26 October 2005

Peter Singer on Vegetarianism and Absolutism

Vegetarianism is, for me, a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Whether we ought to be vegetarians depends on a lot of facts about the situation in which we find ourselves.

Some writers find this strange. They think of vegetarians as moral absolutists, who will stick to their belief in the immorality of eating meat no matter what. Thus Cora Diamond writes: “. . . one curious feature of the Peter Singer sort of argument . . . is that your Peter Singer vegetarian should be perfectly happy to eat the unfortunate lamb that has just been hit by a car.” Why is this curious? It is only curious on the assumption that vegetarians must think it always wrong to eat meat. No doubt some vegetarians are moral absolutists, just as there are absolute pacifists, absolute antiabortionists and absolutist truth-tellers who would never tell a lie. I reject all these forms of moral absolutism.

(Peter Singer, “Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 [summer 1980]: 325-37, at 327-8 [italics and ellipses in original; footnote omitted])

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