Hello, Nick. Thank you for your reply. Here are my responses. I will reproduce your reply in full and respond after each portion.
Hello Gary, thanks very much for your reflections on my writings on this subject.
Allow me to make some points here to advance the discussion.
I will work through your essay by its three parts.
Part I, History,
1.I do indeed appeal to history, but not just to any history, as I make clear with my example of Chinese foot-binding. It has to be a history of ongoing benefit. So, the slavery/patriarchy points entirely by-pass anything I argued. I never made anything like an argument that if something that has existed for a long time then it is right. So, this counter-argument misses entirely.
MY RESPONSE: You ignore that slavery and patriarchy have been defended, and, indeed, patriarchy continues to be defended, on the grounds that these institutions provide benefits to all parties, just as you claim meat eating does. (You did not invoke the Chinese foot binding example in the Aeon piece; you referred to that in your journal essay; in any event, you say that foot binding had no benefit for women, which would distinguish it from slavery and patriarchy, both of which were/are claimed to have benefit.) The point is that even if an institution arguably provides benefits, we reject the institutions where humans are involved if the institution involves structural inequalities, as is the case with slavery and patriarchy. You just beg the question and assume that we should ignore benefits in the slavery/patriarchy context but use benefits as a basis for concluding that the institution of animal use is justifiable—indeed, obligatory.
2.I never make an argument from the fact that eating meat is healthy for human beings. I never argue that their suffering is justified by our need. Others may argue that way, but not me. So, I couldn’t see the relevance of this paragraph to what I wrote, although it may apply to other writers.
MY RESPONSE: I am not sure what you are talking about here. You certainly do point to “health benefits to human beings” as among the positive effects of institutionalized animal use. But I never say that you claim that the institution is justified only by health benefits. That said, I would have thought that the fact that we do not need animals for nutrition certainly should affect our moral analysis of animal use. You disagree. I am sure how you can disagree if all of the suffering and death we impose on animals is wholly unnecessary, but you do.
3.I note also that at many points in your essay you overlook my point that in considering the value of lives of animals, pleasure and happiness should be factored in as well as suffering and pain. Since pleasure and happiness is usually counted for human beings, failure to do so for animals plausibly has its sources in speciesism.
MY RESPONSE: Not at all. I just reject the idea that any pleasure that animals have can justify institutional animal use any more than, say, any pleasure that slaves or women have can justify slavery or patriarchy.
Part II, The Good Life,
4.You raise some empirical question concerning how many animals are factory-farm-raised. I need not go into the facts here because you say that 70% of British farming is factory-style. It leaves 30% with tolerable lives. You call that a “small fraction”; I think it is quite a large fraction, and it is sufficient for an argument from benefit to animals. So, this objection is another miss, I am afraid.
MY RESPONSE: If one considers the number of animals used around the world who are used as “food animals,” the number not raised in intensive circumstances is small. For example, in the U.S., where many more animals are consumed than in the U.K., virtually all animal farming is intensive. But you are neglecting the general problem: how can you claim that a practice is obligatory based on a set of circumstances which, if they ever obtained, no longer obtain except as an exception to a more general rule where animals get no benefit? I also think that your assumption that any non-intensive farming results in animals having a “good life” is problematic.
5.A shot on target is the complaint that a bad death somehow cancels all value in a life. This view is quite common among those who write in ‘defence’ of animals. However, the view is surely weird. Why do those last moments somehow cancel the whole of life before then? Moreover, if this view applies only to animals, it is only plausibly attributed to speciesism. Or else, the idea might be that the certain human being’s feelings concerning those deaths matter more than the lives of the animals. I note that this point is one where we genuinely clash rather than missing each other entirely, as with some other points.
MY RESPONSE: I never said that a bad death cancels all value in life. I have said that one cannot justify killing animals for food any more than one can justify using a human as a forced organ donor even if that human has had a good life.
6.I concede a difficulty about why we should not eat dogs and horses. So, I am not just engaged here in playing dialectical tennis for the sake of it. On the other hand, your point that in many cultures people eat dogs or horses or that some keep sheep as pets does not affect what these animals have been bred for. Nevertheless, there is an issue about why one should not treat animal in ways that run counter to their nature and purpose. I intend to think more about this.
MY RESPONSE: Please let me know where your further thinking takes you here.
Part III, Cognitive Inferiority
7. Once again, I am perplexed at the accusation of ‘anthropomorphism’, if that means projecting human characteristics onto non-human things. Or does it just mean that there is something morally distinctive about human beings? Then I endorse that. But if this is so, it is obviously not just because they are of a certain species. I was surprised to be taken that way. My views may differ from others with similar views on eating meat. Moreover, I don’t claim that animals have no conception of their futures and many other similar claims.
MY RESPONSE: I never accused you of anthropomorphism. I accused you of anthropocentrism. I think your analysis is clearly anthropocentric. You think humans are special because at least some humans have cognitive abilities that you assert are morally valuable than the cognitive abilities of animals, and humans have a moral right—indeed, a moral obligation—to exploit nonhumans. That is about as anthropocentric as it gets.
8. You speak in terms of animals as having an ‘interest in their own existence’, which I don’t object to; and you connect that with sentience. Alright. Perhaps. Two points. Firstly, both differ from normative self-government. Second, since both these characteristic of animals are valuable, the benefit argument means that this point counts in favour of carnivorism, not against it.
MY RESPONSE: Two points. First, there are lots of humans who lack normative self-government. We do not say that it is justifiable to use those humans exclusively as resources. Your response is that humans who lack this cognitive characteristic are still as valuable as those who have it, and are of more value than nonhumans who lack it, because they are members of a species that has it. That really is the definition of speciesism! Second, the assertion is that the value of the cognitive characteristics of animals means that we should kill and eat them where the value of those characteristics in humans means that we ought not to use and kill them is another example of a completely anthropocentric position.
9. A minor point: I don’t agree that humans with late-stage dementia live only in the moment. I think they live mostly in the past.
MY RESPONSE: I disagree. Many such people have no memories of the past. But it is irrelevant in any event. Those with late-stage dementia are not connected to a future self, and it is that characteristic on which Singer, Regan, McMahon, etc. focus.
10.You do address the normative self-government idea, but you take it to entail that lacking it means that animals do not matter. However, I many times reject that. Moreover, there is nothing ‘anthropomorphic’ about it, as you say, since aliens and dolphins may have it.
MY RESPONSE: No, I do address it. I point out that what you think is “special” about humans (or at least the normally functioning ones) is that they can apply normative concepts to their awareness and thereby modify their behavior. I also point out that drawing the line at normative self-government really highlights the completely arbitrary nature of your anthropocentric analysis. The fact that you think that aliens and dolphins may also have the special characteristic does not make the characteristic any less anthropocentric.
11.You have some cynical speculations about the motives of those who defend carnivorism; but there also can be more or less cynical speculations about the motivations of anti-carnivores. Perhaps they are grandstanding or virtue-signalling, for example. However, firstly, such motivations may vary quite a bit, and secondly, they are irrelevant to assessing the arguments. So, it is surely best to put these speculations to one side.
The underlying real moral issue, I believe, where it gets beyond mere miscommunication, is that I seek a varied moral landscape, not the all-or-nothing black-or-white moral drama of many animal advocates. I find nuance rather than absolutes. They seek to impose moral uniformity, while I seek to respect moral diversity.
MY RESPONSE: I am not sure what you mean by my “cynical speculations about motives.” I do think that your position is transparently indefensible and that the only reason for anyone to pay it any attention is that it reassures them that it’s okay—indeed, even morally obligatory—to keep doing something that they want to continue to do. I stand by that.
Your “nuance” is nothing more than your assumption that animal exploitation can be morally justified. I presume you would agree that there are areas where morally indefensible choices cannot be protected by a claim of “diversity.” For example, some white supremacists in the U.S. argue that racism can defended as an expression of moral diversity. They object to the moral uniformity required by equality as that is understood by progressives, and they invoke idea of moral pluralism. I assume you would reject that argument. I certainly would reject it and I would also say that claims of “diversity” also cannot justify anthropocentrism and speciesism—and nothing you have said provides a reason to conclude otherwise. In the case of animals, it’s not “nuance.” It’s just looking for a way out so that we can continue to exploit nonhuman animals.
MORE OF MY RESPONSE: We don’t seek a “varied moral landscape” that includes murdering humans. You have provided nothing but the standard “humans are special” argument, together with the observation that we’ve thought that human are special for a long time so we should keep on thinking it, in order to have a “varied moral landscape” that includes killing animals.