22 February 2010

A Look at Humane Farming

The film Partitions (running time: 14 minutes) by Audrey Kali gives an intimate glimpse of the ethical struggles that five small-scale meat farmers face when their animals are slaughtered. In this film, we see farmers interacting with the animals they will eventually transform into food (chickens, pigs, and cattle). The farmers in the film confront very difficult questions posed by the filmmaker about why they think their approach to processing of meat is different from that of factory farming. Although the farmers can easily answer that their animals are treated more humanely whilst alive, their discomfort about being asked questions regarding the slaughter process is visually and audibly obvious.

This film provides an accurate portrayal of small-scale, non-intensive animal farming. This is as humane as "humane farming" gets. One of the farmers interviewed says: "We give our pigs and our chickens many weeks of relatively happy life." The farmer fails to note that the natural lifespan of pigs is 11-15 years and the natural lifespan of chickens is 5-11 years, depending on breed. After watching the film, the viewer can decide whether giving these animals a few weeks of "a relatively happy life" is humane enough to justify taking these animals' lives for products that no one needs.

12 February 2010

Sanctuary Tails

Here is the Farm Sanctuary blog.

06 February 2010

Philip E. Devine on the Vegetarian's Dilemma

Philip E. Devine The sum of the matter is as follows. Either the vegetarian argues on utilitarian premises, or he tries to supplement or replace his utilitarianism with some plausible non-utilitarian principles implying the wrongfulness of rearing and killing animals for food. In the first case, there is no way around the suggestion, which many people appear to believe, that animal experience is so lacking in intensity that the pains of animals are overridden by the pleasures experienced by human beings. That the argument may appear cynical is no concern of the utilitarian, who is forced by his moral theory to admit the relevance of even the most cynical-seeming arguments. On the other hand, all the non-utilitarian principles which have been put forward turn out on inspection to have reference only to human beings. If they were to be abandoned, the practical result would be more likely to be that human beings would be treated as we now treat animals rather than animals as we now treat (or believe that we should treat) human beings.

(Philip E. Devine, "The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism," Philosophy 53 [October 1978]: 481-505, at 491)

Note from KBJ: Devine's argument takes the following form:
1. Either the vegetarian argues on utilitarian grounds or the vegetarian argues on nonutilitarian grounds.

2. If the vegetarian argues on utilitarian grounds, then vegetarianism is unsupported.

3. If the vegetarian argues on nonutilitarian grounds, then vegetarianism is unsupported.


4. Either vegetarianism is unsupported or vegetarianism is unsupported (from 1, 2, and 3, constructive dilemma).


5. Vegetarianism is unsupported (from 4, tautology).
The argument is valid (i.e., truth-preserving), and the first premise is true, but the second premise is false. Devine seems to think that if humans cease eating meat, they will derive no pleasure from eating. But not eating meat doesn't mean you get no pleasure from eating; it means, at most, that you get less pleasure from eating. Think of the difference between eating a hamburger and eating a veggie burger, for example. It is not as though the latter produces no pleasure! So the choice is between inflicting terrible pain and deprivation on animals and getting slightly less pleasure from eating. It's pretty clear that utilitarianism supports vegetarianism. Certainly Devine has not established that it does not.

05 February 2010

W. V. Quine (1908-2000) on Altruism

W. V. Quine (1908-2000) There remains the awkward matter of a conflict of ultimate values within the individual. It could have to do with the choice of a career, or mate, or vacation spot. The predicament in such a non-moral case will concern only the individual and a few associates. When the ultimate values concerned are moral ones, on the other hand, and more particularly altruistic ones, the case is different; for the individual in such a dilemma has all society on his conscience.

The basic difficulty is that the altruistic values that we acquire by social conditioning and perhaps by heredity are vague and open-ended. Primitively the premium is on kin, and primitively therefore the tribe in its isolation affords a bold boundary between the beneficiaries of one's altruism and the alien world. Nowadays the boundary has given way to gradations. Moreover, we are prone to extrapolate; extrapolation was always intrinsic to induction, that primitive propensity that is at the root of all science. Extrapolation in science, however, is under the welcome restraint of stubborn fact: failures of prediction. Extrapolation in morals has only our unsettled moral values themselves to answer to, and it is these that the extrapolation was meant to settle.

Today we unhesitatingly extrapolate our altruism beyond our close community. Most of us extend it to all mankind. But to what degree? One cannot reasonably be called upon to love even one's neighbor quite as oneself. Is love to diminish inversely as the square of the distance? Is it to extend, in some degree, to the interests of individuals belonging to other species than [our] own? As regards capricious killing, one hopes so; but what of vivisection, and of the eating of red meat?

One thinks also of unborn generations. Insofar as our moral standards were shaped by evolution for fostering the survival of the race, a concern for the unborn was assured. One then proceeds, however, as one will, to systematize and minimize one's ethical axioms by reducing some causally to others. This effort at system-building leads to the formulation and scrutiny of principles, and one is then taken aback by the seeming absurdity of respecting the interests of nonexistent people: of unactualized possibilities. This counter-revolutionary bit of moral rationalization is welcome as it touches population control, since the blind drive to mass procreation is now so counter-productive. But the gratification is short-lived, for the same rationalization would seem to condone a despoiling of the environment for the exclusive convenience of people now living.

It need not. A formulation is ready to hand which sustains the moral values that favor limiting the population while still safeguarding the environment. Namely, it is a matter of respecting the future interests of people now unborn, but only of future actual people. We recognize no present unactualized possibilities.

Thus we do what we can with our ultimate values, but we have to deplore the irreparable lack of the empirical check points that are the solace of the scientist. Loose ends are untidy at best, and disturbingly so when the ultimate good is at stake.

(W. V. Quine, "On the Nature of Moral Values," in Values and Morals: Essays in Honor of William Frankena, Charles Stevenson, and Richard Brandt, ed. Alvin I. Goldman and Jaegwon Kim [Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978], 37-45, at 44-5 [italics in original])

01 February 2010


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