Vegetarianism and Ethics

David Musick (
Fri, 13 Dec 96 05:58:11 UT

About a week ago, Twirlip of Greymist posted:

"And why should the Meaning of Life be observer-independent? Meaning of whose
life? My meaning of a chicken's life is to feed me.

(How many vegetarians on the list? How many for reasons other than health?) "

This got me thinking about vegetarianism and what reasons, if any, there are
for not eating animals, other than for health reasons. Most specifically, I
was looking for any "ethical" reasons for not eating animals. Is it "wrong"
to eat animals? This prompts more thinking of why we consider *anything* to
be wrong. Perhaps the idea of "wrong" could be translated into "interferes
with my goals." Certainly someone injuring my body or killing it would seem
"wrong" to me, because it interferes with my goals to remain living and as
uninjured as possible. But what about me hurting other people? If they are
people who I may wish to trade with, which would help me achieve my goals, it
would be "wrong" (in the goal-interference sense) for me to injure them or do
anything to them to cause them to perform for me in a degraded manner. But
what about people whom I have no dealings with? If they are capable of
hurting me or interfering with my goals in other ways, I certainly wouldn't
want to provoke them to do that; creating enemies is not in my best interests.
But what if they are defenseless and powerless? Then why should I care about
them? Perhaps driving them off their land or even killing them would actually
help me achieve certain goals. Would it be "wrong" to do then? Certainly not
in a goal-interference sense, since the murdering is helping me achieve my
goals. But are there any realistic ethical concerns besides goal attainment?
I don't know. This would be interesting to discuss.

I was also thinking about the idea of farming humans to eat. Humans are
expensive to feed, and they take several years to mature, but if someone
really enjoyed human meat, is there anything wrong with farming them? One
might say it's a waste of mental abilities and that the humans could be used
for better things than food, but that is nonsense, since there are plenty of
women who can bear as many children as we need to perform tasks which require
mental abilities. Hell, we could even lobotomize the ones we farm so they
aren't so difficult to deal with. They would be our property, after all, and
we would be raising them for the purpose of being eaten. In a goal-attainment
sense, farming humans for food is not "wrong". But why does it feel wrong?
And why do many people, who would think it abominable to farm humans have no
qualms about farming other animals? It is not obvious to me that there is any
fundamental difference between farming humans for food and farming other
animals for food. If I consider one "wrong", I have a difficult time not
considering the other "wrong" also.

Also, is there really anything "wrong" with enslaving women to bear children
to raise for various purposes? If they are lobotomized, they will probably go
along with it willingly enough. Is there really anything "wrong" with slavery
in general? Why? Certainly, for many things, it is not cost-effective to use
slaves, because the equipment is expensive and requires too many advanced
skills, but is there anything "wrong" with enslaving humans, in general?

Now, I'm certainly not advocating any of these activities, but I think it's
important to think about and discuss why we do or don't think various
activities are "wrong". Is it possible to have a system of "rational ethics"?
Would it be based totally on achieving one's goals, or is there more to
ethics than that?

- David Musick

- Question Tradition -