Re: Vegetarianism and Ethics

Anders Sandberg (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 16:42:30 +0100 (MET)

On Fri, 13 Dec 1996, David Musick wrote:

> 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?

It of course depends on your ethical system; animals do eat animals, and
animal meat is part of our original diet. We can choose to be vegitarian
or not, but there is no "natural" reason for it.

I can see some valid reasons for vegitarianism:

1 Meat is unaesthetic, against your religion, culture or values (I.e your
memes doesn't allow it)

2 Meat is inefficient to produce, and thus wastes too much valuable
resources (this suggests that lower forms of life like insects and fish
would be acceptable since they can be bred more efficiently). This view
may or may not be relevant on Earth right now, but it would be very
reasonable in an O'Neill colony or smiliar small biosphere.

3 Eating meat reduces the complexity of the world somewhat, so "higher"
animals should be avoided (are there plants more complex than animals?).
This is really a sub-version of 1, where the meme is "complexity is good".

Myself, I tend towards eating little meat, but have recently begun to try
to eat more of it since I think I need somewhat more protein. I agree
somewhat with 3 and 2.

> 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?

A modest proposal? :-) I think it is a bad idea on purely medical grounds
- if you eat the meat of humans you can get human diseases from it, while
the meat of other species usually is safe.

> 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?

I think an ethics has to be useful to be good (but of couse, ethical
syustems, being memes, will try to spread anyway): it has to provide you,
and presumably others, with some benefit. The classic "nice ethic" (love
others as you love yourself, do not harm, steal, lie etc) provides a
practical framework for a society by reducing internal competiton and the
risk for backstabbing (although it is vulnerable to exploitation; this is
why rules have always liked "Slavenmoral" among their underlings).

I think it is quite possible to design a rational ethics, given some
social and mental preconditions (is it intended for one person, a society,
the whole world, are people rational?), perhaps by applying game theory,
memetics and computer simulations (like running genetic algorithms to
develop an ethical system). It would make a very interesting project, one
which I have wanted to work on for a long time.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y