Friday, July 31, 2009

Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights and Vegetarianism at The Corner

I participated in a conversation on animal rights over at The Corner about vegetarianism. Here was my point.

Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights [Wesley J. Smith]

Eating meat is a natural human activity — that is, we are biologically omnivorous. In my view, this makes it entirely moral for human beings to eat meat. How that meat is obtained is important. Human exceptionalism — a concept denied in animal-rights ideology — holds that we have a duty to treat animals humanely. Arguments can certainly be made that factory farms are not humane, although they do provide important human benefits of inexpensive and nutritious food. Many opponents of factory farms don’t have to worry about food prices when feeding their families. Still, there is “humane meat,” advocated by Matthew Scully in Dominion, which is more expensive but is raised on Old McDonald–type farms with humane methods of slaughter.

I consider vegetarianism for moral reasons akin to a vow of chastity by monastics: It eschews a normal human activity for higher moral purposes. That is to be admired. But no monastic would or should say that his vow of chastity makes him morally superior to married married people who have sex. Similarly, vegetarians’ decision to refrain from eating meat does not make them morally superior to people who do eat meat.

In Dominion, Scully does indeed come at his advocacy from an animal-welfare (as opposed to an animal-rights) perspective. But he is barely on the right side of the line because he is indifferent to the human good derived from animal industries and animal use.

He also claims that the ideology doesn’t matter in this debate. That is absolutely wrong. Animal-welfare philosophy supports human exceptionalism; animal-rights philosophy disdains that approach and rejects human exceptionalism as “speciesist.” There is a huge difference between the two. Whether we believe human beings have a unique moral status in the world has tremendous implications for human rights and human flourishing. Indeed, it could be the most important ethical and moral issue of the 21st century.


  1. It seems to be going to a post on Mary Robinson and google-fu, instead of animal rights.

  2. Thanks Foxfier, formerly Sailorette: It was a bad link so I cut and pasted.

  3. It's a non sequitur to argue that "Eating meat is a natural human activity — that is, we are biologically omnivorous. In my view, this makes it entirely moral for human beings to eat meat."

    Unless, that is, you want to accept the absurd conclusion your argument leads to, that any natural human activity is entirely moral for human beings to participate in.

    Murder, rape, pillaging, beating, stealing, deception/lying, and nearly all forms of egregiously stupid behavior are quite natural in humans.

    Seeing this makes me wonder how much thought you have even put into this topic. The post above is based on a faulty premise and riddled with fallacies and false analogies. Comparing vegetarianism with a vow a chastity is simply not a valid comparison. The benefits to society and the individual of a vegetarian diet far outweigh whatever benefits might arise from chastity (better personal health, better environment, less waste of food resources, less animal abuse and torture, etc ad nauseam VS what exactly?). One cannot eat meat without exploiting other living, sentient beings, yet one can easily avoid chastity without any moral implication whatsoever.

    Your attempt to make an argument here seems quite awkward at best.



  4. Rather hard to prove we're biologically designed to rape (bad idea, means that *if* there is a child, they're going to be poorly cared for) lie (how would one prove that? Plus, it's counter-productive for a social unit if members habitually lie or steal.

    There are moral reasons to beat on folks, and stupidity is generally selected against. (taunt the lion once, you're unlikely to do so again)