Monday, December 2, 2013

Singer on Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism

Singer argues that if one accepts utilitarianism, then one must also accept vegetarianism.  Basically, if you accept that pain is morally bad, then eating meat is bad on the grounds that is causes pain to animals. 

1. If Utilitarianism is true, then pain and pleasure are the basis of all moral value.
2.  Animals experience pleasure and pain.
3.  If pleasure and pain are the basis of all moral value, then animals are morally significant.
4.  So, if utilitarianism is true, then animals are morally significant.

Singer notes that there are three ways that this kind of argument seems to fall short of supporting full-fledged vegetarianism.  First, it seems like utilitarianism gives good reason only to avoid certain kinds of sourcing meat.  Specifically, it seems like factory farming should be avoided but that free-range organic methods of raising animals are morally neutral or good.  Singer replies by reminding the reader that A) most meat on the market is from factory farms and B) even if we raise livestock in humane ways before we kill and eat it, even the mere act of killing animals puts us on a slippery slope towards further harm towards animals.  Second, someone might object that the consequences of abolishing factory farming are worse than the consequences of business as usual.  Singer notes that many things must be taken into account: the potential loss of happiness of vegetarians, the loss of livelihood of producers of factory-farmed products, environmental consequences, global and individual health concerns and the suffering of animals.  Even if the loss to those employed by the industrial livestock industry were greater than the suffering animals are caused now, Singer notes that this would be a one-time loss of happiness, whereas business as usual means the continued suffering of animals.  Third, Singer note that some people may think that consequentialist analysis cannot lead to the conclusion of vegetarianism.  Consider, for example, that it may take ten thousand vegetarians to save the lives of twenty thousand chickens.  Unless you are the ten thousandth vegetarian, then you will not meet a threshold needed to save those chickens.  But Singers says that consequentialists act based on likely outcomes, so being certain that I save ten chickens is just as good as being the single vegetarian responsible for saving twenty thousand chickens.  Perhaps this is not his best point.  But he notes that refusing to consume meat is the most straightforward and practical step to limit meat consumption.  Also, by refusing to eat meat, one expresses condemnation for a practice that causes animals to suffer.  Either way, Singer thinks that utilitarianism will lead to vegetarianism

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