On Animals and the Pursuit of Virtue: A Rejoinder

Fellow RC blogger AR-15 replied to my post about animals, vegetarianism and the pursuit of virtue. I thank him for his effort, but I regret to inform our readers that much of what he had to say, or at least how he understood my argument, was just wrong. Really wrong, in fact. Consequently, my argument remains unscathed. Here I explain why.

I. Misinterpretations

AR-15 depicts my argument thusly:

In other words, unless one needs to kill an animal in order to survive in the wilderness, one cannot be virtuous if one kills animals for food. Presumably he has moral virtues in mind, so he is saying that one cannot be morally good (or perhaps fully morally good as far as life this side of the Beatific Vision is concerned) if one kills animals for food.

That’s wrong. My argument allows for animals to be killed if that is necessary for survival or our well-being and sustenance.  For example, a person might be able to survive on a vegetarian diet within the wilderness, or far up North, but there might be cases where he does not thrive or live well on this diet. In such a case, I take no issue to killing an animal for his well-being or sustenance. That should be clear from a proper reading of my argument. That’s the first misinterpretation.

The second misinterpretation? Consider what AR-15 says about my argument:

On a plausible reading, Hulk is channeling Kant and his argument against the cruel treatment of animals. Kant famously held that animals are not subject to moral appraisal and have no moral worth due to a lack of autonomy, nonetheless humans should treat them as if they had worth because in doing so one is more likely to treat humans with dignity. Similarly, one should avoid the cruel treatment of animals because it will lead one to treat humans cruelly.

Kant? What the…hell, no! I don’t like that dude. This is a bad interpretation. I didn’t mention Kant. I didn’t mention our treatment of humans and cruelty, and nothing I said entails these ideas either. Instead, the concern is with the sort of person I want to be.  I am concerned with the pursuit of virtue, not duty.

I see that omnivorous diets cause a lot of pain and suffering, and that these diets remove the possibility of any further joy and pleasure for animals. As a compassionate person, such plight concerns me, not because of what animals are, but simply because pain and suffering sucks for whomever and whatever experiences it. So I want to minimize that pain and suffering within reason and opportunity, not because of duty, but because that is what compassion moves me to do. It would be callous for me to do otherwise, a sure vice. And so, in my case, and in the case of many other westerners, this move to minimize their pain and suffering calls for vegetarian diets. I explained why in my initial post.

Now, suppose it came to be known that animals themselves have no moral worth. On such a case, l will ask, do they feel any less pain and suffering? Do they gain any more possibility for future joy and pleasure? No, of course not. So then compassion still compels me to try to minimize that pain and suffering within reason and opportunity. If I do otherwise, then I act callously, which is to therein act as a lesser man.

Sometimes people ask, why should I care about animal pain and suffering? My answer is this: Because that is what virtuous people do and what callous people don’t do. We know that pain and suffering sucks for whomever and whatever experiences it; and part of being virtuous is being compassionate, which is always the proper response to those in pain and suffering. Hence, virtuous people extend compassion to animals in pain and suffering. To be sure, the specifics about how we respond to an animal in pain and suffering depends on the particular situation, but that we should try to minimize their pain and suffering within reason and opportunity is not. That is what compassion moves us to do, always.

Other times, people ask, why isn’t the good taste of their meat reason enough to kill animals for their meat, causing all that pain and suffering? I must admit, if this question were asked sincerely, and in genuine ignorance, the asker would strike me as morally incompetent. Seriously. But to answer the question, such a reason lacks temperance (a cardinal virtue).  Appetitive and sensual pleasures are sorts of goods, no doubt, but they are of the lower, more animalistic goods, those that are tempered for the sake of the higher goods, such as moral character and excellence. Thus, if keeping a vegetarian diet is the more compassionate choice, one that still serves our basic dietary needs, then it what virtuous men should do if they wish to pursue virtue and avoid vice (which all good men should want to do).

On this note, I should remark upon masculinity. Sometimes masculinity is understood to be closely associated to meat-eating, which would imply that vegetarian diets are not. Vegetarians are thus depicted as being unmanly.

No offence, men, but that’s stupid.  The problem here is that we are embracing masculinities that idealize and define men in terms of their appetitive and sensual pleasures, our lower qualities. This is the same mistake made with those masculinities that depict men as promiscuous, violent, insensitive, and uncaring. These masculinities are wrong. An authentic masculinity is one that idealizes and defines men in terms of their rational and virtuous characters, not their lower appetites and animalistic behaviours.

Objectors might balk, “But we are animals!” Of course we are. However, we are rational animals. It’s our rationality that divides us from the rest; hence, we should understand ourselves, first and foremost, as rational beings, those who have mastery over their appetites rather than those who are enslaved by them.

In a way, then, those who insist on eating meat for taste, while still being in situations like my own, are unfree. They are held captive to their appetites or sensual pleasures, or by the vice of callousness, or by sin, or however you wish to understand it.  Just as in the sexual realm, people love their vice and its binds.

Here’s the third misunderstanding, the final one. AR-15 writes:

There are several problems with Kant’s argument, but I will focus only on one, since it seems to apply to Hulk’s argument as well. Kant’s claim, notice is an empirical one, so it needs to be supported with empirical psychology for it to be plausible. For it could very well be the case that human psychology is such that (at least for the most part) humans can and do treat animals differently than humans all the while cultivating without hindrance the virtues Hulk has in mind. In fact, it seems manifestly true that in a number of areas we treat animals quite differently, so much so that it hardly seems worth mentioning. We humans have routinely shot animals in mercy killings but are reluctant to do so when it comes to humans. We routinely bury humans we’ve never met in war but only bury our pets. We treat other humans as morally responsible agents deserving of moral praise and blame but rarely treat animals that way. The western world has for the most part abolished slavery but we routinely sell and use animals for their labor. And only in the most dire of circumstances have humans been eaten by other humans but animals have been eaten by us and by each other since the very beginning (or, well, since very near the beginning, depending on your interpretation of Genesis).

I find it very hard to see how someone who does not even think about the ethics of eating meat–something not even on the radar of most Walmart shoppers–would be affected in any way in terms of their virtues or vices. To repeat, we’re ignoring whether animals have objective worth and considering only whether the cultivation of virtues is inconsistent with meat eating. Couldn’t a Walmart shopper still cultivate justice? Temperance? Faith? Fortitude? Wisdom? Or even compassion, kindness, respect, and empathy (though perhaps not with respect to meat eating since we’re stipulating that the person hasn’t spent much time thinking about that the ethics of it)?

Sadly, the first paragraph is largely irrelevant, since I did not say anything about our treatment toward other human beings.

In any case, I know that some people treat human beings perfectly well while taking pleasure in the pain and suffering of animals. So the point here is not that there will be a immoral spillover if an omnivorous diet is kept, but just that, in cases like my own, an omnivorous diet is not what virtuous people keep, because it lacks compassion.

Now, I do not doubt that those people in question can still cultivate and exercise other virtues even if they keep an omnivorous diet. I don’t question that. I’m simply saying that such people do not therein act with virtue, but with vice.  Thus, they therein act as lesser men.

II. Factual Dispute

AR-15 writes:

But more to the point, some of what Hulk lists are not even in fact virtues. Empathy is not a virtue for the reasons given by Kant. It is as morally unreliable as self-interest. Both are aimed at someone’s happiness, in the former at someone else’s and in the latter my own. Empathy can and often does go wrong, for instance when one empathizes with a murderer and lets him go. Compassion? Jesus was compassionate but only in certain circumstances. Perhaps compassion is a virtue but it’s not obvious that it is. The cardinal virtues like justice, wisdom, fortitude, and temperance, on the other hand, are obviously and always good. It’s never bad to be wise, for example.

Wrong. Empathy is a virtue because it enables an appreciation about the condition of others, which then strengthens our bond with them. It also informs and tempers our judgement, helping us to make prudent and just decisions. Hence, it helps us be better people.

Neither empathy nor compassion can “go wrong”. Instead, like in the case of the murderer, our judgements can be bad. For example, perhaps, in our judgement, we did not exercise enough produce or justice, or maybe we lacked fortitude; in each of case, these are all faults in our judgement, not in empathy or compassion itself.  To help navigate these difficult judgements, virtue ethicists refer to something called practical wisdom. I encourage AR-15 to read about it.

So that’s about it. AR-15’s argument has been addressed. My case for vegetarianism remains unscathed. If people would like to learn more about the sort of position I hold, please see here and here.

37 Comments

    • Hmm. Yes, well, whatever you do, I encourage you to read from the links and pay attention to what I *actually* said.

  1. “I know that some people treat human beings perfectly well while taking pleasure in the pain and suffering of animals.”

    I am clear on that now. What I do not understand is how it is vicious to kill animals if–as you have granted for the sake of argument–they have no moral status. Presumably plants would also have no moral status. Would it be vicious to cut some roses off (or pull the whole plant out) if (a) I can be perfectly virtuous towards humans who have a moral status and (b) plants have no moral status?

    Suppose you grant that I can kill plants and be virtuous but then go on to say that the difference between plants and animals is that animals can feel pain, whereas plants cannot. To that I would ask why their pain should make any difference to me in my moral deliberations if they have no moral status, and I can still be perfectly virtuous to the things that do have a moral status, namely, humans? How can it make a moral difference to my deliberations and actions if I recognize that they have no moral status?

    You say that it goes against empathy. But, if, as you say, empathy is a moral virtue and they, like plants, have no moral status, how can it be against empathy?

    Finally, what would be wrong with shooting a cow (again, presuming it has no moral worth) in the head? Presumably this would be a painless death. If it does feel pain, it’s for a split second and I’m saving it more pain in the future.

    • This is getting tiresome.

      Consider your first paragraph. I didn’t say that it is vicious to kill animals if they have no moral status. That is not a blanket statement I made, ever. In fact, I have several scenarios to which I clearly stated that I have no objection to the killing.

      Consider your third paragraph. An important different between plants and animals is that only the latter feel pain, suffer and lose all opportunity for pleasure and joy upon their slaughter. Why should this matter? I stated why in two different blogposts: Because pain and suffering sucks for whomever and whatever experiences it, and so our compassion is triggered. But why is that? Because, whatever their moral status, they are still beings in pain and suffering, and as compassionate people, we are moved to minimize that within reason and opportunity. This is not about our moral duty to them, but only about how compassionate people behave. You might ask, but why is this moral? Because being compassionate is a moral virtue.

      At this juncture, I encourage you to read about virtue ethics.

      Consider your last paragraph. If you’re in a situation like me, and if you shoot a cow in the head so that you can consume its meat, then it’s death might be painless and without suffering. That’s true. But you also deny it any opportunity for future goods (say, joy and pleasure), which is unkind, because you are needlessly removing the possibility for any goods for it. I am not here stating that it is entitled to those goods, but just that allowing it to experience those joys and goods of life is kind and that needlessly doing otherwise is unkind.

    • An “authentic man” tired already? 🙂

      “Consider your first paragraph. I didn’t say that it is vicious to kill animals if they have no moral status. That is not a blanket statement I made, ever. In fact, I have several scenarios to which I clearly stated that I have no objection to the killing.”

      I was talking about in the circumstances you described. My entire set of remarks should have made it clear that I understand that you think in some circumstances it is okay to kill and eat animals. I will leave off “in the circumstances you describe” henceforth.

      “Why should this matter? I stated why in two different blogposts: Because pain and suffering sucks for whomever and whatever experiences it, and so our compassion is triggered. But why is that? Because, whatever their moral status, they are still beings in pain and suffering, and as compassionate people, we are moved to minimize that within reason and opportunity.This is not about our moral duty to them, but only about how compassionate people behave. You might ask, but why is this moral? Because being compassionate is a moral virtue.”

      Notice in this paragraph you make no normative claims whatsoever. They are completely descriptive. You are describing what “we” (people like you?) do. But I thought you were arguing for the claim that this is what virtuous people do which is to say what people should do since people should be virtuous? Your last two sentences imply that the morally virtuous (compassionate) person would do this. But that is exactly what you need to argue for otherwise it is just question begging.

      Pain and suffering suck. But some pain is good. There are lots of things that are good for us that suck. So if your principle for determining whether it is virtuous is “one should not do what sucks” there are plenty of counterexamples.

      Shooting the cow is unkind because it derives the cow of certain goods you say. But cutting a plant in half or pulling it up by its roots denies it certain goods as well. All of life involves denying things certain goods. Fasting requires temporarily denying oneself goods for other goods. Killing a cow and eating it denies the cow certain goods for consumable goods. I know you are not for that, but what is the argument that it is against virtue to do so (in circumstances such as you describe–hopefully I can stop repeating that now). You have stated that–you have said that compassion is a virtue and that it is not compassionate. But you have also said that “Walmart people” can also be compassionate.

    • It might be kind to kill any animal in the wild since it’s suffering very likely outweighs it’s pleasures. And if it is bred for food then any pleasures it has while alive I guess would be a net gain on your view, so you have exercised your compassion in giving it some pleasures, and now it’s time for some bbq sauce.

  2. Also, you appeal to virtue. Virtuous people would not kill animals to eat them in situations like yours where they are not in the Yukon. But what is the argument that the virtuous person should not do this? It seems to me that you have a couple options:
    1. You could give examples of virtuous people in circumstances like yours that someone such as myself would recognize as virtuous, perhaps Jesus, Ghandi, St. Theresa, etc. But you have not gone that route.
    2. Or you could appeal to some principle in an argument leading to the conclusion that it is morally wrong to kill and eat animals in the circumstance that you describe.
    But I do not see what that principle is.

  3. “but just that, in cases like my own, an omnivorous diet is not what virtuous people keep, because it lacks compassion.

    Now, I do not doubt that those people in question can still cultivate and exercise other virtues even if they keep an omnivorous diet. I don’t question that. I’m simply saying that such people do not therein act with virtue, but with vice. Thus, they therein act as lesser men.”

    Like Jesus Christ, for example. A Torah observant, Passover keeping Jew. And all the Apostles. And God the Father Who instituted the keeping of the Passover.

    All these act with vice. Thus saith Catholic Hulk. Nice.

    • No one argued for veganism. In fact, I only argued for a sort of situational vegetarianism.

      More importantly, on my case, we are being more like God, for if I am right, we are exercising compassion and kindness and swaying ourselves from callousness.

    • To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?” sayeth the Lord. “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of he-goats…bring no more vain oblations…. Your new moon and your appointed feasts my soul hateth;…and when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. (Isa. 1:11-16)

      I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though you offer me burnt-offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy song; and let Me not hear the melody of thy psalteries. But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5:21-4)

      To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.(Prov. 21: 3)

    • @Lysias a text taken out of context is a pretext for a proof text. All these examples are God’s chastisement of His people for having a wrong inward heart attitude while following the outward forms by rote.

      If your proof texts really meant what you apparent hope them to mean you would have God’s Word, and hence God Himself contradicting Himself, essentially saying “P and not P”.

      You either prove to little, or too much.

    • CRD: you keep referencing JC despite the fact, as you have already been informed by me and several other people, that nothing I said needs to apply to JC. The whole argument rests upon individuals being within situations similar to my own. Read that again and again and again. And again and again and again. I could also write it in French, if you prefer.

    • Your evasions are disingenuous and pathetic. For someone as snarky about reading comprehension as you are, you’re terribly obtuse.

      *God* established an entire system of ritual animal sacrifice and consumption which is still followed today by observant Jews. Most of these people are in “situations similar to” your own. Your arrogance is breathtaking.

      Every time you observe mass in your denomination you consume the flesh and drink the blood of a slaughtered human being.

      Hypocrisy thy name is Catholic Hulk.

    • CRD, I don’t know if that is really inconsistent with his position. I don’t think he’s arguing against eating meat pure and simple, only agaisnt doing so where you can thrive physically on a vegetarian diet. He might be able to say that the religious system of the OT accomplished some good in portraying the gravity of sin, pointing to the coming of Christ, etc. which couldn’t have been accomplished as well by a purely grain offering system. (Whether that works in the end or not, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem obviously wrong). Something similar can be said about his views on transubstantiation and the eucharist.

      Now, his problem, I think, is that the Bible never denies meat to be eaten for enjoyment – not just of taste, but surely that was part of it. And instead of limiting what one could eat, Jesus declared all food clean. This of course wasn’t absolute, blood and things strangled were still prohibited, yet it was still an expansion.

      Despite what he said – “nothing I said needs to apply to JC” – it seems that sometimes, if not as often, it would have. They did eat meat for non-religious celebrations (where the aim wasn’t to just prosper physically) – hence why the father in the parable of the prodigal son slaughtered a bull. Surely he didn’t need this to thrive physically, yet the situation called for it, so to speak. So, while should have moderation in meat eating, as he should have in all things – eating it, even regularly, isn’t wrong for reasons other than being physically healthy. Presumably Christ partook sometimes even when he didn’t need to for his physical well-being, such as, perhaps, when Levi threw a feast for him and some tax collectors and sinners came.

  4. In fact, I only argued for a sort of situational vegetarianism.

    If I understand you correctly, your position is analogous to the position of some Catholiics on capital punishment. The Church cannot change position on capital punishment, thus in principle it is permissible, but because of our current situation, in practice, capital punishment should never be practiced.

  5. This exchange has been weak… There is an interesting question as to whether compassion is a virtue that cannot be solved by mere assertion. An unprettified Aristotle would not have included it on the list. Modern virtue ethics includes compassion (or something like that) on the list through mere assertion (of course it is on the list!) or hand waving in the general direction of reflective equilibrium (roughly: I agree with myself therefore P). This is far from showing that broad compassion (as opposed to kindness for friends and kin) is demanded by practical reason or prudence, which are supposed to be the same thing. But if we take in this sort of virtue ethics justice falls of a cliff. This sort of virtue ethics has not progressed since 1972.

    • I’m in 100% agreement, baker. It is certainly sometimes good to be compassionate, but it is never bad to be wise or just. Sometimes compassion leads to injustice.

    • I could be wrong, but you didn’t respond to my argument that compassion doesn’t lead to injustice (how could it?). That is a category error. It would just need to be tempered and considered using practical wisdom.

    • Compassion is a disposition to relieve some suffering, or pain, or something experienced as undesirable from someone else. But sometimes it is good and just to experience something undesirable. Think of all the parents who out of empathy and compassion never spank their bratty children or allow them to go through any type of pain or suffering. Think of all the activists who out of empathy for one class of people unjustly treat another class.

    • Actually, there are quite a few people who believe that Aristotle considers compassion (or what is sometimes said as pity) to be a virtue. Off memory, I think it is a social virtue, but I might be wrong in that point.

      AR-15 did not doubt that compassion is a virtue, but only that it sometimes is not. Hence, I didn’t pay much attention that, focusing more on whether empathy is a virtue.

      I can hardly be blamed for not responding to a criticism that was not made, though it seems perfectly fine to real in the prima facie presumption, in this day and age, that compassion is virtuous.

  6. Sorry, that should have said that it is perfectly fine to *rely* on the prima facie presumption that compassion is a virtue.

  7. I don’t see why the enjoyment of the meal (not limited just to taste) doesn’t justify killing an animal for food (so that the person eating the meat is still compassionate). The purpose of eating isn’t just to thrive physically – we also have the sense of taste – and it seems that God created a variety of foods just for this reason, including animals (though, it seems at Eden they weren’t eaten).

    The witness of Scripture suggests this is so.

    “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 1 Corinthians 10:25,26

    “If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” – 30

    “God created [food] to be received with thanksgiving.” 1 Timothy 4:3

    None of this seems like God saying, ‘You can eat these things with joy and thanksgiving, only if you need them to thrive.’ Christ and his apostles weren’t shy from demanding more of people, requiring them to be more virtuous, righteous, etc. He prohibited divorce apart from adultery. He wasn’t satisfied with abstaining from fornication or adultery, but from lusting. It was not enough not to murder, but one couldn’t hate. Yet, instead of urging the saving of animals where they weren’t needed for one to thrive physically, Jesus declared all food clean.

    Consider this great example of compassion, the father in the parable of the prodigal son:

    He decides to throw a feast for his relatives and friends. He orders that an animal be slaughtered. He doesn’t have to slaughter the animal, does he? Not to provide for his nutritional needs, anyway. But it is a time of rejoicing and, to make a guess, preparing the animal, since it is more costly is a better way to express his joy over his son’s return and his generosity. The goods enjoyed – of the food’s taste, and the act of preparing the celebration, and of the meal itself, couldn’t be enjoyed, at least not as well, by eating only say bread, fruit or vegetables. So, the killing of the animal, while unnecessary to satisfy one’s nutritional needs to live well, is justified and I don’t think reflects poorly on the man’s character.

    I agree that we should care for animals – the Scriptures say, ‘The righteous shows concern for his animals; but even the mercy of the wicked is cruel.’ However, this doesn’t preclude eating meat.

    • Dunno why this clean and unclean thing keeps coming up. Animals are clean to eat, sure. But that doesn’t suggest that we should kill them for their meat, nor does it that there are no broader moral concern to consider than old dietary restrictions based upon cleanliness. So yes, animals are clean and we can eat them (in principle) but how and why remains to be seen.

    • I’m not saying merely that, since Jesus declared all meat clean, nothing more needs be said; though, given the witness of Scripture, it seems that enjoyment – and not merely to thrive physically – is a fine reason to eat food, including meat. (Or are we to suppose that when he was feasting with tax collectors and sinners he never ate meat when he didn’t need it to thrive physically?

      Within moderation and without inflicting needless pain in killing the animals, I don’t see why compassion urges us to refrain from eating meat.

      Considering the parable of the prodigal son, I think that if he refused to slaughter the fattened calf this would indicate a lack of compassion on the father’s part, not evidence of compassion. In any event, do you think that, the father acted without compassion if he slaughtered the fattened calf? If no, how could that be, since he did not need it to thrive physically? If no, It seems that more reasons than merely to thrive physically justify the eating of meat so that it isn’t contrary to compassion.

  8. I am sorry if am taking the debate off a tangent, but there is an over-reliance on virtue ethics on this blog, which is oblivious to the sorry state in which that ethical line of thinking is in. If virtue ethics is nothing more than a collection of character traits that we happen find admirable, fine compassion is a virtue, tolerance, etc. Make the list as big as you want. But that will do nothing other than replicating the biases that we have. Can you have progressive (should I say SJW?) virtue ethics? Nothing easier: the virtue of tolerance, the virtue of bi-curiosity, the virtue of feminism, etc. Virtue ethics has an edge if you have a procedure for generating the list of virtues that is better than that. Foot started off with the the idea that virtues are virtues because they are good for the agent, that gives you a very demanding test. And if you as, is compassion good for the agent. The answer is going to be: within bounds. Sadly, Foot never managed to show that justice is good for the agent if he is on tight spot (tempted, if you will) unless the agent loves justice already and that is where things got stuck, in 1972.

    Of course nothing should be said about metaphysical biology which is surely smart, but hopeless at the practical level. Granting that there are natural norms (already a big concession) why should we stick with them?

  9. Are there any specific books written on animal rights/vegetarianism from a conservative perspective that Catholic Hulk might recommend, other than Scully’s? I happen to be both a conservative and a vegetarian and am somewhat disappointed by the lack of literature on this topic by those who are not PETA-style leftists. I’m not a Catholic, as I would presume the Hulk is (though I am attracted to the Church), but literature from that perspective would be welcome too.

    Also, I might add, in light of the recent post on abortion, that I find being vegetarian and being pro-life to be complimentary positions. If it is wrong to kill human life in the womb, including prior to its ability to fully feel pain, then it is surely wrong to kill other sentient creatures as well, regardless of whether humans are more valuable. A pro-life individual who raises animals merely to slaughter and then eat them is not being very consistent, it seems to me.

    • Hello JS,

      “If it is wrong to kill human life in the womb, including prior to its ability to fully feel pain, then it is surely wrong to kill other sentient creatures as well, regardless of whether humans are more valuable. A pro-life individual who raises animals merely to slaughter and then eat them is not being very consistent, it seems to me.”

      But the reasons why killing animals is wrong (or is said to be wrong) is different that the reason killing humans is wrong, so I don’t see how there could be the inconsistency you say there is. Humans are valuable as rational agents, and animals have their own worth, but aren’t up their with humans; most notably, they don’t have rights (though we do have duties to them – which I argue aren’t incompatible with us being able to eat them for reasons broader than Catholic Hulk allows).

  10. “But the reasons why killing animals is wrong (or is said to be wrong) is different that the reason killing humans is wrong”

    I don’t say that they are. I say the reason is the same: frustrating the will of another sentient being, no matter at what stage of its development, is wrong.

    “most notably, they don’t have rights”

    Nonsense. They have the right not to be harmed just as much as humans, which is to say they have a right to life.

    • If it is wrong to frustrate the flourishing of a sentient being because pain is bad (and a way its life can go badly for it), is it wrong to frustrate the flourishing of, say, a tree, since for it to be hacked away or cut down is a way its life can go badly for it? Why does mere sentience matter so that a being that has is or can be sentient with growth has rights?

      If animals have a right to life, does that mean that it is just as wrong to kill them as to kill a human? Do we have to protect the prey from the predators?

      Now I think that we have duties in regards to them, just as we do to nature, but this is not to say that they have rights. They aren’t moral agents, they are not under any obligation to seek the good, so they need no protections to ensure that they are able to fulfill this obligation; we, though, are moral agents and thus have that obligation to seek the good, and so need rights to protect our ability to seek it, because we have awareness of ourselves as acting for reasons, which no animal has, though, some probably have some kind of self-awareness.

    • I also want to add that having free will seems to be connected to having self-awareness of one as acting for reasons, and animals lack free will, just as they lack the concept of what is good and what is evil, right and wrong.

  11. “If it is wrong to frustrate the flourishing of a sentient being because pain is bad”

    I didn’t say that. I said it’s wrong to frustrate the will of a sentient being. Human beings are sentient beings. A zygote is a human being, irrespective of whether it has actualized the potential to feel pain. So it’s wrong to kill it, just as it wrong to kill an embryo or a fetus.

    “If animals have a right to life, does that mean that it is just as wrong to kill them as to kill a human?”

    I think so. I could grant that it is less wrong to kill animals than it is to kill humans, but notice that that doesn’t make killing animals not wrong.

    “Do we have to protect the prey from the predators?”

    No. One has the right not to be harmed, but not the right to demand charity. So not protecting them is not wrong. Killing them, though (frustrating their will), is to harm them, so that’s wrong.

    “I also want to add that having free will seems to be connected to having self-awareness of one as acting for reasons, and animals lack free will”

    I don’t believe humans have the free will you’re likely attributing to them here.

    “just as they lack the concept of what is good and what is evil, right and wrong.”

    One can lack the concept for what something is and yet still know what that thing is. I think animals do know right and wrong, they simply have no second order awareness of it.

  12. JS,

    I just don’t see the connection to having the capacity – whether developed or not – for sentience matters. Nor do I see why desires as such matter, so that frustrating them is bad. Why do you think that is?

    Also, if animals – some animals, not all of course – know right and wrong, do they have an obligation to seek what is good and avoid what is wrong? If so, can they be punished for killing each other, or us?

    Don’t we have to protect innocent humans from those who would want to harm or kill them – why, then, don’t we have to protect animals? If killing them is probably just as wrong as killing a human, it seems arbitrary to cut them out of our protection. It isn’t charity on the part of the state to defend the innocent, though, it might be if we as individuals defend others. Yet, that brings to mind the fact that it is permissible, if not obligatory, for me to defend you if some mugger looks like he is trying to kill you, or you me. I might not have to, but if I do, I do nothing wrong. Can I kill you if you are killing an animal. If to kill them is just as wrong as to kill us (or probably so), why not?

    If you say that I can, then I think that is enough to show your position – though, not animal rights as such – is absurd. (You can, I suppose, say that killing them is not as bad, and, by itself this doesn’t mean that killing them is permissible – as you note.)

    You mentioned that you are attracted to the Catholic Church, though not yourself Catholic. Are you a Christian of any kind? If so, then how do you square the eating of meat which is permitted in Scripture with your claims that such acts necessitate the killing of animals, which is impermissible?

    Since it is not too long, I’ll link to an article by David Oderberg. His writings on this subject, among others, have shaped mine. He’ll of course explain his position better than I can. ( https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUiecnJuOWpJSzFOaDg/edit )

    • It’s finally showing the reply button, so hopefully this shows up below your post.

      “Why do you think that is?”

      It’s not about desires per se, but one’s will generally speaking. The assertion of my will amounts to self-interested action, which is mostly amoral. If I assert my will over and against the will of another, then the action becomes immoral. So, if I employ someone to pick cotton, who voluntarily agrees to work for me, then I have done no wrong. But if I forcibly abduct someone and make them pick cotton, then I have done wrong. The difference is that in the latter case I have done something against their will, by asserting mine over theirs through force.

      “do they have an obligation to seek what is good and avoid what is wrong? If so, can they be punished for killing each other, or us?”

      No, but I don’t think there is any obligation to do good or to do anything. One pursues the good for its own sake, rather than because one is obligated to. If an animal attacks one, then one is justified in killing it as an act of self-defense.

      “why, then, don’t we have to protect animals?”

      Because the animals that kill other animals do not intend to do wrong, as they are not aware of their intentions. They act on instinct. They commit homicide, we might say, but not murder.

      “it is permissible, if not obligatory, for me to defend you if some mugger looks like he is trying to kill you, or you me.”

      Choosing to help me out of compassion would undoubtedly be moral, but it would also be in your interest to subdue the mugger, given that, if you are just standing by witnessing the event, he would likely come after you next. But consider all the muggings that happen in the world, even as we speak. Is it possible that, if you tried, you could right now become a vigilante and prevent some of them? You surely could. Travel to any inner city, wait long enough, and you will find scenarios in which you can intervene to save someone. So why don’t you do so?

      “Can I kill you if you are killing an animal. If to kill them is just as wrong as to kill us (or probably so), why not?”

      I don’t think you would have to kill me in order to stop me from killing an animal. That seems a bit unrealistic. You could kill me if I turned my weapon toward you with the intent to kill you, but not otherwise.

Leave a Reply (Be sure to read our comment disclaimer)