This Week’s Special: Cora Diamond’s, “Eating Meat and Eating People.”

by Daniel A. Kaufman

http://www.laurentillinghast.com/DiamondEatingMeat.pdf

Cora Diamond is one of the finest of the contemporary Wittgensteinians and more generally, one of the finest contemporary analytic philosophers.  On tap this week, is her outstanding – and influential – essay on the subject of animal rights, “Eating Meat and Eating People,” in which she presents a powerful critique of contemporary ethical arguments for vegetarianism and other animal-rights-regarding views.

Diamond’s is not an anti-vegetarian position.  Indeed, as she informs us early in the article, she is a vegetarian herself.  Rather, her critique is directed towards a very common sort of argument for vegetarianism and more generally, for animal “rights” – the sort that we find, perhaps most recognizably, in the work of Peter Singer, but also in essays by Tom Regan and others.  For the sake of this brief discussion of Diamond’s critique, I will take Singer as my example, but the general structure of the critique can be applied to any criteria-based argument for ethical vegetarianism.

Those who seek to make a moral case against eating meat and otherwise “using” animals, typically do so on the basis of the application of criteria and arguments from analogy.  The classic Singerite version of this moral case looks something like this:

  1. We do not eat/enslave/otherwise exploit people, because they have certain characteristics that we take to be morally relevant. (They are capable of experiencing pain and pleasure and are thus, bearers of “interests.”)
  2. Animals also have these morally relevant characteristics.
  3. Given (1) and (2), we ought not eat/enslave/otherwise exploit animals.

Singer has invoked the term “speciesist” to describe those attitudes that lie behind the eating, keeping, and using of animals, in a manner intended to be directly analogous to our invocations of “racism.”  Just as the murder, enslavement, and exploitation of black people ignored the fact that they share the same morally relevant characteristics as whites do and was justified on the basis of what are morally irrelevant characteristics – they don’t look like us; their culture is different than ours; etc. – so when we eat animals, use their skins for clothing, and perform medical experiments on them, we ignore the fact that they share the same morally relevant characteristics as people do and justify our behavior by appeal to morally irrelevant characteristics.

Diamond’s critique begins with the observation that (1) is false.  Our reason for not eating, enslaving, or exploiting our neighbor is not because the neighbor satisfies some set of criteria – specifically, with respect to the Singerite version of the argument, because he is capable of pleasure and pain and is therefore, a “bearer of interests.”

As Diamond observes, we do not eat our dead, even if no injustice was involved in the cause of death.  We do not eat amputated limbs, even if the meat is perfectly good to eat.  And yet, in none of these cases, could it be said that we were ignoring anyone’s morally relevant interests.  Whatever our reason for refusing to eat human beings, then, it is not because we are capable of pleasure and pain and are bearers of interests.

It is also worth noting that even the most enthusiastically carnivorous of us will not eat our pets.  I may have just eaten an absolutely lovely lamb chop, but I will not even consider eating my Bichon Frise.  One might be tempted to think that this is because my dog has some morally relevant characteristic that lambs lack, but one will see that this is obviously wrong, if we change the example slightly and imagine that I have taken a lamb as a pet.  I wouldn’t eat it any more than I would eat my pet dog, despite the fact that I just ate a lamb chop yesterday and would do so again.  And if I was fortunate enough to take a trip to South Korea, where dog is commonly served in restaurants, I’d be more than happy to try it.

Diamond maintains that concepts like “person,” “friend,” “neighbor,” and “pet” are morally “thick,” in that they include, within them, a whole number of associated sentiments, imperatives, and duties.  The reason that we don’t eat or enslave our neighbors is because neighbors are not something to eat, and the reason why I don’t eat my dog, is because pets are not something to eat.  By becoming a pet, the animal takes on characteristics that are shared with the people – it is given a name, lives with us in our homes, shares our lives, and is mourned and given a burial, when it dies.  And thus, like a child or a neighbor or a friend, a pet is not something to be eaten, despite the fact that another animal, of the very same type, but which is not my pet, might very well be something out of which to make a meal.

These prohibitions are not things that follow from something being a neighbor or being a pet, by virtue of neighbors and pets having certain morally relevant characteristics.  Rather, they are constitutive of what it is to be a neighbor or a pet, as we commonly understand  and use these terms.  As Diamond points out, a person who eats his pet dog did not have a pet, in the sense that we commonly mean.  The wrongness involved, furthermore, is not the ordinary sort of moral wrongness that one encounters all the time in greater and lesser amounts, but something along the lines of a category error.  Diamond gives the example of the different sort of wrong involved in cheating your daughter out of her due inheritance and giving her a number, rather than a name, at birth.  The former is clearly and plainly a moral wrong, in the most straightforward sense, while the latter, while representing a wrong, also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of just what kind of a thing a child is.

Those who put a great deal of stock in philosophical accounts and systems will undoubtedly wonder how things acquire these sorts of morally thick conceptualizations and may want to look for some theory – and criteria – that will tell us.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if one doesn’t care about being philosophically systematic), no such theory is forthcoming, and the ways in which these concepts get assigned is as haphazard as one might imagine.  This should not surprise us – given that the very same animal may be a mere animal on Tuesday and thus, suitable for the table, but may become a pet on Wednesday and suddenly be completely unsuitable for it, it’s hard to see what sort of criteria one could possibly invoke.  At best, what we can do is tell a story about how this animal came to be a pet and was thus, rendered inviolable, but such stories will be many and varied and will resist the sort of generalization necessary  to produce criteria that can then be applied across cases.

The vegetarian motivated by ethics, then, is the very rare person who has come to see all animals in the manner that we see some animals – pets – and in which we see all people.  The ways in which this can happen are, as already mentioned, haphazard and many, but one way in which Diamond has shown us it does not happen, is by virtue of the ethical vegetarian having noticed that the animal in question has certain morally relevant characteristics and having concluded from that fact, that it must be inviolable.  And having come into being in this sort of way, it also is hardly something that can be prescribed to others, which is why, among all the things that Diamond dislikes about the ethical vegetarian movement, its often “nagging, moralistic tone” is one of the things she dislikes about it the most, a feeling that I certainly share.

Categories: This Week's Special

53 Comments »

  1. The causes we don’t support always seem to have a nagging, moralistic tone. When we support them, they have a clear, righteous tone. I doubt that anyone has ever found that a cause that they agree with has a nagging, moralistic tone.

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  2. She could be a vegetarian and not support the vegetarian cause. In fact, she wrote the article you cite because she does not support vegetarianism as a cause, but as a personal option.

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  3. We’ve talked about vegetarianism before, in Meaning of Life TV, but I’m a vegetarian myself and I also find ethical vegetarianism to be moralistic and nagging. Generally, I don’t see vegetarianism or veganism as a cause, but as a personal option. However, as a general observation on “human nature”, it seem to be me that when we don’t support a cause qua cause, we find it nagging and moralistic. I’m not sure that any cause is nagging and moralistic per se: people who are anti-feminist find all feminists, even those who I consider reasonable and ethically justified, to be nagging and moralistic. I think that any cause, even the most worthwhile one that we can name, will appear nagging and moralistic to those who do not support it.

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  4. S. Wallerstein, nice to see you around these parts. I disagree, though. I think the nagging, moralistic tone comes from the deliverer, not the cause. I often agree with Chomsky and Nader, but I can’t stand listening to (or reading) either one because of their tone. I don’t often agree with Singer, but even when I do, I hate the way he presents his arguments.

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  5. Good article, I hadn’t read diamond’s piece.

    I recall sitting with some friends, then all tucking into a beef lunch. One of my friends, a particularly enthusiastic carnivore, compliments our host on the meat, who replies, “Thanks, this is Daisy”. He does a double take and she indicates the field we can see out of the window full of cows. “One of them”

    Immediately he puts down his cutlery and was unable to finish the meal. The meat on his plate had just crossed the line from livestock to “pet”.

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  6. > The vegetarian motivated by ethics, then, is the very rare person who has come to see all animals in the manner that we see some animals – pets – and in which we see all people.

    No, this might be one route, but is not necessary nor a frequent route. Also, animal rights itself is not a necessary route to vegetarianism. One just needs to notice that many animals feel *physical* pain as intensely as humans, that as humans, we would do a lot to avoid pain at the physical level (physical pain like torture is a nightmare), and that the factory farming has built capacity to cause suffering at massive scale. Also, these industries actively avoid monitoring. This is very much a modern development and involves issues which dont apply to meat eating traditionally as there was enough land to raise animals in better ways.

    On the argument described in the post –
    Sure, there are other things besides human suffering which might be relevant in avoiding certain behaviour and the way we use words/concepts refer to a wide range of things not reducible to pleasures and pains. But that doesn’t mean that human suffering isn’t a big deal and plays a big role in reasoning about how to treat humans. It might not be the only factor and there can be other things going on. So you could clarify 1) by saying that the relevant characteristics(like pain) play a big part and are not exhaustive.

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  7. I just came off a video lecture by Timothy Morton which revived my notion that veganism should be thought of in the larger context of the Social Justice movement, a ‘moral revival’ informing many millennials. He recalls that in the vegetarian circle of the poet Shelley, 200 years ago, sugar was also despised as ‘the crystalized tears of slaves’, as were oriental spices, because the product of colonialism.

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  8. V:

    Your reply simply ignores the core of Diamond’s critique. *If* the capacity for pain and suffering was the reason why we don’t eat people, we would have no problem eating our dead or amputed limbs, so long as the meat was good. The fact that we won’t do this, either, means that this is *not* the reason why we don’t eat people.

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  9. Glotzberg,

    For example, I have a friend who is a very committed environmental activist. In general, I agree with everything that she says, but I’m not sufficiently committed to environmental causes to march for them or to join an organization or to lecture or sermonize people about them. I find her to be “nagging and moralistic”.

    Now I believe with all my heart and soul that everyone should have access to quality medical care, regardless of ability to pay: that is my cause. While given my age and lack of physical fitness, I wouldn’t march for anything, I certainly am will to lecture or sermonize people about the right to quality medical care, regardless of ability to pay. I will bore you to death about that theme. No doubt some consider me to be “nagging and moralistic” about that and probably, about some other causes.

    In general, I have the impression that for a cause to triumph, to win hearts and minds, it has to be a bit insistent, that is, nagging. I’m sure for those who are indifferent to or not committed to ending racism, hearing “black lives matters” over and over again sounds nagging and moralistic. For the record, black lives matter to me too and I don’t find their movement to be nagging and moralistic.

    So my completely unscientific take on the matter is that causes that we don’t wholly support, either because we’re indifferent to them, openly hostile or merely lukewarm, appear nagging and moralistic. For those who fully support a cause, the insistent reiteration, which seems part of almost all causes, is inspirational and heartening, more or less like the repetition found in religious services.

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  10. “*If* the capacity for pain and suffering was the reason why we don’t eat [X]”..

    As I understand (some) arguments for vegetarianism, the capacity and equality arguments are against particular farming practices, so “economically potent” vegetarianism reduces such practices – they may not be arguments against eating road kill or animals dying of old age or eggs from your back yard chickens that you are satisfied lead a good life.

    Several hundred million Indians have been impressed by other (“virtue”) arguments over 3000 years to go against their natural tendency to enjoy meat eating – “Ahimsa is the highest dharma…Everyone in the [meat] business, the one who cuts, the one who kills, the one who sells, the one who prepares, the one who offers, the one who eats, all are killers.” [Mahabharata 19]. So the non-rational peculiarities of human behaviour underlying these “intuitions” can be altered by ethical argumentation. In the other direction, if we go the Fore in PNG, it was religiously acceptable for a couple of generations to eat parts of your dead relatives.

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  11. davidlduffy:

    Diamond, as a Wittgensteinian, is not going to make any kind of universalist claims. She is talking about modern, Western countries. We all know that there are cannibalistic cultures.

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  12. This piece has poignancy for me since my wife and I just yesterday made the decision to euthanize a “pet.” For many complex reasons–which there is no point in covering here–the decision was especially difficulty and carries a heavy emotional toll. Even though my wife and I had long conversations regarding what was the “right” thing to do, we are not so naive as to believe that any rational argument adequately describes a satisfactory resolution to the “problem.”

    Dan K has described Diamond’s position on this matter well considering the brevity of his article. This, for example, in his concluding remarks:

    “The vegetarian motivated by ethics, then, is the very rare person who has come to see all animals in the manner that we see some animals – pets – and in which we see all people. The ways in which this can happen are, as already mentioned, haphazard and many, but one way in which Diamond has shown us it does not happen, is by virtue of the ethical vegetarian having noticed that the animal in question has certain morally relevant characteristics and having concluded from that fact, that it must be inviolable.”

    Nevertheless, I think many who have given this matter much thought might find feel such arguments hollow. Key here, I suppose, is the word “inviolable” and the question whether this usage even pertains. As Robin wryly observes, your satisfaction in eating that leg of lamb might be interrupted should someone note, “Oh, and are you enjoying Dolly?”

    In any case, regardless of how unsatisfactory one might find Singer’s arguments, when I read this:

    “These prohibitions are not things that follow from something being a neighbor or being a pet, by virtue of neighbors and pets having certain morally relevant characteristics. Rather, they are constitutive of what it is to ‘be’ [your emphasis] a neighbor or a pet, as we commonly understand and use these terms. As Diamond points out, a person who eats his pet dog did not have a pet, in the sense that we commonly mean.”

    I am inclined to view it as a bit of sophistry, though perhaps not so much in 1978 when Diamond wrote her argument. At the same time, we should at least question how words once “commonly” understood and meant do in fact change over time for many reasons. Experience tells me, for example, that what people mean and understand by pet varies considerably from household to household as does their treatment of them. Question: Is there a different understanding of one’s outrage, or lack thereof, upon learning that one’s neighbor has been caught throwing a cat from his car on a busy interstate highway if he explains that the cat was feral and not someone’s pet? Or is this only morally irrelevant when considering whether the roadkill is acceptable for dinner?

    I should point out that I’m an omnivore, but my sensibilities regarding this topic have changed as I’ve read more regarding the findings of studies of animals with higher cognitive abilities. If one happens to resent the “nagging, moralistic tone” of vegans or vegetarians or “fruititarians,” perhaps it might be best to simply ignore them or to find some personally satisfying way to deal with one’s cognitive dissonance if that’s a problem.

    While generally agreeing with Diamond, Justin E.H. Smith does find problems with her approach. For those interested, you can find his discussion of the topic here:

    http://www.jehsmith.com/philosophy/2008/07/animals-meat-an.html

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  13. Daniel, I think I addressed the argument, but let me expand on it and lets see if it is satisfactory. One issue that comes up especially after your reply is the existence of multiple causes for some effect and the sufficiency of any one of them for the effect. So, my point was that yes, Diamond can be right that reducing how we behave with respect to other humans, to pleasure and pain, leaves out other things, and those other things can also be a sufficient cause for the effect (here not eating humans). But that doesn’t meant that pain isn’t also relevant. When there are multiple sufficient causes, switching one off while leaving the other still means that the effect takes place.

    But that doesn’t mean the cause that is switched off in one context can then be ignored altogether or isn’t sufficient for some effect.

    People who have pets care about suffering of pets all the time for instance by taking them to vets. This concern doesn’t cover the other parts of the relationship, but is still something significant.

    Diamond might have more force when arguing against some tech sector reductionisms, where the style of argument is all relevant human factors can be reduced to A and since we have simulated A we have recreated the human experience.

    Whereas the argument form here is “A which is present in humans and is also present elsewhere, even if B and C are not present”.

    More directly, even without Singer and so on, we directly see that this moral relevance transfers when we notice people stopping someone from throwing stones at a stray dog. Just by seeing the dogs reactions(barking in fear, running away), without even getting into the studies of biologists on the shared features of the nervous systems. In fact, we can plausibly say that factory farming managers avoid videos because of this reason because they know that the relevant factors like concern for pain transfer to animals.

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  14. Interesting article; I think this is the first time I’ve run into the term “Wittgensteinian”. Would Wittgenstein have been one? Would the concept have made him laugh? Did Wittgenstein ever laugh? Hard to imagine from what pictures I’ve seen of him, yet there was what looks to me like humor in his philosophy.

    Anyway, a very intriguing piece. For philosophers to declare that the reason people do X (refrain from cannibalism) is Y seems pretty odd to me; only slightly less odd to declare that the reason people should do X (not eat animals, or employ them without recompense) is Y. To speak of moral thickness seems like an inspired response and I never thought of “thickness” as an element of Wittgenstein’s thought, but it seems to fit — family resemblance seems like that sort of concept.

    This suggests some unexpected (to me) congruence between Wittgenstein and Clifford Geertz, as well as many contemporary (possibly Geertz-inspired) historians.

    Perhaps the style of thinking can be traced back to Bacon’s rejection of overuse of logic, and plunging into the messiness of nature; perhaps it also relates to Habermas’ lifeworld vs system.

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  15. Hi DanK, I can’t remember if I read this before or not, but it seemed vaguely familiar. In any case, I think it makes an interesting start (appetizer?) for discussing not just vegetarianism or treatment of animals, but morality in general, which it brushes upon by noting connections to slavery, killing people during war, etc.

    And her argument fits nicely with my own view. I believe that part of our moral reasoning involves establishment of categories, usually based on habitual action/thinking (i.e. experiences), which modulate our more basic feelings/assessments (which I will get to in second).

    I think it is possible to criticize Diamond’s argument for not considering all reasons people might not eat other humans. The article from Thomas Jones points out what I would call “purity” concerns: how things die is often felt important (no roadkill), or how attractive/alien things seem (mammals yes, insects no), or their association with decay/unhealthiness even if cleanliness is not an issue (human body parts). Indeed, humans rarely have interest in consuming shit, but that is not because it is in some moral category related to fellow creature, and an unease in eating it might stand even if properly processed to remove any chance of physical illness from its eating.

    This idea can be extended to “sacred/profane” concepts where purity is not just of a physical or psychological dimension but of a felt spiritual dimension. Some animals are not allowed to be eaten because they are more pure than us, while others incapable of being eaten until certain procedures (unrelated to bodily health) are performed, and some incapable of being eaten under any circumstance.

    And of course she does not treat the fact that some humans do eat humans, taking a very modern western viewpoint.

    (this is part 1 of 2, please wait until part 2 to reply…)

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  16. Hi DanK (part 2 of 2)…

    It is also possible to criticize Diamond’s argument for missing that we could be concerned with suffering regardless of animals categorized as food (or not-pet). What V appeared to be discussing is “empathy” concerns. We can be concerned with suffering prior to, and even after ascription of moral modulating categories (pets/animals/livestock). When things appear to suffer in ways that we can identify with, there is usually a resulting desire to stop that suffering. Ironically humans can empathize with the suffering of inanimate objects (a forgotten or abused toy, fictional characters in a book or movie), or not empathize with clearly suffering creatures (certain animals in zoos, bullfights).

    The treatment of animals as livestock to some degree demands a practiced lack of empathy. This is not say that is wrong, but it is clear an abundance of empathy is not going to result in functional meat production. It seems a plausible method to elicit empathic feelings in order to generate interest in protecting animals from being eaten or otherwise killed.

    While all these criticisms may be valid, it does not remove the fact that Diamond’s arguments were sufficient for the task that she set out from the beginning. She provided the necessary evidence to challenge Singer-like positions which take a legalistic approach, identifying criteria commonly used to create legal categories, to argue for the moral rights of animals. Moral reasoning and categorization is different than legal reasoning and categorization.

    Of course, vegetarianism is largely (for us as omnivores) a freedom we only get to exercise under specific conditions. Certainly not “natural” conditions. Given enough hunger modulating categories like pet or even fellow human can lose their power.

    Singerites (to my mind) have lost this perspective, assuming some idealized condition most people are not living in, much less capable of living in, and ignoring that there are morally salient feelings beyond empathy, justice, and non-cruelty.

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  17. DBHolmes:

    “she does not treat the fact that some humans do eat humans, taking a very modern western viewpoint.”

    ———————————————————–

    Of course she didn’t. As a Wittgensteinian she is not going to make universalist claims. She is talking about arguments for ethical veganism in modern, Western countries. Do you really think she doesn’t know that there is such a thing as cannibals?

    ——————————————————————————————————————-

    “It is also possible to criticize Diamond’s argument for missing that we could be concerned with suffering regardless of animals categorized as food (or not-pet)”

    —————————————————————————————————-

    This is not what her article is about. It is about a very specific thing: common arguments for ethical veganism. It is not about suffering in general. It is not about the analytic/synthetic distinction. It is not about ethical virtue. It is about common arguments for ethical veganism and Singer’s in particular.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

    I agree with you re: Singer but would go even further. It’s not just that many people cannot do what he is saying people ought to do, on pain of being “seriously immoral.” It’s that the number and variety of people who wind up being “seriously immoral” on his view is so large as to be a virtual reductio ad absurdum of the view itself. Any view on which 95+% of the human population turns out to be “seriously immoral” should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.

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  18. Daniel Kaufman, Why should any view that 95% of the population be considered seriously immoral necessarily be viewed with utmost skepticism? 50 years ago 95% of the population had views about gay people which are now considered to be seriously immoral. 200 years ago 95% of the population had views about slavery which are now considered to be seriously immoral. I’m not claiming that eating meat is seriously immoral, only that there is no good reason to think that most people today do not hold views which will be considered rightly as seriously immoral in the future, for example, the view that healthcare (including medication) is a commodity, which should be available according to the purchasing power of the consumer involved.

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  19. s. wallerstein:

    95+% of people are meat eaters.

    Some 85% of vegetarians/vegans go back to eating meat at some point in their lives.

    http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/12/84-percent-of-vegetarians-go-back-to-eating-meat.html#
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2861816/Crudit-doesn-t-cut-Study-finds-84-cent-vegetarians-America-eating-meat.html

    I don’t know that I can give a systematic answer to your question — that is, an answer that will apply to all the cases. All I can say is this.

    If ethical veganism is true, then every kid’s school lunch is a moral catastrophe in a box. Every Michelin award winning chef an arch-criminal. Many of the world’s greatest culinary institutions are sites of callous, murderous slaughter.

    Not only is none of this true, but it is patently absurd. Not only are the great chefs, restaurants, charcuteries, etc., of the world not villainous, they are among the greatest artists and artistic institutions that human beings have produced.

    I would have to hear some really extraordinary arguments to convince me that this is all mistaken, and not only have I not heard any extraordinary arguments, I’ve heard mostly laughably bad ones — like Singer’s.

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  20. Daniel Kaufman, For the record, although I’m a vegetarian myself, I don’t find all meat eating to be wrong, just factory farming. So I see nothing wrong with great restaurants or individual families serving meat recipes, as long as the animals are raised humanely. Obviously, humane treatment of animals would raise the price of meat, so it would become a special dish. Besides the suffering of animals in factory farming, there are good environmental reasoning for learning to live with vegetable protein sources as our main everyday protein sources. In any case, I don’t see any reason to close down the restaurants that serve the meat dishes you and others treasure so much, but without factory farming, prices will go up. However, if you’re willing to pay a lot of money for a fine wine, you might well be willing to pay as much for a good meat dish.

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    • Again, Diamond — and I — are responding to the sorts of arguments made by people like Singer, which have precisely the extreme implications I have described. We are not responding to moderate, measured, reasonable individual positions like yours.

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  21. Dan K, you are being non-responsive when you reply to db:

    “Of course she didn’t. As a Wittgensteinian she is not going to make universalist claims. She is talking about arguments for ethical veganism in modern, Western countries. Do you really think she doesn’t know that there is such a thing as cannibals?”

    As Smith suggests:

    “The empirical evidence about cannibalism suggests, moreover, that we also cannot make any general claims, as Diamond wishes to do, about the way that the difference between humans and animals is generally conceptualized by pointing to the fact that animals are the sort of thing that one may eat whereas humans are not. It would be more correct to say that pets, friends, fellow citizens of a thriving republic in peacetime, socially parasitic animals such as rats, sacred animals, zoo animals in times other than famines, are not to be eaten or killed, whereas large wild game, rats when one is desperate, industrially slaughtered cattle, and, yes, human enemies in wartime, may be both killed and eaten. There may be morally relevant distinctions between humans and animals, but we are not going to discover them by looking at the actual range of what people conceptualize, under various circumstances, as edible or inedible.”

    At any rate, if Diamond intends to restrict her arguments to “Western countries,” then there is not much point–from her vantage or yours–in travelling to Korea to indulge in a meal of Bichon Frise. Although this journey to the far East, I suppose, might support some notion of conceptualized dispensation by consulting a GPS device of your choice.

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  22. Excellent discussion Daniel — I do agree entirely. But the “problem” which people have with Cora’s argument, I think, concerns something that her argument does not actually address. Essentially the “mo” rality of good/bad, happens to be different from the “re” ality of good/bad. Morality is generally defined as a social construct, though what many of us seem to be concerned about (and I think validly so), is good/bad beyond social constructs of the notion. So what might “ultimately” be good/bad for any given subject? This is indeed where my own theory lies, and yes, my ideas can be quite immoral.

    Are, for example, suffering chickens “bad” in this regard? No, not objectively so. Perhaps this can provide a type of meat which happens to be far more tasty than any other variety. Thus suffering chickens would be “good” for the person who enjoys this kind of meat, and also isn’t given any nagging information about suffering chickens. Furthermore this would obviously be “bad” in a subjective sense for any suffering chickens themselves, given the sensation based harm to them. So here I’ve presented a theory regarding the “reality” of good/bad, not its “morality.”

    Now is anyone interested in this “non moral” approach to ethics? Would anyone like to dispute my seperate position, which does not actually conflict with Cora’s position?

    P.S.: I am happy that some of the MeaningofLifeTV folks have come by, and do hope that you find us here interesting enough to stay!

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  23. Daniel Kaufman,

    I want to thank you for posting on this topic and for being willing to debate it with a layperson like myself. Not all professional philosophers, even those with blogs, are open to debating topics with non-philosophers: they often pull rank or cite articles or books which are not accessible to the general public. Talking about this helped me finally clarify my position about vegetarianism and veganism, since although I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, until this debate I never bothered to fully examine my reasons for being one and to develop a coherent set of arguments for my position.

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  24. @Thomas Jones:

    So S. Korea is not a modern, Westernized country? Does that mean France isn’t either, since they eat horse meat?

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  25. Eric:

    I’m not sure I’m understanding your post. Are you suggesting that the problem some may have with Diamond is that her view is not normative enough? That is, it describes rather than prescribes?

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  26. I only just finished reading the paper. Nothing I can disagree with there,if I have understood it.

    It is amazing that Singer’s work is so widely known and, from some quarters, highly praised and yet this paper is so little known outside of academia.

    It seems to me that Cora Diamond is more or less taking Singer to school. But I guess that Singer is saying what many people want to hear, they long for system, consistency and universality in morality.

    It is interesting listening to Singer and Dawkins speak. Dawkins appears to idolise Singer, but since Dawkins is not a vegetarian, he speaks to Singer as does a penitent to a priest in the confessional.

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  27. mpboyle56, perhaps some confusion about my remark on Korea? It was made in jest. Dan K mentioned going to Korea where he might dine on dog. He’s also mentioned “Western” in his remarks such as these:

    “She is talking about modern, Western countries. We all know that there are cannibalistic cultures.” and

    “She is talking about arguments for ethical veganism in modern, Western countries. Do you really think she doesn’t know that there is such a thing as cannibals?”

    So, I guess I should have put in a smiley face, though I think Dan K knew I was teasing him about his remark just as he knew Robin was in his “Daisy” comment.

    But in the article by Smith that I linked to, even though Smith agrees with Diamond and even says she “eviscerates” Singer’s arguments, he does point to a problem he believes underlies her position cannibalism. That’s why I provided the quote from his article.

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  28. Not sure how the Smith quote helps, since he assumes she’s making universal arguments, when it’s clear from her use of Walter de La Mare, Robert Burns, Jane Legge, etc. that the context is Western. Not to mention that, as DanK pointed out, she’s a Wittgensteinian. In what way is that unresponsive given Smith’s erroneous assumption?

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  29. It seems to me that the reason Diamond’s argument is so devastating for Singer is because the heart of Singer’s argument isn’t an argument at all. She demonstrates that the givens he builds from are only good if you already have a certain squeamishness towards eating meat which leads to a kind of question begging. It’s always struck me as more rationalization than anything else. I think Lisa Simpsons’ path to vegetarianism is much more realistic than any kind of utilitarian argument.

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  30. Dan K:

    “I agree with you re: Singer but would go even further. It’s not just that many people cannot do what he is saying people ought to do, on pain of being “seriously immoral.” It’s that the number and variety of people who wind up being “seriously immoral” on his view is so large as to be a virtual reductio ad absurdum of the view itself. Any view on which 95+% of the human population turns out to be “seriously immoral” should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.”

    So I take it that Wittgenstenians would have no problem with slavery had they lived prior to the 19th century? Since every slave owner on those times would not think of himself as a “seriously immoral” person either.

    if you already admit that something is good or bad if it agrees with the status quo? then there is no room for moral progress, since according to you any opinion that disagrees with the majority position is wrong by default.

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  31. Hi DanK, well that’s what I get for trying to be clever by starting with potential valid criticisms (she did not give a full account) before switching back to defend a point you’d already made (that wasn’t her goal). Seems I should have led with the last point. 🙂

    To clear up any confusion, I was agreeing with these very comments…

    Of course she didn’t… She is talking about arguments for ethical veganism in modern, Western countries. Do you really think she doesn’t know that there is such a thing as cannibals?

    This is not what her article is about. It is about a very specific thing: common arguments for ethical veganism… It is about common arguments for ethical veganism and Singer’s in particular.

    … in the (attempted) clarifying statement I made midway through my second reply…

    While all these criticisms may be valid, it does not remove the fact that Diamond’s arguments were sufficient for the task that she set out from the beginning. She provided the necessary evidence to challenge Singer-like positions

    So yes I assume she knew about cannibals and likely all the rest of the issues raised here. But she didn’t need to use them (as is clear) to address/devastate Singer-ite positions. The essay was sufficient for its purpose.

    With all this in mind, I still think it was useful for people to bring up the fact that her account of ethical decisions with respect to animals (in general) and food (in specific) was not complete. I don’t think it takes away from her success to say, OK that was nice work but since it is clearly not a full account let’s move on to a more complete understanding of what goes into these assessments.

    Thomas provided an interesting link which I think fails to undercut Diamond’s argument against Singer but raises potential avenues for a better understanding of how we view animals/food. And V seems to be addressing empathy, which might be used for leverage to adjust these moral modulating categories (affecting behavior to decrease suffering), without introducing legalistic moralisms regarding “rights” of animals.

    I agree with you re: Singer but would go even further…. Any view on which 95+% of the human population turns out to be “seriously immoral” should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.

    Of course I agree with you here too, even if it does raise interesting questions for the plight of minority populations. But that’s for another time.

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  32. mpboyle56: “Not sure how the Smith quote helps, since he assumes she’s making universal arguments . . . .”

    I don’t think he makes any such assumption. I think he is transparently fair in his acknowledgement of and description of the superiority of her arguments, as opposed to, say, those arguments made by Singer or Regan. You have a problem with Smith? Then take it up with him. I found his piece interesting and thought other readers might as well. If Dan K had a problem with my link to Smith’s article, I’m sure he would have said so.

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  33. As soon as I read the description of Singer’s three arguments, it immediately struck me that point #1 was incorrect. To be fair to Singer, I’ve not read him, and so am simply reacting to the present formulation of his argument. It seems obviously wrong to me, to the point of not needing commentary. I’ve been vegetarian and non-vegetarian in my life, and thus have met many people with varying relationships to this issue (including those having zero interest in it). I remember my father getting frustrated at my disinterest in steak, aged 4, and coming over to place one hand on top of my head and the other beneath my jaw to forcibly mimic the motion of chewing that I should engage in for my own well-being. Hated steak then, but thought meatballs were heavenly. Whenever people have a moralistic stance towards this topic, it feels wrong-headed (wrong-hearted ?) to me and sends me in the opposite direction — regardless of where they come down on it. I think also of abortion in connection with this. Here too, it is mostly the moralizing, on both sides, which are offensive. It is ironic that in many (most ?) cases those who avidly moralize against eating meat disagree with those who avidly moralize against abortions. People need to respect the space that deeply personal ethical questions require for inner consideration. Some people will just not wish to devote moral deliberations to every issue. Or, talk to them in 15 years and maybe something will have changed. Examples matter more than intellectual justifications.

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  34. My point in short was a response to this reasoning, “we can say that A is not the real reason for Y, by showing a situation in which A isn’t relevant and people still behave according to Y.”

    There can be multiple basis for an action, A, B, C such that each *by itself* is sufficient for for a behaviour Y. There can be contexts in which people do Y because of A alone, another context where B alone.

    This might be an issue of language. The “because” in 1) can be read as “only because” or as “because possibly due to this but not necessarily only because of this”.

    So the characteristics like pleasure and pain can lead to non-exploitation, but other concerns can also lead there. The latter doesn’t cause the former to become irrelevant. This is true descriptively, not just as a logical possibility, as seen in multiple examples.

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  35. V: Ah, I understand you now.

    I don’t see how someone like Singer can avail himself of this “out,” however, and it’s to people like Singer that Diamond’s criticisms are addressed.

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  36. I have reread the Diamond paper, but I still don’t understand its relevance to its targets: “the recent discussion of animals’
    rights by Peter Singer and Tom Regan…Discussion often starts…with human rights…but rights are not what is crucial…we do not eat our dead…”. Singer of course doesn’t believe in rights, and starts from the stance that:

    Some philosophers think that the aim of moral theory is to systematize our common moral intuitions. As scientific theories must match the observed data, they say, so must ethical theories match the data of our settled moral convictions. I have elsewhere
    argued against the inbuilt conservatism of this approach…[as] liable to take relics of our cultural history as the touchstone
    of morality…Our moral convictions are not reliable data for testing ethical theories. We should work from sound theories to practical judgments, not from our judgments to our theories.

    Now, some may criticize this as bloodless and unemotional, but it sounds like a very defensible stance for a professional philosopher to hold. He would agree completely with Diamond that ordinary ways of thinking are inconsistent, or hypocritical and confused. Further, his starting points for discussion (shallow pools, battery hens etc) try to engender fellow-feeling for the suffering of distant humans or nearer non-humans precisely in order to ground an “abstract principle of equality”.

    His only mention of Diamond in his 1980 paper (Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism) is that:

    Whether we ought to be vegetarians depends on a lot of facts about the situation in which we find ourselves. Some writers find this strange. They think of vegetarians as moral absolutists, who will stick to their belief in the immorality of eating meat no matter what. Thus Cora Diamond writes: “. . . one curious feature of the Peter Singer sort of argument…should be perfectly happy to eat the unfortunate lamb that has just been hit by a car.” Why is this curious? … No doubt some vegetarians are moral absolutists…
    I reject all these forms of moral absolutism.

    His uncertainties about being a vegetarian are far more pragmatic – whether you can make a difference:

    The utilitarian vegetarian is on strong ground in arguing that factory farming and the other cruelties involved in large-scale commercial
    animal production should end. The final problem is to establish the link between this goal and the obligation to become a vegetarian…. a large number of consumers rejecting animal flesh [are necessary to make a] difference…

    Looking at one’s own decision to be a vegetarian, it may seem frustrating that one cannot be sure that one has saved even a single animal..

    I advocate vegetarianism as something which “underpins, makes consistent and gives meaning to all our other activities on behalf of animals”. It provides an irrefutable answer to the oft-repeated claim that we need factory farms to feed our growing population. It allows the animal welfare campaigner to defeat ad hominem attacks, for instance: ‘How can you object to killing seals when you eat pigs and calves?’ By eliminating one’s personal involvement… [one can] avoid compromising the interests of the animals with one’s own interests.

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    • As you know, I think that Singer’s efforts to do ethics, without the grounding of moral intuition is utterly hopeless. Utilitarianism itself is nothing more than an effort to systematize our moral intuitions. I’ve made this point, not just in an essay, here, but in a lengthy discussion with Dan Tippens that originally aired on BloggingHeads.TV.

      Yes, Singer has said that he is “against moral absolutism,” but this too is unsustainable. His own Utilitarianism won’t permit it. Thus, to the extent to which he holds more reasonable veiws about meat-eating, they do not stem from his Utilitarianism.

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  37. Hi Daniel. Earlier you asked me:

    Are you suggesting that the problem some may have with Diamond is that her view is not normative enough? That is, it describes rather than prescribes?

    Well somewhat the opposite actually, but thanks for asking! I believe that there is another, perhaps better, way to explore ethics than the moral/normative way that philosophers (I suppose) always have. That intelligent people futilely seek to deny the validity of Diamond’s criticism here, suggests to me that they believe something is yet missing, though perhaps can’t quite put their fingers on it. Consider instead my “non-moral” approach to ethics:

    What if we were to identity a more fundamental concept than “norms,” from which to theorize the nature of good/bad? Thus we probably wouldn’t need to add disclaimers such as “This only concerns western civilization,” for example. The resulting theory surely wouldn’t then be “moral” — rather it would seek to describe good/bad realities in themselves, and even when this does yield repugnant conclusions.

    So what specific aspect of consciousness causes existence to be good/bad, or non-irrelevant, for the conscious entity? I’ve decided to no longer call this “qualia,” since informative senses are generally placed under this classification as well. But where qualia = senses + sensations, I theorize the “sensations” part as the punishment/reward dynamic to reality. Thus if you were to lose all sensations, existence is theorized to be just as insignificant for you as we presume it to be for rocks, viruses, computers, and trees. The value of any given subject to itself (whether personal or social) shall then be its positive minus negative sensations over a specified period of time. Higher positive/negative sensation scores, shall then denote better/worse existence for that subject.

    Observe that Peter Singer seems to have done quite well under the paradigm of moral ethics that we’ve inherited. I don’t believe that he’d enjoy my own paradigm whatsoever.

    I do look forward to questions/comments regarding this non-moral, non-normative approach to ethics, and believe that it could help those who are looking for something beyond Cora Diamond’s response to Peter Singer, whether they are vegetation or not.

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  38. @ Thomas Jones:

    “I don’t think he makes any such assumption.”

    Uh…

    “‘The empirical evidence about cannibalism suggests, moreover, that we also cannot make any general claims, as Diamond wishes to do, about the way that the difference between humans and animals is generally conceptualized….'”

    Sounds like a universal argument to me. And that’s from a part *you* quoted. To then tell me to “take it up with him” is, with all due respect a bit, shall we say, “unresponsive.” As far as I can see, unless there is some other point Smith makes against Diamond, her analysis stands without need of revision.

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  39. Dan, for some reason, I can’t comment on the case of moral arrogance, but you take the Pew poll indicating more support for restricting speech offensive to minorities as indicative of a global disregard for the 1st amendment that is unique to millenials. Isn’t it just as likely that there is no change in attitudes toward restricting unpopular speech, but what has changed is what speech is considered unpopular? Surely there are other restrictions on speech that one could imagine.

    Replace, for example, legal restrictions on speech offensive to Christians, and see how millenials stack up with earlier generations. Or speech supporting communism.

    It really seems strange to me to take this one indicator as the best indicator, in American history, of attitudes toward free speech.

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  40. mpboyle56, this is tiresome. Read Smith’s article anyway you like. It seems bothersome to you in a way that it doesn’t to me. As dbholmes expressed it, “Thomas provided an interesting link which I think fails to undercut Diamond’s argument against Singer but raises potential avenues for a better understanding of how we view animals/food.” Let’s leave it at that if you don’t mind. I don’t know what imaginary axe you are grinding here and frankly I don’t really care.

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  41. With Dan K’s and Dan T’s forgiveness, I will end my commentary on this topic with the following link to another of Smith’s articles that both fascinated and amused me. Again, I’m unable to find fault in sharing such things. Take it in the spirit of good will as we approach our respective Thanksgiving celebrations. BTW, I hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving meals!

    http://www.jehsmith.com/1/2013/08/crispyandcrunch.html

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  42. @ Thomas Jones:

    I’m perfectly content to let readers decide the merits of the case, namely Smith’s discussion of cannibalism and whether he interprets Diamond correctly as basing her argument on universal standards. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!

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