31 August 2009
28 August 2009
21 August 2009
The Argument from Superior Aliens’ Invasion
John Harris advances the following consideration to show the immorality of eating meat.
Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat animals you breed, keep, and kill for food?
The implication is certainly that it would be inconsistent for us to think that it is morally permissible for us to eat nonhuman animals but wrong for superior aliens to eat us.
But it is not clear that it is inconsistent if there is a relevant moral difference between animals and humans not found between humans and superior aliens. Our discussion above of the concept of person suggests a difference. Most human beings and presumably all of Harris’s aliens are persons. Most animals are probably not persons. Consequently, if personhood is the ground for the right to life, there need be no inconsistency in maintaining that it is morally permissible for us to kill and eat most animals, given that we cause them no pain, preserve the ecological balance, and so on, and that it is wrong for the aliens to kill and eat us, even though they kill us painlessly and so on.
KBJ: The following three propositions are inconsistent:
The truth of any two of these propositions entails the falsity of the third. Since the propositions are inconsistent, every rational person must reject at least one of them. Harris rejects 3. Martin rejects 1. Do you know of anyone who rejects 2? Please don’t say that there aren’t any superior aliens. We don’t know that; and even if there aren’t, there could be, and it therefore makes sense to ask what one would say about them if they came here and wanted to eat us.
1. There is no morally relevant difference between humans and animals that would (a) justify the eating of animals by humans without (b) justifying the eating of humans by superior aliens.
2. It is wrong for superior aliens to eat humans.
3. It is not wrong for humans to eat animals.
19 August 2009
(J. J. C. Smart, "Utilitarianism and Generalized Benevolence," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 61 [January-April 1980]: 115-21, at 115 [italics in original; endnote omitted])
Note from KBJ: Smart is mistaken if he thinks that only utilitarianism accords moral status to animals. Many prominent animal-rights advocates (such as Tom Regan) are deontologists rather than consequentialists. Perhaps Smart was still thinking (in 1980) of Kant versus Bentham, rationality versus sentience. If so, then he is to be excused; but nobody today can think that any particular moral theory has an advantage over the others based on the status it accords animals. Peter Singer, like Smart, is a utilitarian, but he told me personally several years ago that his argument for animal liberation is independent of utilitarianism. This is good, because if animal liberation depended on or presupposed utilitarianism, there would be far fewer people who believe that animals have moral status.
17 August 2009
14 August 2009
(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 108 [footnote omitted])
Note from KBJ: Sadly, not much has changed in the past 110 years. Many philosophers who rail against torture, capital punishment, war, racism, and indifference to human poverty have no qualms about consuming animal flesh. Can you say "cognitive dissonance"?