The Veg Argument, As I See It.

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The Veg Argument, As I See It.

Post  Ecce Homo on Tue Sep 22, 2009 1:38 pm

by way of introduction, let me first say that i apologize if my starting a new thread on a topic that already has a vibrant discussion on the forum is rude. my intention is not to be aloof, but rather to try and get specific resolution to a problem that i have with the vegetarian argument. my fear is that, were i to post this question in the existing thread, it would immediately be swallowed up and lost in the middle of conversations that people are already engaged in. hopefully, having a stand-alone post will generate a specific response to the question that is bothering me, regarding the subject of vegetarianism, and the moral imperative thereof.

there seems to me to be two implicit notions that run concurrent through the vegetarian argument that are - not contradictory, perhaps - but incongruous.

Proposition #1

Intelligence does not make us special. Just because we developed the capacity to dominate animals, doesn't mean that doing so is morally proper. Big brains do not confer upon us a special license to cause suffering and death.

Proposition #2

Sure, we evolved to eat meat, but we evolved to do lots of things that are unethical and maladaptive in our current condition. Our natural capacity for digesting meat is not an argument in favor of it. Our big brains have provided us with the capacity for agriculture well beyond subsistence levels, and the knowledge that we can get enough protein to survive in the form of delicious tofu and peanuts. But, most importantly here, our big brains cause us to ponder issues of right and wrong, to care about suffering and justice, and allow us to navigate complex moral questions. If we were snow leopards, it wouldn't be "unethical" to eat meat, because snow leopards can do nothing else, but we can. Why? Intelligence. Intelligence makes us special.




humans, in this formulation, appear to be unique and special creatures, but only when it comes to our obligations.


or am i simple?

Ecce Homo

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Re: The Veg Argument, As I See It.

Post  Jim on Tue Sep 22, 2009 2:00 pm

i think it depends on what you mean by "unique." there seems to be good reason to think that our primary evolutionary strategy at this point is cooperation. we have a division of labor not only between individuals but also between groups. our moral intuitions likely come out of that cooperative strategy. so, sure, that's unique to us in the same way that building dams is unique to beavers. i think it's appropriate to say "there's nothing unique about being unique." each species is unique. for that matter, each individual is unique. but that uniqueness in and of itself isn't anything special.
with that in mind, i don't think there's anything incongruous with the listed propositions.

of course, i do think there is something odd in attempting to include as members of the community of which we consider in our moral calculations those individuals which cannot, in principle, be considered members of the moral community (lions and tigers and bears). a utilitarian approach could go some distance in bridging that gap if it could be demonstrated that other animals actually suffer and experience happiness in a way that we could recognize. however, as i said in the other thread, i'm unclear on what a theory of mind that allowed for that would look like, and i certainly think that the theory of mind relied upon by the doubtcasters in this case is wildly problematic. (this is where i state yet again that i'm a huge fan of the show, and i'm not trying to hammer anyone. i would love to hear an explanation from them that made this go away, though one has not been forthcoming as of yet.)

Jim

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Re: The Veg Argument, As I See It.

Post  Robert on Sat Sep 26, 2009 12:52 am

Ecce Homo wrote:Intelligence does not make us special. Just because we developed the capacity to dominate animals, doesn't mean that doing so is morally proper. Big brains do not confer upon us a special license to cause suffering and death.

Why is this proposition implicit in a "vegetarian argument?" Just to be incongruous with the second proposition? The counterpart to this proposition is the assertion that intelligence gives license to cause death and suffering. Is that really an argument made against vegetarianism? If I have ever heard that one before, I likely did not want to argue against it. In fact, I would have wanted to get as far away from the person as possible, lest they decide they are more intelligent than me.

Robert

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Re: The Veg Argument, As I See It.

Post  Jim on Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:47 am

Robert wrote:Why is this proposition implicit in a "vegetarian argument?" Just to be incongruous with the second proposition? The counterpart to this proposition is the assertion that intelligence gives license to cause death and suffering. Is that really an argument made against vegetarianism? If I have ever heard that one before, I likely did not want to argue against it. In fact, I would have wanted to get as far away from the person as possible, lest they decide they are more intelligent than me.
i think you're missing the point. lots of people already do think that being intelligent makes us special, that because we can dominate animals, that means it's ok. ecce homo is saying that the starting point of the veg argument is something like "that's wrong," which it appears from your response that you agree.

Jim

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