13 April 2004

From the Mailbag

Dr. Burgess-Jackson,

Yesterday you posted a letter from "Donovan." May I reply?

Dear Donovan,

As a fellow omnivore, I also believe in eating meat. However, I am dismayed that you so blithely dismiss animal suffering. While the position that animals are not morally equivalent to humans is defensible, we still ought not to cause unnecessary pain and suffering when it is avoidable. If you are unwilling to minimize suffering for the sake of animals, do so for your own sake. The way we treat "lessers"—however one might define that term, reflects on us and changes us.

The best parallel that I can think of is the historical opposition that many virulent racists offered to the institution of slavery. They opposed chattel bondage not because they felt any sympathy for Africans but because the racists were alarmed by the way that the institution coarsened slaveholders.

I believe (the good professor will have to confirm this for me; it has been awhile since freshman philosophy) that Aquinas extended this rationale to animals. If I may paraphrase badly: even though they do not have moral weight (souls) we ought to treat them well so as not to develop the habit of cruelty that might then be extended to our fellow man.

You don't have to become a vegetarian to eschew being a cog in the horror machine. Buy humanely raised meat and enjoy it with a clean conscience.


Your political posts still tend to irk me, but the animal rights stuff is always thought-provoking.

All the best.

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