Tag Archive: meat


Here’s my version of an argument first presented by Nozick, Singer, and others: what I call the Alien Challenge.

The Greathans have come. The Greathans are a race of beings far more advanced than humans in every measurable respect. To them, the intellectual capacities of humans are roughly analogous to what we consider those of cattle to be. Greathan scientists debate over whether human communication is even complex enough to be called language. The Greathans swiftly take over Earth, and humans are rounded up and placed in pens and similar housing.

Having a taste for meat, Greathan chefs experiment with a variety of human recipes, and the new book _To Serve Man_ quickly becomes a bestseller. “Leg of Man” and “Grilled Human Breast with Mango Salsa” are favorites on Greathan cooking shows.

Unable to resist the superior Greathans with force, you and a few humans try to reason with them. Curious about your attempts to communicate, a Greathan farmer brings you before a Greathan scientist. You explain to it that you think it’s wrong for them to eat humans.

The Greathan shrugs its tentacles. “What could be wrong with it? You are not Greathan, but another species altogether. You aren’t entitled to Greathan rights. Besides, if we recognized your rights to life, what would prevent us from having to also recognize the right to life of all other earth creatures, such as dogs, pigs, and even insects or crustaceans? Plus, your claim is hypocritical: you freely eat other such creatures who you believe yourselves to be superior to, but now complain when we do the same thing to you.”

You’re taken aback by the Greathan’s reply, but thinking quickly on your feet you answer that, “look, other earth creatures don’t have language, but we do. That’s a big distinction! Surely the fact that we can talk together about these matters shows that we’re different from other creatures. We can both eat and farm these other earth creatures, but surely you shouldn’t eat us.”

The Greathan waves its tentacles idly, unimpressed. “You have a far greater opinion of your abilities than is accurate,” it responds. “You may call what you are doing using language, but we don’t. Your ‘language’ is a very primitive form of communication without telepathic content, and so is not true language. Your dogs, primates, cetaceans, and even bees do as well or better than you when it comes to communication. How we’re communicating now is for me nothing more than grunting and pointing.
“So I return to my original contention that it is perfectly right for us to eat humans and have a thriving business of farming humans, and it is hypocritical of you to say otherwise.”

The Greathan looks at you with its multiple eyes. How would you answer it?

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The Ethics of Meat Eating

So a brief interlude here to talk about the ethics of meat eating, something most people don’t think or reflect about much. My basic argument is quite simple and rests on 3 premises:

(1) most animals that humans eat in the industrialized world such as cows, pigs, chickens, etc. are creatures that are sentient and capable of feeling pleasure, pain, and likely other emotions as well.

(2) You should not (it is morally wrong to) kill (or torture) a sentient creature unless you have a reason strong enough to override its right to exist. Killing someone because you need to in order to survive is one such reason, killing someone because you like the way they taste is not. Another way of putting this is, it is wrong to kill or torture a sentient being for the sheer pleasure of it.

(3) Most (probably all) people in industrialized societies do not need to kill sentient animals in order to survive.

Conclusion: it is wrong for most or all people in industrial societies to eat meat. It amounts to the killing (and often, torture) of sentient beings for nothing other than the sheer pleasure of it.

There are many other reasons to refrain from eating meat that rely on self-interest, but my basic moral argument is the one above. Many people resist it with all kinds of twisted and tortured arguments because they don’t want to believe that they are the kinds of people who do what the conclusion describes, but I believe the argument is sound.

From self-interest, there are two main lines of argument: health reasons (everything from BGH to E coli to mad cow, etc. in addition to the negative effects on cholesterol and the inflammatory effects of arachidonic acid), and environmental ones (the widespread effects of industrial animal agriculture on the water table, the amount of methane produced, the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the amount of grain that could be used for other purposes – if the U. S. reduced it’s meat consumption by 10% this would free up enough grain to feed 60 million people). Much has been written on these subjects already.

I welcome your comments!