by Dwight Furrow
There are many sound arguments for drastically cutting back on our consumption of meat—excessive meat consumption wastes resources, contributes to climate change, and has negative consequences for health. But there is no sound argument based on the rights of animals for avoiding meat entirely.
Last month, Grist's food writer Nathanael Johnson published an article in which he claims philosophers have failed to even take up, let alone defeat, the influential arguments against eating meat in Peter Singer's 1975 book, Animal Liberation.
My enquiries didn't turn up any sophisticated defense of meat. Certainly there are a few people here and there making arguments around the edges, but nothing that looked to me like a serious challenge to Singer.
I continue to be unimpressed with journalists' ability to do basic research. Even a simple Google search would turn up several arguments against Singer's view, including the well-known argument for speciesism by Carl Cohen. (No, a Google search isn't research but it's a good place to begin) Furthermore, Singer's arguments are based on utilitarian premises which have been subject to a host of substantive objections raised in the philosophical literature. I don't have current figures at hand but I doubt that even a majority of moral philosophers today are utilitarian. Thus, most moral philosophers would reject the foundations of Singer's argument; and indeed his argument is profoundly mistaken.
I don't want to get too deep in the philosophical weeds here, but essentially Singer argues that any being that suffers has full moral status. Since non-human animals suffer, their interest in not suffering should receive equal consideration to the interests of humans. To fail to give animals equal consideration is to be guilty of speciesism, which according to Singer is as indefensible as racism or sexism. There are many refinements that can be made to this argument but that is the basic idea.
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My previous article, ‘How Philosophy Killed My Children and Why it Should Kill Yours’, seemed to have generated some debate. Unfortunately, there was much heat but little light shed on taking the subject further from most commentators/critics. Yet, what little light was shed by critics is a welcome furthering of this important discussion. Considering I was made into the title of a Nicholas Smyth post on this website, and considering the excess to which the debate collapsed into denigration, dogma and shouting matches, I wish to respond to some of the claims. In fact, this might take longer than the original piece itself considering the widespread misreading of my argument.
My argument is quite simple: there is no reason to create more people and every reason not to. I also attempted to severe the link between parenthood – an ethical attitude of helping younger people, wanting to lessen their suffering, and using our own experience to better theirs – and procreation. The latter is my target. Indeed, parenthood need not be tied to procreation. The parenting-attitude can be applied to those who already exist, not requiring us to create human life to care for. No critic highlighted a good argument to create more people, other than emotional reasons which I highlighted is, firstly, unpersuasive and, secondly, is an insult to adoptive parents who can testify to the reciprocated feelings of their adopted children. That is, we may fulfil the desire for parenthood through non-procreative means, adoption being one way.
But adoption, as they say, is one option. As I highlighted, not all of us – including me, given my age, income, etc. – would pass adoption procedures. The information I have obtained from adoption agencies highlights this much. Being unable to adopt should also tell us something important: if adoption agencies won’t let us be parents to these children, what does that tell us about the automatic pass we get to simply use our reproductive organs to make children? If agencies judge us unfit to be parents for those children who do exist, it should smack hard of blatant arrogance to bypass such a well-founded judgement to produce children of our own (I hope adoptive parents will provide some more personal details on this. I prefer hearing from them, rather from adoption agencies). This is why people who argue unless I adopt I should not judge simply fail to make a point: if I cannot adopt because I would not pass first-level acceptance as an adoptive parent, what gives me the right to just breed away? This should immediately tell me I am unfit as a parent, be it for my own or those who exist.
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Parentage is a very important profession, but no test of fitness for it is ever imposed in the interest of the children.
– George Bernard Shaw, Everybody’s Political What’s What?
Philosophy, its oldest practitioners proclaimed, begins in wonder. Yet the wonder often directed at it appears with a furrowed brow and a patronising frown, a finger tapping against a chin. What is it good for, how will impact on my life? This question seems to dog the pursuits of philosophers sometimes above their colleagues in other disciplines: my physicists friends are rarely asked how ‘their’ black holes could affect the average citizen (aside from destroying you before annihilating you?); my film and art friends rarely focus on the use of film or theatre in a world filled with suffering (perhaps highlighting a powerful portrayal of that suffering so we actually do something about it?). And so we could go on. No doubt there are also some single sentences to counter the claim made at philosophers, but others have done this before; I wish to show something immediate for me. The reader wanting an answer need only search for them from those who are professionals, perhaps starting with Bertrand Russell’s famous final chapter, ‘The Value of Philosophy’, in The Problems of Philosophy (a very boring work aside from its clarity and this final defence), and the first chapters of Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue (two mostly opposed books on the subject of moral philosophy).
As I said, instead of answering the question directly, I wish to provide a personal demonstration: Philosophy has thoroughly annihilated my children – or rather, stopped me harbouring any thoughts of creating children. It has ceased any joy, wonder, amazement from being created in little human beings with my eyes, hair or smile; it has severed any form of biological paternal ‘duty’. Philosophy grabbed hold of procreation stemming from me and thoroughly buried it beneath reasonable argument. I present to you one of many tombstones of axiomatic acceptance in my life.
How did philosophy do this?
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