explanation as they are intuitive to any given observer.  That is what self-evident means.

Plato:  I believe that the wellbeing for all conscious creatures is morally the best possible world to work towards. This is self-evident to me but I understand your objection that it should be self-evident to everybody or otherwise it should not be called self-evident. But by this definition surely we cannot call anything self-evident because we will never know if everyone finds it self-evident. Perhaps we should call it true instead. If we know something is true, such as evolution, it makes no difference to the truth claim if half the world doesn't believe it to be true.

Why should one care more about a rabbit than a radish? Because a rabbit is a conscious sentient creature. Why exactly are Lions more important than bacteria? Because Lions are conscious sentient creatures.

Where we draw the line on a continuum matters little in the real world of animal suffering but I understand it is a matter of importance in philosophy. It is possible that rabbits aren't more important than ants but we can easily stop our contribution to the suffering of rabbits by being vegan.

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Comment by Frankie Dapper on February 16, 2016 at 11:04am

Serving the greater good and acknowledging the primacy of might makes right is good business. No need for circumlocution. Lest any fence sitters demure I would be remiss in failing to point out that we can be humane in dispatching our human dross.

Additionally it should be noted that an idea at first blush may appear insupportable and shocking. But when one considers the tribal and ragtag anthropophagy of yesteryear and the indubitable moral superiority of the instant modest proposal such shyness melts away like the last vestige of winter.

Comment by Bertold Brautigan on February 16, 2016 at 7:07am

Anthrophagy über allles!

Comment by Frankie Dapper on February 16, 2016 at 2:52am

A modest proposal: The philosophical justification of vegetarianism/veganism is a matter of choice rather than being imperative, therefore we are justified in extending our omnivorous diet to include homo sapiens. It is my contention that the greater good appertains in utilizing all resources. 

We needn't raise humans for slaughter since the cycles of human misery consistently produce copious human refuse. (The reader will recognize the advantages in "farming" without cultivating.) It is in the spirit of utilitarianism that unwanted, unloved and unclean underclass feed those of us sometimes labeled "haves".

Yes, it can be argued that the underclass has emotions, thoughts and is self-aware. But so are the mammals and birds we breed and raise to be slaughtered. And certainly their wits and emotions are diminished in comparison to "haves". And this can scarcely be argued considering the additional trauma and lack of education.

The forward-thinking reader will no doubt recognize the advantages in promoting church doctrine in third world nations. The increase in inventory by virtue of the moral leanings of religious institutions insure the continued availability of more reasonably priced meat. At the same time the population of the world stays in balance. And perhaps a footnote can be added here in that the suffering of the underclass is alleviated. Can you say win/win?

Comment by Frankie Dapper on February 16, 2016 at 2:52am

A modest proposal: The philosophical justification of vegetarianism/veganism is a matter of choice rather than being imperative, therefore we are justified in extending our omnivorous diet to include homo sapiens. It is my contention that the greater good appertains in utilizing all resources. 

We needn't raise humans for slaughter since the cycles of human misery consistently produce copious human refuse. (The reader will recognize the advantages in "farming" without cultivating.) It is in the spirit of utilitarianism that unwanted, unloved and unclean underclass feed those of us sometimes labeled "haves".

Yes, it can be argued that the underclass has emotions, thoughts and is self-aware. But so are the mammals and birds we breed and raise to be slaughtered. And certainly their wits and emotions are diminished in comparison to "haves". And this can scarcely be argued considering the additional trauma and lack of education.

The forward-thinking reader will no doubt recognize the advantages in promoting church doctrine in third world nations. The increase in inventory by virtue of the moral leanings of religious institutions insure the continued availability of more reasonably priced meat. At the same time the population of the world stays in balance. And perhaps a footnote can be added here in that the suffering of the underclass is alleviated. Can you say win/win?

Comment by Donald L. Engel on January 27, 2016 at 11:32pm

I thought the last two paragraphs would have been your side of the argument.  If not, my apologies.

Comment by Wyatt on January 27, 2016 at 10:18pm
My argument, Donald? Have you not realized which of the two characters in the dialogue represents my opinion?
Hmm...
Comment by Bertold Brautigan on January 27, 2016 at 1:37pm

If god didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat??

Comment by Donald L. Engel on January 27, 2016 at 12:31pm

Wyatt, there is a problem with your argument.  Throughout your essay you refer to an animal as "suffering".  The animal is not suffering as you eat it, unless you are eating it while it is still alive.  When I was a child, we raised rabbits for eating, and they lived a comfortable life.  We played with them, and they came to us to be petted.  When dad killed one for dinner that night, the death was instantaneous, and they did not suffer. 

I realize that in the commercial field, there is a lot of suffering in the way the animals are handled.  But that is a social problem that should be corrected, and has nothing to do with the need to eat meat. 

I said previously that there seems to be a need for us to eat meat, and I thought of something else that might go along with that.  The Eskimos lived on meat only during the winter months.  And that far north, winter lasts a long time.

Comment by tom sarbeck on January 27, 2016 at 1:42am

A vegetarian woman once teased me, a carnivore, saying I eat dead animals.

I right away teased her back, saying she eats plants that may be still living.

Comment by Donald L. Engel on January 22, 2016 at 12:24am

It is my understanding that if you are a pure vegan, you have to take dietary supplements to replace what you are missing from not eating meat.  If that is true, it seems to me that our bodies are meant for us to be meat eaters.  And it seems to me that every time they find ancient human remains around a camp fire, they find evidence of animal bones.

We've been eating meat for a long time, and I'm going to continue the tradition.  (I have to.  We have a freezer full of meat.)

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