Were influenced by Aristotle and the Old Testament. In Genesis 9:3, God says, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” For many Christians, this is a clear license to consume meat, but between the 3rd and 10th centuries CE the Persian Manichaeans were a Christian sect that practiced non-violence and saw vegetarianism and the elimination of animal slaughter as one way to restore the ultimate good of God unto Earth.
In 1975, philosopher Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation which was the first scholarly work to present ethical arguments to not consume or perform experiments on animals. Singer refined his arguments in a 1980 article titled “Utlitarianism and Vegetarianism.”
He writes, “Vegetarianism is, for [him], a means to an end rather than an end in itself.” As a utilitarian, Singer subscribes to the ethical theory that the best actions are those that maximizes utility, which is commonly defined as that which provides the greatest well-being of the greatest number of moral agents.
Utilitarianism is an extremely prevalent philosophy, but Singer’s argument became radical when he introduced the welfare of nonhuman animals into his moral framework, treating them as moral agents. Singer states, “Utilitarianism, in its classical form, aims at minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure.” It is clear many nonhuman animals can experience pain and pleasure. Singer continues:
As I said in Animal Liberation: “The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration.
” The importance of the fact that the principle of utility gives animals moral standing, and gives their interests equal weight with the like interests of humans. If we consider the interests of sentient animals, then vegetarianism does seem to be our only moral choice. His argument is quite persuasive, and Singer’s work singlehandedly began the animal rights movement. Tom Regan, another philosopher, agreed with Singer’s conclusion that vegetarianism is a moral imperative but disagreed with his reasoning. Regan was a deontologist, that is he believed that moral agents must be treated as ends in themselves and never as a means to end.
Like Singer, he believed that all sentient life must be treated as moral agents that have inherent value. This includes many animals as well humans. Regan did not necessarily believe that all meat consumption was wrong, but he argued that in actuality we were required to act as if this were the case. His argument rests on an idea of complicity in evil. Regan claims, “Since [animal agribusiness] routinely violates the rights of these animals . . . it is wrong to purchase its products.” Any purchase of meat, he states, contributes to the legitimacy of wide-scale meat consumption and therefore the existence of inhumane factory farms. This occurs even if the particular piece of meat you are eating was humanely sourced. In a rebuttal to both Singer and Regan, Budolfson makes the relatively weak claim that consuming factory farmed meat is not necessarily wrong.
His first major argument is directed at Singer and rests on what Budolfson deems the inefficacy objection. He posits that slack in the meat supply chain means that the choices of individual consumers are extremely unlikely to have any effect on production. In this regard, purchasing a pork chop from Harris Teeter is much closer to dumpster diving than raising and killing the hog yourself. Inefficacy arguments like Budolfson’s have also been applied to voting, but many philosophers and political economists have explained away the “paradox of voting” by appealing to reasons other than pure consequential efficacy. Budolfson reconciles this potential dilemma by claiming that inefficacy in the case of factory-farmed meat consumption is sufficiently distinct from the familiar paradox of voting. He supports this in three ways. The first is that slack in the supply chain prevents threshold effects of the sort that you might see in an election.
He claims that one consumer could never decide the fate of the factory farming election in the same manner that one voter could cause a particular candidate to win in an election that was tied exactly 50-50. The second way consumption of meat is different from voting is that most consumers do not have a personal preference to abstain from meat, although a majority of voters usually possess a preference to vote that does not depend on the likelihood of their vote “mattering.” The third way Budolfson highlights the distinction is in his argument that meat eaters do not cause animal harm in the way voters cause the election of candidates. Voting is essentially a direct transaction where the voter expresses his or her support for a particular candidate or issue. This is not the case when purchasing meat. The consumer sees steak in the grocery store and has no idea who the farmer is that produced the meat or how the animal is treated. This barrier might, as Budolfson argues, reduce one’s moral culpability in the suffering of an animal.
Budolfson’s second major objection is aimed at Regan. Budolfson claims that consumers are not complicit in any of the evil that goes into making animal products because inhumane treatment is not highly essential to these products. One can raise and slaughter animals in a humane way that minimizes their suffering. It is not the consumer’s fault that meat producers caused an unjustifiable amount of animal suffering. Budolfson says that if it were to be at least partially the fault of consumers, ovo-lactovegetarians would be complicit in evil that is more severe than someone who only consumes animal flesh. This is due to the fact that animals on dairy and egg farms generally live in conditions that are worse than those on meat-producing farms. Furthermore, virtually every product results in at least some harm, as transportation and distribution requires the use of petroleum products which contribute to climate change, potentially harming future humans and animals.
It would be impossible to consider every ethical argument related to meat consumption, but in this section I have attempted to examine the most significant ones. In this paper, I have described meat’s necessary role in human evolution and its importance today in human hthe cognitive development of children. I have also examined some of the causes and consequences of meats special cultural significance, which were distilled into four broad categories of meat’s intrinsic qualities, its connotations of wealth and status, social and religious traditions, and the connection of meat-eating with identity. I then laid out costs and benefits of the factory farming necessary to meet today’s extraordinary (and growing!) global demand for meat and provided a brief history of the modern vegetarian movements that oppose the meat industry’s worst transgressions.
I capped this multi-faceted analysis of meat with an exploration of some of the most prominent arguments regarding animal welfare and the ethics of meat consumption. In closing, it is clear that humanity’s relationship with meat is complicated. We have argued over the morality of its consumption for thousands of years. Many meat eaters suffer from a sort of moral dissonance, knowing that the consumption of meat causes significant harm but choosing to consume it anyway. Ethical arguments aside, most humans will have to reduce their meat intake for any hope of slowing down or mitigating the damaging effects of climate change. The choice to consume meat, however, is a uniquely human problem. Although human beings are functionally still animals, it is only through the miracle of consciousness and reason that we are even able to have this debate. After all, neither lions nor bears nor even chimpanzees experience moral quandaries when deciding on their next meal.