14 January 2004

R. G. Frey on Taking Morality Seriously

A presumption of those who urge the boycott of meat on moral grounds is that, if they can obtain our agreement that eating meat is wrong, we shall change our diet accordingly. They presume, that is, that we take morality seriously and so are concerned to behave according to our moral beliefs. For it is not merely a change in our views about meat-eating but also a change in our diet or eating practices which they seek.

The overwhelming majority of us not only eat meat but also very much enjoy it; if our present diet is to be changed, therefore, the case for changing it is going to have to be powerful enough to overcome our great love of meat dishes. This does not entail that the case in question will be a moral one; but unless we are in some way compelled to become vegetarians, it is difficult to think of a more powerful case than a moral one to effect the desired change, given that this case must breast the current of our enormous liking for meat. Obviously, the power of such a case, as I have said, depends upon our taking morality seriously, since only if we do so can moral claims hope to overcome our love of meat.

Importantly, the aim of those who urge the boycott of meat on moral grounds, of, that is, moral vegetarians, is not necessarily to rid us of our liking of meat (though doubtless they hope this will come in time) but to have us abstain from meat, even if we persist in liking it.

(R. G. Frey, Rights, Killing, and Suffering: Moral Vegetarianism and Applied Ethics [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983], 3-4)