Moral Vegetarianism, Part 12 of 13

November 9, 2009 at 8:46 pm Leave a comment

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.

The Argument from Brutalization

The previous argument was based on an alleged indirect effect on human beings of not eating meat. The argument from brutalization is basically of the same kind. It is argued that the killing and eating of meat indirectly tends to brutalize people. Conversely, vegetarianism, it is argued, tends to humanize people.

This argument can have a strong or weak form depending on what is meant by “brutalize” and “humanize.” In the strong form, it maintains that eating meat (indirectly) influences people to be less kind and more violent to other people; conversely, not eating meat tends to make people more kind and less violent. In the weaker form of the argument it is maintained only that eating meat tends to make people less sensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people and more willing to accept people’s brutality and inhumanity to other people.

Whatever form the argument takes, it is important to understand its status. I have argued that there is no incompatibility between being a nonvegetarian and advocating the painless and humane treatment of animals. Consequently, there is no logical connection between being a nonvegetarian and the cruel treatment of animals, let alone the cruel treatment of persons (human or otherwise). Similarly, there is no logical connection between eating meat and being insensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals or humans.

The argument from brutalization, however, does not appear to postulate a logical connection between vegetarianism and inhumanity but rather a psychological one. Thus the strong form of the argument seems to assume the truth of the following psychological generalization.

1. People who do not eat meat tend to be less cruel and inhumane to persons than people who do eat meat.

As far as I know, no good evidence has ever been collected to support or refute (1). Pacifists like Gandhi are often cited as examples of people who are vegetarians and who are opposed to violence. But Hitler was also a vegetarian. Indeed, Hitler’s vegetarianism is a constant source of embarrassment to vegetarians, and they sometimes attempt to explain it away. For example, the Vegetarian News Digest argued that “there is no information that indicates [Hitler] eliminated flesh food for humanitarian reasons.” But the reason Hitler did not eat meat is irrelevant to the present argument. Here we are only concerned with whether or not eating meat tends to make people less brutal.

But perhaps the psychological generalization presupposed is a little different from (1). Perhaps the argument from brutalization presupposes

2. People who do not eat meat for moral reasons tend to be less brutal than people who do eat meat.

In terms of (2) the comments of the Vegetarian News Digest are not irrelevant. The case of Hitler need not count against (2).

The truth of (2) is by no means self-evident, however, and empirical evidence is needed to support it. Although I am not aware that such evidence is available at the present time, let us suppose that (2) is well confirmed. This by itself would hardly be a strong argument for vegetarianism, since the following generalization could also be true.

3. People who eat meat after reflection on the morality of eating meat are less brutal than people who eat meat without such reflection.

The bulk of the population has given no reflection at all to the morality of eating meat. Consequently, a comparison between moral vegetarians and meat eaters at large is hardly fair. Putting it in another way, supposing (2) to be true, moral vegetarianism per se might not be responsible for humanizing people. Rather, what might be responsible for such humanizing is simply moral reflection, reflection that might lead either to the acceptance or to the rejection of moral vegetarianism.

What would be significant is if the following generalization were true.

4. People who do not eat meat after serious reflection on the morality of meat eating are less brutal than people who eat meat after such reflection.

The truth of (4) would enable us to say with some confidence that something besides moral reflection is involved in becoming less brutal. At the present time, however, there is no reason to suppose that (4) is true.

Similar considerations indicate that the weaker form of the argument from brutalization also fails. The weaker form of the argument seems to assume

5. People who don’t eat meat for moral reasons are less likely than people who do eat meat to be insensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people.

Whether (5) is true or not is uncertain. But in any case (5) is not terribly relevant to moral vegetarianism. A relevant comparison would not be between moral vegetarians and nonvegetarians in general but between moral vegetarians and nonvegetarians who eat meat after moral reflection, that is between moral vegetarians and what might be called moral nonvegetarians. Thus, what needs to be established is not (5) but

6. People who don’t eat meat after reflection on the morality of eating meat are less likely than people who do eat meat after such reflection to be insensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people.

At the present time we have no more reason to accept (6) than we have to accept (4). And we have no reason to accept (4). Thus the argument from brutalization fails.

KBJ: I agree that this argument fails. Perhaps that is why I have never heard anyone make it.
http://animalethics.blogspot.com/2009/11/m…

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From Today’s New York Times Z is for Zenyatta, and a day gone to ‘waste’

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