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15: MAR 5


  • Ethics Day 1
  • Chamowitz, What a Plant Knows. Chapter 1, "What a Plant Sees"
  • Fischer, Bob, "Arguments for Consuming Animal Products" (241-253)
  • Alfino, "Report of the Mission to Colony B"

Food Ethics thought experiment: Report of the Mission....

  • types of thought experiments...this one is intended to be heuristic. Reading it, you should feel that your intuitions were reasonably challenged by the fictional scenario and that the options provided for locating a "view" for your intuition make sense.
  • goal of this thought experiment: isolate intuitions about the acceptability of animal food from sentient, intelligent animals, under evolutionary challenges parallel to ours. Using domesticated humans as the test animal, the thought tries to include an intuition based on "place taking", "What if it happened to us?"
  • Small Group Experience
  • Discuss the thought experiment as if you had been on the Mission. Do the positions: "speciesist" (SP), "symbiotic carnivores" (SC), or "recent vegan" (RV) make sense? Are there other positions?
  • Fill out this form reporting your group's experience with the thought experiment.

Brief Lecture on Typical Food Ethics Arguments

  • Absolutist or categorical arguments (either direction) vs. incrementalist arguments (parallel to climate arguments, imperatives, but open to excuses).
  • Extensionism
  • Agrarianism, Sustainability, Evo-Eco Aproaches
  • Spirituality based Food Ethics - including hunter's spirituality and native peoples' practices.
  • Extensionism - term for a group of ethical arguments which extend principles of human morality to animals
  • utilitarians extend principle of equal happiness and principle of utility. suffer of animals extraordinary (consider ind/non-ind), age at slaughter an issue. Most utilitarian analyses argue against animal consumption. (Digression on story re: Animal Liberation, 1975)
  • Core intuition of the utilitarian extensionalist: equal consideration, anti-speciesist, anti-suffering.
  • rights theorist argue for the extension of rights to animals. Most rights scheme would prohibit eating animals categorically.
  • Core intuition of the rights extensionalist: any creature that is a "subject of their life" has inherent value, must be treated as ends in themselves.
  • Good, bad, and problematic things about extensionalist approaches:
  • Good:
  • Singer's argument came at a time of low concern about animal suffering and had an impact. The law has lots of flexibility to acknowledge limited rights, prohibitions against animal abuse, for example.
  • Suffering really matters.
  • Bad:
  • Binary -- early versions and many current versions treat the question of the morality of eating animals as an all or nothing question, but this seems to be assumed in the binary character of extentionalism. What if it's ok to eat for some people to eat some meat sometimes? (Fischer, 249, exceptions)
  • Hyper-rational approach: Articulating and applying principles is a basic function of moral thought, but morality is also embedded in social practices. Food has no moral significance prior to the analysis. But is food morally neutral?
  • Non-ecological - Non-evolutionary -- For eco-systemic health, you might have to cause animal suffering (eg. elim of invasive species); Trophic relationships matter morally, not only in neg way.
  • Problematic -- these arguments don't seem to convince very many people. Why?
  • Mention of current project: [1]

Age of Slaughter vs. Natural Life Span

  • Note that the more symmetrically you see animal and human interests, the more likely this information is to be problematic.
  • Pigs: Slaughtered at 6 months young; Natural life span: 6 to 10 years
  • Chickens: Slaughtered at 6 weeks young; Natural life span: 5 to 8 years for those birds bred as "egg layers" such as Rhode Island Reds; 1 to 4 years for factory layer breeds such as leghorns; and 1 to 3 years for "meat" breeds.
  • Turkeys: Slaughtered at 5 to 6 months young; Natural life span: 2 to 6 years
  • Ducks/Geese: Slaughtered at 7 to 8 weeks young; Natural life span: domestic ducks: 6 to 8 years; geese from 8 to 15 years.
  • Cattle: “Beef” cattle slaughtered at 18 months young; dairy cows slaughtered at 4 to 5 years young; Natural life span: 18 to 25+ years
  • Veal Calves: Slaughtered at 16 weeks young; Natural life span: 18 to 25+ years
  • Goats: Slaughtered at 3 to 5 months young; Natural life span: 12 to 14 years
  • Rabbits: Slaughtered at 10 to 12 weeks young; Natural life span: 8 to 12+ years
  • Lambs: Slaughtered at 6 to 8 weeks young for “young lamb” and under 1 year for all other; Natural life span: 12 to 14 years
  • Horses/Donkeys: Slaughter age varies; Natural life span: 30 to 40 years

Fischer, Bob, "Arguments for Consuming Animal Products"

  • This article takes a unique approach to animal and food ethics arguments by looking for arguments to justify meat eating, rather than arguments for morally prohibiting it. Notice that the more difficult it is to justify, the more likely the anti-arguments need your consideration.
  • Intro
  • "man on the street" intuitions: health, natural, nice, normal. Not very promising starts.
  • organization: survey of arguments:
  • 1. "ought" or "may" eat meat;
  • 2. practices: animal friendly ok; industrial ok; insects, oysters, roadkill, wild animals
  • 3. arguments based on empirical assumptions about moralying interesting traits: sentience, sustainability
  • 4. arguments based on standard ethical approaches: utility, rights, contracts, biocentrism, speciesism (this is the approach he takes)
  • Utilitarians arguments favoring consumption of animal products (or problems with simple utilitarian arguments against meat)
  • might focus on hunting or eating a whale (loss of utility of one big animal vs. pleasure of many)
  • 1st objection to simple utility args: causal impotence argument: "If no particular purchase makes a diff, then no collective difference either."
  • might argue against utility of meat eating (Garrett 244) since veg diet gives longer life, but this doesn't make a categorical prohibition since moderate meat eating not bad for you and includes gustatory pleasures.
  • 2nd objection to simple utility args: Replacability argument (Singer): loss of utility to animal you kill is made up for by creating a new animal. Like "Logic of the Larder" argument (Salt): we do animals a favor by creating them, so this offsets their loss of utility in being eaten.
  • Fischer points out that we would not dream of applying these arguments to humans (ones with cog disabilities, growing a human as organ donor, etc.). Also, these arguments don't consider disutility of animal productions (environment, utilities lost to inefficiency (e.g. hung relief))
  • 3rd objection to simple utility args: veg/vegan diets have disutilities as well: killing animals that eat crops. Maybe optimal reduction of killing found in some meat consumption. (animals killed per hectare) Empirical evidence here is pretty speculative.
  • roadkill arguments! West Virginia Road Kill Cookoff.... also, entomophagy: incects, mealworms, crickets. Oysters (bivalves), scallops, clams
  • Rights based arguments
  • Tom Regan's rights argument for respecting inherent value of individuals still allows for liberty principle to handle "life boat" cases. Hugh Lehman argues that humans are in such a circumstance due to their nutritional needs. Others (George) suggest that specific groups of individuals like kids and nursing women are allow to eat animals under Regan's theory. Fischer doubts this justifies industrial animal ag and is sceptical of the empirical claims.
  • Cuneo offers another version of this kind of argument, not killing is too great a burden on rights.
  • Animal rights deniers: Reductio: if animals had rights, we'd have to stop them killing each other. Even if this is extreme, it is hard to justify animal experimentation if animals have right.
  • Denying direct duty theories: Singer and Regan argue that animals have rights because of properties (sentience or being the subject of a life) that confer a direct duty on us not to violate their rights by eating them. Without direct duties, harming animals is only wrong when it violates someone else's rights (like someone who owns the animal). This contractarian view denies moral standing to animals. A weakness of this view is that it might not be strong enough to guarantees rights to all humans.
  • New Speciesism and Agrarianism
  • Maybe we have a justified partiality to our species. Or you could argue that the properties that are morally relevant for a right not to be eaten pick out our species uniquely. Problems for new speciesists: marginal cases. messed up humans. Timothy Hsaio gives theoretical expression to this: capacity for rational agency is what is morally important. privileges meat consumption as a moral interest humans have, while absence of pain in animals is nonmoral interest. This could justify factory farming since the human moral interest is categorically superior to all animal pain.
  • Problems (255): rationality account is essentialist, but hard to believe after Darwin; non-empirical; nutritional argument not sound;
  • Environmental and Agrarian approaches
  • Leopold: "a thing is right when it preserves the integrity and stability and beuty of the biotic community" predation is characteristic of beautiful biotic communities. Problem: Could lead to eco-fascism: humans could be seen as scourge of biotic community. Callicott's communitarianism. Meat eating is a deeply embedded practice of a community.
  • Wendell Berry's agrarianism takes a different approach. Value on getting nutrition from the land (might be good for Simon Fairley's view). Living involves taking life ("There is not innocent eating.") Problems: not clear that agrarians need to take life. Pet ownership?
  • Summary of key insights of attempts to justify animal consumption
  • 1. Don't forget that plant agriculture involves killing animals too.
  • 2. Don't forget about insects, mollusks, bivalves and road kill.
  • 3. Rights arguements don't yet tell us what we can or cannot do to animals.
  • 4. Ahimsa is fine, but we might need to accept the violence of getting nutrition from the world.

Chamowitz, C1, "What a Plant Sees"

  • what can plants see: color and light changes in environment, directionality of light, durations of light/dark,
  • presents parallel mechanisms of human and plant "sight"
  • human sight: human retina, 125 million rods/ 6 million cones. rhodopsin and photopsins absorb light at different frequencies. Also, cryptochrome for circadian rhythm.
  • plant sight: photoreceptor, phytochrome. result of 1980s Dutch research (Maarten Koorneef) found 11 photoreceptors. Light is part of energy system for plants, so important to have adapted controls. Plants see a larger spectrum, but not in pictures. Both process light and respond to changes. Plants and humans both have circadian rhythms.
  • Darwin
  • phototropism - plant movement toward light. Darwin & son simple experiment to exclude photosynthesis as cause: phototropism observable in dark.
  • photoperiodism - plants response to intervals and amounts of light exposure. From timing flowering plants like chrysanthemums, we learned about the red light / far red light "switch" (1950s!)