26 January 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Let’s tell people of the quantum jump in energy efficiency that could be accomplished by eating less meat and having what meat is eaten be grass fed and pasture raised by local farmers.

It’s easy to cut meat consumption if you start with one day a week of no meat. People will be pleasantly surprised at how delicious vegetarian food can taste.

Bonnie Lane Webber
New York, Jan. 19, 2009

22 January 2009

Ends and Means

Somebody explain to me how this helps animals.

Campus Cuisine

Mylan Engel sent a link to this story about campus vegetarians.

21 January 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 2 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.


With respect to traditional moral vegetarianism some problems immediately come to the fore. Who exactly is not supposed to eat animals or products of animals? This problem is especially acute with respect to carnivorous animals. What animals is it morally wrong to eat? The answer to this becomes problematic with respect to microorganisms but also with respect to animals that might be capable of consenting to being eaten. If animals could be created by genetic engineering, could they be created so that there were no moral objections to eating them? Depending on the answer to this question, moral arguments for vegetarianism could be undercut by technology. What exactly is an animal product, and how does an animal product differ morally from an animal part? This brings up the question of how one can distinguish between what is forbidden by lactovo moral vegetarianism and vegan moral vegetarianism. Let us consider some of these problems in more detail.

Who Should Not Eat Meat, or What Does a Vegetarian Feed His Dog?

Vegetarians certainly cannot think that only vegetarians have a prima facie duty not to eat animals or animal products. For if they base their beliefs on a moral position it must be universalizable. But what is the extent of the universal moral principle? Presumably it would include all human beings, whether they are in the habit of eating animals or not. But why would it not extend to all animals, including carnivorous animals?

One might be inclined to say that this question is beside the point. Since animals cannot be judged morally praiseworthy or blameworthy, the question of whether it is morally wrong for them to eat meat cannot be raised. But this reply is based on a confusion between the praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of a moral agent and the rightness or wrongness of the action of an agent. Although animals may be free from blame in eating meat since they are not moral agents, animals in eating meat may still be doing something that is prima facie wrong.

KBJ: Martin cannot be serious. Moral concepts such as “right” and “wrong” apply only to autonomous beings. Since no animals are autonomous (in the sense of being capable of making laws for themselves, or acting on principle), moral concepts such as “right” and “wrong” don’t apply to them. Animals are like children and mentally defective adults in this respect. We don’t just withhold praise and blame from them; we refrain from evaluating their acts as right or wrong. This doesn’t mean we let them run wild, for we need to protect ourselves. It means we don’t make moral judgments about their behavior while we are incapacitating them. To see this, imagine animal-control officers putting a dog into their vehicle. The dog, let us say, has bitten a child. Wouldn’t it be funny for one of the officers to say to the other, “What that dog did to that child was wrong”?

Does this mean that a vegetarian would have to feed his dog some meat substitute? Not necessarily. The vegetarian might argue that there are other considerations that outweigh the prima facie wrong. For example, he might maintain that dogs need meat to live or at least to be healthy; that it would be more morally wrong for him to deprive the dog of life or health than morally wrong to feed it meat. In the case of human beings, the situation is different. Human beings can do without meat.

Now whether dogs can live and thrive without meat I do not know. It is certainly not self-evident that they could not live on meat substitutes. But even if dogs needed meat to live, it is not obvious that it is prima facie less wrong to eat meat than wrong to sacrifice a dog’s health or life. This becomes especially true when one realizes that vegetarians often argue that a reason that it is prima facie wrong to eat animals is that animals must be killed to provide the food. So in order to save the dog’s life or health, another animal must die.

KBJ: Martin has raised a genuine issue here, but it is not about whether it is wrong for a dog to eat meat; it is about whether it is wrong for a human to feed a dog meat. Why Martin is discussing this issue is puzzling. It is at best a side issue in the debate about moral vegetarianism. To see this, consider that the issue could be avoided altogether by not having a dog.

The vegetarian with a dog might also argue that, even if a dog could survive
on a nonmeat diet, to refuse to give the dog meat would not be in keeping with
the dog’s right to eat what it wants and what dogs want is meat. This argument
cuts too deep, however. Many humans want to eat meat, but this does not stop
vegetarians from saying that it is wrong for people to eat meat. Moreover, it is
unclear why the dog’s wants should overrule the alleged prima facie wrong of
eating meat, especially when this wrong is based on the alleged prima facie
wrong of killing an animal.

KBJ: I’ve never heard anyone defend the feeding of meat to his or her dog on the ground that the dog “wants” it. What might be argued is that the dog needs meat to survive or thrive, and then the question is whether one’s duty to the dog outweighs one’s duty to the animals the dog would eat. The very most Martin has shown is that one should not have a dog, since having a dog creates a moral dilemma for the person.

The issue of what the vegetarian should feed his dog is just the beginning of the problem. What should the attitude of a vegetarian be toward “nature red in tooth and claw”? The vegetarian knows that some animals in the wild eat other animals. Should he oppose this eating? If so, how? What other values should be sacrificed in order to prevent the killing and eating of wild animals by other wild animals? Suppose it were discovered that with proper training lions and tigers could live on zebra-flavored soy products. Should vegetarians promote a society that trains lions and tigers to eat such meat substitutes? This training would involve interfering with the freedom of lions and tigers, with the ecological balance, and so on. Many morally sensitive persons would look with disfavor on this interference. How much should the disvalue of this interference be weighed against the prevention of the killing of animal life?

KBJ: Three points. First, nobody is responsible for the actions of others, whether human or animal. I am responsible for my actions, you for yours, and so forth. Animals are not responsible even for their own actions, as I pointed out above. Second, intervening in predator-prey relationships to prevent suffering by (or death to) the prey is pointless, since it will cause the predator to suffer and die. Given how wild animals are, there is going to be suffering and death, no matter what we humans do. Third, there is nothing wrong, in general, with hypothetical questions, but Martin’s question about the lions and tigers is so fanciful that I don’t know what to say in reply to it. It’s like asking whether, if humans evolved the ability to fly, using only their arms, it would be permissible for government to regulate their flight.

18 January 2009

From the Mailbag


I've been reading your blog for a few months now and recommending it to others. Thanks for keeping it updated (so many don't).

I was wondering how you decide which links to put on your site? I am the president of the Animal Allies Club at my school (Utah Valley University) and I am now running a blog for the club. I was wondering if you wanted to list it in your links (it will give you a chance to have a listing under "U" - which you don't yet have :) - as the blog could be listed as the UVU (or Utah Valley University) Animal Allies Club Blog or something of that sort if you did want to add it.

Either way, here is the link to the blog so you can look at it.


13 January 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Bow Hunters’ Solitary Quest: Stalking an Elk and a Record” (front page, Jan. 6):

I was disappointed that you dignified the “harvest” (a classic euphemism) with high-tech bows and arrows of tule elk in California on the front page with references to the “sport” and compliance with “an ethical code known as Fair Chase.”

Trophy hunting is not a sport, which involves two individuals or teams that follow the same rules, are similarly equipped and let the best individual or team win.

Hunting will qualify as a sport only when the hunter fairly chases the animal, on foot, without a weapon, one on one. But hunters are not likely to accept that challenge, because the animals they chase are stronger, faster and smarter.

Robert H. Aland
Winnetka, Ill., Jan. 7, 2009

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Vegetarian Athletes

The close connection of Vegetarianism with temperance, simplicity, and general hardihood has been discovered by many thousands of persons since Dr. Cheyne recorded it, and has had its latest illustration in the doings of the Vegetarian Cycling Club, whose remarkable achievements have shown once more that flesh-eating is not by any means a necessary condition of athletic prowess. It cannot be mere accident that Vegetarians are almost invariably abstainers from alcohol and tobacco, that, man for man, they eat more sparingly, dress more lightly, live more naturally, and work harder than flesh-eaters, and are far less subject to illnesses and ailments.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 74)

09 January 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 1 of 13

Michael Martin is a professor of philosophy at Boston University. He is the author of several books, including Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990) and The Case Against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991). For what it’s worth, I consider Martin a good philosopher, indeed, a very good philosopher. His book on atheism is among the best I have read on that topic, which is why I used it in my Philosophy of Religion course many years ago. (I use different books in my courses to keep things interesting for me.)

A third of a century ago, when the modern animal-liberation movement was in its infancy, Martin published an essay entitled “A Critique of Moral Vegetarianism,” Reason Papers (fall 1976): 13-43. This was two years after Robert Nozick discussed the moral status of nonhuman animals in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974) and one year after Peter Singer published Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books, 1975). I read Martin’s essay only recently, having discovered it by accident. I propose to publish it in 13 installments, commenting on it as I go. I suspect that many readers of this blog are Christians but not vegetarians. You will, therefore, agree with Martin about moral vegetarianism but not about Christianity. I’m just the opposite; I agree with him about Christianity but not about moral vegetarianism. Let’s see whether his criticisms of moral vegetarianism are good ones. At no point will we speculate about Martin’s motives. For example, we will not claim that Martin is opposed to moral vegetarianism because he likes to eat meat without a guilty conscience. What motivates people to argue as they do is outside the province of philosophy. Philosophy is about reasons, not causes.

Martin’s text is indented. Mine is not. I omit the endnotes. If you would like a PDF file of Martin’s essay, please write to me.


Michael Martin
Boston University

Vegetarianism is an old and respectable doctrine, and its popularity seems to be growing. This would be of little interest to moral philosophers except for one fact, namely that some people advocate vegetarianism on moral grounds. Indeed, two well-known moral and social philosophers, Robert Nozick and Peter Singer, have recently advocated not eating meat on moral grounds.

One job of a moral philosophy [sic] should be to evaluate vegetarianism as a moral position, a position I will call moral vegetarianism. Unfortunately, there has been little critical evaluation of moral vegetarianism in the philosophical literature. Most moral philosophers have not been concerned with the problem, and those who have, e.g., Nozick, have made little attempt to analyze and evaluate the position. As a result, important problems implicit in the moral vegetarian’s position have gone unnoticed, and unsound arguments are still widely accepted.

KBJ: There are different reasons to abstain from meat. One is health. Some people believe (correctly or not) that a diet without meat is healthier than a diet with meat, and since they care about their health, they abstain. Another reason is moral. Some people believe (correctly or not) that it is wrong to eat meat. Martin’s concern is the latter, which is why he calls the view “moral vegetarianism.” The contrast would be, for example, “health vegetarianism.”

In this paper, I will critically examine moral vegetarianism. My examination will not be complete, of course. Some of the arguments I will present are not worked out in detail, and no detailed criticisms of any one provegetarian argument will be given. All the major provegetarian arguments I know will be critically considered, however. My examination will be divided into two parts. First, I will raise some questions that usually are not asked, let alone answered, by moral vegetarians. These questions will have the effect of forcing the moral vegetarian to come to grips with some ambiguities and unclarities in his position. Second, I will consider critically some of the major arguments given for moral vegetarianism.

KBJ: Permit me a comment on the organization of Martin’s essay (for the benefit of my students). First, he provides a short introduction to the topic of the essay, designed to lure the reader in; then he explains why he is writing it; and finally, he tells the reader what is to come. Good writers never leave their readers wondering what is going on.


Moral vegetarianism will be understood as the view that because of some moral principles one ought not to eat certain edible animals and perhaps animal products. Two varieties of moral vegetarianism can be distinguished: lactovo moral vegetarianism and vegan moral vegetarianism. On the lactovo variety, eating animal products, e.g., milk and eggs, would not be considered morally wrong, although eating certain animals would be; on the vegan variety, eating animal products would be morally forbidden as well.

Lactovo and vegan moral vegetarianism can be subdivided into what might be called new and old or traditional moral vegetarianism. On the traditional position, justification of vegetarianism was in terms of animal welfare, happiness, rights, and so on. In recent years another type of justification has been given: vegetarianism has been justified in terms of human suffering, rights, etc. There is, of course, nothing incompatible with using both kinds of considerations in justifying vegetarianism. What seems to be absent in some recent vegetarian arguments, however, is any consideration of animals. (Arguments for the new moral vegetarianism will be considered later.)

KBJ: Martin has already made two distinctions. One can go on all day making distinctions, obviously, but that would be pointless. Philosophers make distinctions in order to focus attention on particular classes of things. For example, there may be an argument for lactovo moral vegetarianism that is not also an argument for vegan moral vegetarianism. The distinction between old and new moral vegetarianism shows that new arguments continue to be made. Each argument has an audience. People who care only about humans, for example, will not be persuaded by “old” vegetarian arguments, for those arguments rested on concern for animals. People who care about both humans and animals will have two reasons, rather than one, to abstain from meat—provided, of course, that the arguments are good ones.

It is clear that in order to have any plausibility moral vegetarianism must be construed as the view that there is a prima facie duty, rather than an absolute duty, not to eat meat or animal products. Suppose a mad scientist will blow up the world unless you consume a beef steak. If the duty not to eat meat were an absolute one, you should not eat the steak. But surely this is absurd. So the duty not to eat meat cannot be an absolute one. The important question, then, is when this alleged prima facie duty can be overruled.

KBJ: Think of a prima facie duty as a presumptive duty. It is a duty, but it can be “overruled,” overridden, or rebutted by other moral considerations. For example, I have a duty to keep my promise to meet a friend for dinner, but this duty can be overridden by a stronger duty, say, to rescue people who are involved in an accident. Don’t be thrown off by the fanciful nature of Martin’s example. He is making a simple point: that the duty to abstain from meat (if there is such a duty) is presumptive rather than absolute. It may help to think of a scale. A presumptive duty means that one side of the scale has weight on it (representing the duty). Unless enough weight is put on the other side of the scale to outweigh that side, it prevails.

In old moral vegetarianism one can distinguish at least two positions (a hard-line and a moderate position) on this question, and these can be illustrated by the following example. Suppose you are marooned on a desert island inhabited by edible birds. Suppose there is no edible plant life on the island and you have a gun. For nonvegetarians the choice is easy. You should survive as best you can, and killing the birds and eating them is the only way, given the situation as described. But what does the nonvegetarian assume in arguing in this way? Presumably that a bird’s life is less valuable than one’s own. This is exactly what strict moral vegetarians would question.

Consider a different situation. Suppose that instead of birds the island contains people. Would it be morally permissible for you to kill some people and eat them? It is certainly not clear that it would be, unless perhaps all the people on the island agree to some form of cannibalism and draw lots to decide who is to be sacrificed for food. The question that would be asked by the hard-line moral vegetarian is why there is a difference if there are birds on the island instead of people. It would be argued that to suppose that a bird’s life is less valuable than a human life is a form of speciesism, a doctrine of prejudice analogous to racism and sexism. On this hard-line view one ought never to kill any nonhuman animal unless it were right to kill a human being in the same circumstance. Clearly in our second hypothetical situation, it would be said, it would not be right to kill a human being for food. Consequently it would be wrong to kill and eat a bird.

A vegetarian holding a moderate position might argue that it is prima facie wrong to kill an animal for food but that certain human rights, e.g., the right to life, can override this prima facie wrong. On this view there are cases in which it would not be right to kill a human being but it would be right to kill an animal. One such case would be where human life depended on the nourishment that animals give when killed and eaten. Note that this would not justify the killing and consuming of animals in contemporary society where various meat substitutes are available. An important question for the moderate is: On what plausible moral principle can the distinction between animals and human beings be made?

KBJ: Martin is not yet arguing, or even criticizing. He is analyzing. Specifically, he is drawing out the implications of two positions: the hard-line position, which always requires equal treatment between humans and animals, and the moderate position, which doesn’t always require it. By this time, you should be able to locate yourself in Martin’s logical space. He has drawn five distinctions: (1) between vegetarianism and nonvegetarianism; (2) between moral vegetarianism and nonmoral vegetarianism; (3) between lactovo and vegan moral vegetarianism; (4) between new and old moral vegetarianism; and (5) between hard-line (absolutist) and moderate moral vegetarianism.

08 January 2009

Don't Kill the Whale

Here is Andrew Revkin's latest post at Dot Earth. Here is the Yes video:

07 January 2009

Eating Rocky

Forget Bambi. Squirrel meat is all the rage in Great Britain. See here for the story.

06 January 2009


Here is a New York Times story about bow hunting for elk.

Addendum: Notice the two meanings of "nimrod."

04 January 2009


Alex Halperin sent a link to this essay (of his) about Rwandan gorillas.

01 January 2009


This blog had 3,287 visits during December, which is an average of 106.0 visits per day.