Farming for Philosophers

Timothy Hsiao teaches philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University. He’s written several papers on the moral justification for eating meat. His most recent paper offers a defense of industrial animal agriculture, also known as “factory farming.”

Most people think that there is nothing wrong with eating industrially farmed meat. Interestingly, even ethicists—who are more likely to rate meat consumption as a morally bad thing—still consume meat at nearly the same rate as non-philosophers. But some, including not a few philosophers, argue that is it morally problematic, at least in the way that it is commonly practiced. As far as we know, Hsiao is the only philosopher who has actually defended the more commonly held view in print.

So, it would surely be appropriate to assign Hsiao’s paper in a pro-con spirit in an ethics class… right? Apparently not, according to Jeff Sebo (UNC Chapel Hill):

At least these 11 of Sebo’s colleagues agree with him (as of this writing):

Let’s be honest here. What percentage of the population of planet Earth do you think opposes the practice of factory farming on grounds of its morally objectionable treatment of animals? What percent do you think are even vegetarian on moral grounds? I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about murder or rape, here. We’re talking about the morality of factory farming—a practice behind the supply of food to billions of people.

If Sebo and his leftist colleagues are so certain about the ethics of factory farming that they take the issue to be “safely closed without sacrificing objectivity” and therefore not worth discussion, is there any doubt they think the same about, say, abortion? Is there any doubt that they gleefully assign Peter Singer or Michael Tooley’s pro-infanticide articles in their ethics classes? Or what about homosexuality? Transgenderism? Immigration? Is there any doubt that Jeff Sebo would assign his own paper defending the moral permissibility of incest to his students? And yet, it’s Hsiao’s view—a view that literally billions of people hold—that’s supposed to be beyond the pale! These people suffer from what I have called inverted moral qualia.

If they had any shred of integrity, they’d drop any public pretense to objectivity in their pedagogy. It’s clear that they, in their unbridled, group-reinforced moral certitude that they mistake for objective enlightenment, regard as beyond the pale whatever view they happen to disagree with. They have zero interest in giving opposing viewpoints airtime, revealing, once again, just how illiberal, intolerant, and indeed anti-philosophical they really are. The soil of the university is infertile for budding philosophers. It has instead itself become a factory farm of fauxlosophers who won’t even acknowledge, much less engage with, a position they consider wrong.

We here at Rightly Considered, on the other hand, value debate and the free exchange of ideas. As it happens, some of us here disagree with Hsiao about the ethics of factory farming, and the ethical treatment of animals generally. So what did we do? We organized a philosophical exchange on it (see Hulk’s original post, AR-15’s reply, and Hulk’s rejoinder). But it isn’t exactly news that leftists are allergic to disagreement, leftist philosophers being no exception. Our views are as systematically suppressed and ignored in the blogosphere as they are in the classroom by the self-styled champions of tolerance and diversity.


    • Evidently it doesn’t matter if Hsiao’s argument is faulty or sound because it’s a “harmful thesis”. Liberals are a morally obtuse breed.

  1. The problem is of course not limited to the classroom. It’s not difficult to guess what these people do when they review a paper or a grant proposal submitted by someone like Tim Hsiao.

  2. This discussion would far be more productive if someone would carefully and accurately state Hsiao’s argument(s). What exactly are his conclusions? What exactly are his premises? What’s his support for his premises? Until someone does this here, this discussion — a reaction to a number of philosophers’ evaluations of his arguments – doesn’t have much point. That’s especially the case if Hsiao’s arguments are very poor and these philosophers’ evaluations are justified.

    Here’s my very quick summary:

    It’s not wrong to treat animals as they are treated in factory farms because they have no “moral status” and they have no moral status because they lack a “rational nature.” Treating animals like this is wrong ONLY WHEN the moral character of the workers is set back because of their work. So, this work should be done by folks who won’t be morally corrupted by it and then it’s not wrong.

    I will try to post more when I have time. Much more should be said to try to understand these arguments and evaluate them.

    • Nathan, your assessment of the situation isn’t quite right. The authors of this post are not reacting to a number of philosophers’ evaluation of his arguments. These philosophers provided no evaluations, no consideration of the premisses, etc. They just dismissed the conclusion as harmful. This post is a reaction to their seeming knee-jerk reaction.

      Having said that, we welcome your desire to do actual philosophy and discuss Hsiao’s paper.

  3. I think that likely little was written down about the details of the main arguments because they are basically re-hashes of Carl Cohen’s arguments from long ago (except Hsiao’s are arguably worse, since at least Cohen thought animals have some “moral status” and are due some duties directly; and Hsiao does not engage the body of objections to this type of position), which have been much discussed and all that discussion is familiar to those on that FB page for philosophy instructors.

    Here is my most recent contribution to that discussion, which can be applied to Hsiao’s paper:
    Tom Regan on ‘Kind’ Arguments Against Animal Rights and For Human Rights
    In The Moral Rights of Animals, ed. Engel and Comstock (Lexington, 2016):

    • His position is very similar to Cohen’s, but his arguments are quite different. What objections are you referring to?

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