The Argument from Glass-Walled Slaughter Houses
Mel Morse, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, once remarked: “If every one of our slaughter houses were constructed of glass this would be a nation of vegetarians.” One might assume—although again this assumption may not be jusitified [sic]—that Mr. Morse was using this consideration as a moral argument for vegetarianism. But what exactly does the argument construed as a moral argument amount to? Perhaps it can be unpacked in this way: the blood and gore of slaughter houses is disgusting and is enough to turn many people’s stomachs; so if people saw what went on in slaughter houses, they would not eat meat; consequently one should become a vegetarian.
KBJ: I have no idea why Martin thinks Morse is arguing. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard. Philosophers are trained to criticize arguments and derive satisfaction from doing so. In their zeal to criticize, they mistake observations or explanations for arguments. Isn’t it obvious that Morse is trying to explain something, namely, why decent, sensitive people participate in an institution that inflicts a great deal of suffering on animals? The explanation is ignorance: These people do not know how their meat is produced. If they knew, they wouldn’t eat it.
But the argument so construed is weak. Even granted the premises, the moral conclusion does not follow from the factual premises. The general premises about natural reactions do not yield ethical conclusions. Furthermore, the argument cuts too deep. It should be noted that people might have strong negative gut reactions to large-scale food preparation having nothing to do with meat or animal products. One suspects that there would be fewer peanut butter lovers if the walls of peanut butter factories were made of glass, for it has been reported by Consumer Reports (May 1972) that rodent hairs and other disgusting materials were found in many of the jars of peanut butter they tested. Conditions inside peanut butter factories may be less than appetizing, yet this hardly provides moral grounds for refraining from eating peanut butter. Even if sanitary conditions were improved, the sight of tons of peanuts being ground and large vats of peanut butter being processed might have a depressing effect on one’s desire for a peanut butter sandwich. But again this is hardly moral grounds for not eating peanut butter.
KBJ: I agree with Martin that the argument he made up is weak. May we move on to something plausible?