Other animals eat other animals (carnivores and omnivores); I am a human ANIMAL, so it is alright for me to eat other animals too. I would like to say that this 'argument' is a caricature; however, I have heard it or read it from numerous people. Right from the get go we can see that this is a fallacious argument: we would not look to cows to justify standing in the grass all day, or to ducks to justify rape, or to Orcas to justify playing with an animal before killing and eating it, or even to lions to justify eating an animal while it is still alive. The point is not that these animals do these things all of the time, but that they do and have. We could think of many more examples of animal behaviour that we obviously cannot justify in our own actions by saying that other animals do it too.
YES, we are animals, but there are other highly important things to remember here: we are also highly intelligent (or at least we have big brains for our body size) as a species; furthermore, there are at least two important elements of our culture and ourselves: ethics and empathy. Ethics is simply put: the consideration of what is good (assuming that it encompasses axiology) and of how we ought to act. We do not look to elephants to understand how we should treat our parents, nor do we look catfish, ducks, or raccoons to see how we should treat our partners, nor do we look to lions or even gorillas or chimpanzees to figure out how we should view and address other species of animal. Such studies may prove interesting, but they do not tell us how we ought to live.
If you encounter someone who argues that evolution or the simple fact that we are animals means that evolution or nature is where we get our ethics, introduce them first to a prominent evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins and then try to guide them away from illogic. Both in his documentary Enemies of Reason and his interview with Wendy Wright (a painful interview by the way), and likely in many other places, Dawkins stresses adamantly that we should not base our morality or even societies on the realities of nature and natural selection.
So alright, Richard Dawkins would agree with me; big deal! There is still logic at stake. Simply because we are animals, it of course does not follow that therefore we can do as we please. What would that even have to do with being a non-human animal? Deciding what we should do, what is right, exists as a separate pursuit from what we do. See the naturalistic fallacy on the Fallacies page. I know it feels a bit silly to spend so much time on a position that people generally propose without any thought. I have seen otherwise intelligent people propose this argument however.
It is unethical for you to force your (crazy) beliefs and lifestyle onto your children! So, you should not raise them vegan. It does not take long to recognize the illogic in this line of argument. Implied in this argument is the notion that being vegan is either one or both of the following: weird and/or unhealthy. I will be writing a nutrition blog in the near future, which will be linked here. It would take a great deal to delve into the details of the nutrition here, but it is important to understand that a position opposing this view only needs to show that it can possibly be healthy to be a vegan child. The position posted above has to show, not just that it is possible to have an unhealthy vegan child, but that it is impossible to have a healthy vegan child. That is a tall order. Here is an example of someone not understanding their burden of proof: if you are talking with someone who considers themselves 'educated' on the subject they will mention a few articles on B12 deficient vegan babies and figure that the argument is over. Again, that does not prove that it is impossible to have a vegan baby, but that it is possible to do it wrong.
The second point here is actually very important. It is about the rights of the child. I wholeheartedly agree that children should not be indoctrinated with what their parents simply believe is true. Kids are highly impressionable. We have evolved to listen to adults and believe essentially without question when we are young. That is dangerous! This leads to parents forcing their unproven beliefs on their children every single day. One good policy to have when approaching how we are going to raise our children might be to teach them and train them so that they can decide for themselves as they grow up (providing them with what they need along the way).
So what is the difference with raising child vegan? First of all, people are generally just focusing on diet here. Remember that veganism is a position that involves not exploiting animals in any way. If a vegan parent can be said to indoctrinate their children, they can only be said to indoctrinate them with compassion and a rich understanding of the other sentient life on this planet. That does not even seem right to call that indoctrination. We are teaching them to care, to be good people, and to actually consider the evidence. When the child is old enough, he or she can decide if eating animals and using them for whatever we want is an alright thing to do. That may seem like I'm setting a straw man for the other side, but I'm really not. I have heard this from people's lips and seen it in the actions of a thousand others.
What about raising a child as a meat eater and using milk, etc.? Well, using (cow's) milk as a human breast milk supplement is not a good thing. Milk is not meant for humans (Period). Looking at things for what they are can be a useful thought experiment sometimes. I hear dog milk might be better for us though (just kidding). People who argue from this position fail to understand that they are forcing their kids to do something as well. I was forced to eat animals when I was young, for example, as are millions upon millions of other children. There are some people who understand that they do not want to when they are still young; however, many of the rest of us are indoctrinated into thinking that it is alright to use non-human animals as we please, especially for food. What is the basis for that position? Generally, it appears to be unreflective tradition (see Appeal to Tradition in Fallacies. That is not always the case. This is not a covert ad hominem, by attacking the intelligence of the person.
There is a part of us that understands what is wrong in eating animals and using them. It comes from our capacities of empathy. What parent is going to show their children Earthlings? And then sit down and eat dinner? A part of us knows that this is wrong. Trust me I won't have a problem teaching my kids how to grow organic permaculture vegetables in the earth. That may seem like an appeal to emotion, and in a way I think it is; however, this emotion (empathy in particular) simply tells us that there is something we should think more about; it tells us when something is out of balance, when something isn't as it should be. That feeling can sometimes bring us to logic, ethics, and a deeper understanding.
Veganism is unrealistic. People are not going to change their habits; you are being too idealistic promoting veganism. Although there may be an almost haunting effect of this claim, because so many people seem unwilling to change. This is an unfortunate argument to ever hear from someone, as it essentially has already conceded the rightness of the vegan position, that is implicit, while stating that I (the speaker) and others will not change; a person maintains, however, that veganism is too hard or too different. Indeed veganism is different from how most people act normally, with little apparent regard for the otherness of beings who are not human (or cats, dogs, or horses). More importantly veganism is not hard. It only seems hard, as it goes against deeply entrenched habits. If someone cares even in the least for other sentient life, however, veganism is an ethical principal based on the simple realization of the truth of the otherness of sentient beings, one that acknowledges species as a poor criterion or line for moral consideration. Veganism is not hard, and it gets easier every day, as more people become vegan and more options are available ... let alone more cookbooks and alternatives to animal products for human interests as mundane (at least when compared to the lives and confinement of animals) as fashion.
Generally, this argument seems also fallacious in being a biased sample and small sample (or using hasty generalizations). By my experience no research has gone into this argument, so the person is just making a self-observed anecdotal claim about the behaviour of people in general (like I just did). Although, we all do this sometimes, showing even some insight into humanity and the human condition, that does not make it logical, especially in this case. If you ask the person for evidence, and they are unable to provide it, they are employing poor logic by using an anecdotal sample, in the form of the fallacy of hasty generalizations. The larger point to understand here, is that even if this person is right, they have entirely missed the point. They have fallen into an appeal to majority as they are not addressing the moral importance surrounding veganism at all.
Interestingly, this argument also takes on the form of an ad hominem towards basically everyone who is not vegan, saying that they lack the integrity, insight, and compassion to be vegan. As stated above this argument is a tremendous ignoratio elenchi, perhaps even a red herring, as it implicitly acknowledges the moral rightness of veganism or at least does not address it at all. If the arguer acknowledges the moral rightness of veganism, but still proposes this argument it is an ignoratio elenchi.
There are a lot of apparent fallacies in this line of reasoning. The ones that apply depend on how the person actually tries to structure and support this argument, if they bother to at all. I have never seen someone try to add any coherence to this position, so ad hominem against basically the decency of everyone else is a generally a fallacy committed in this argument. I have even seen it proposed as an ad hominem attack against me.
It is contradictory for you to say that humans are animals, then say that we are not supposed to act like animals (or on instinct) by eating other animals ... (and drinking their milk and making cheese out of it). I have even seen this called a paradox; however, these are two claims that neither create a contradiction nor create a baffling or stupifying truth. The important point here is that veganism accepts the fact that humans are animals, and there are some important similarities between us and other species, then advances from this basic truth. This often leads to an earnest query into how we should treat other animals. The problem in logic in the highlighted argument is actually quite simple. Someone proposing this argument does not seem to understand the relevant qualities of nonhuman animals, nor even of human animals. The notion that humans are animals is simply factual; it is taxonomy verified by physiology, genetics, and the predictive power of evolution. Some people may believe that humans are better or superior, but it does not then follow that we can treat other sentient beings wantonly and however we please. The question of superiority then, is unimportant at this juncture (but it is addressed in another segment).
Sentience is the meaningful quality of a being that creates a moral imperative to recognize the interests and in turn the suffering of that being. In this way we are the same as other animals, in that we are all sentient. There is no contradiction in recognizing our animal factuality, recognizing sentience as a quality of animals, and then asserting that sentience is relevant regardless of species.
The biggest point to consider here is that humans are moral animals. For the record, I would not be so foolish as to claim that humans are the only moral animals. Some people may still believe that humans are the only animals that use tools or empathize, but that is their ignorance. Again, we are factually moral. We even have useful language that allows us to talk about what is right and wrong. The fact that we are animals does not prevent us from trying to understand what is good or valuable and subsequently working towards those things. And why would it? That implies that animals (including humans) are not capable of morality, which is obviously false. Animals have different qualities (even conflicting interests within themselves); that is how we can be moral despite our natural instincts or urges. To say that simply following our nature is right is to use fallacious logic (the naturalistic fallacy).
After one overcomes the prejudice towards intelligence and bases ethics on sentience, which rights, democracy, and common practice already do for humans. This is where the species barrier is crossed. The argument then from someone, proposing that veganism is contradictory or paradoxical is actually by nature a straw man argument. No vegan would claim, not if they have studied any ethology whatsoever (or even just lived and thought for 5 minutes as a healthy, competent, adult human) anyway, that nonhuman animals and humans are the same.
Finally, we are agricultural creatures. This matters in that we control our food source(s). We have made omnivorousness obsolete.
The question of how we should treat nonhuman animals has a purely subjective answer. Meaning, I can treat them how I want and you can treat them how you want. It does not really matter because it is my (your) choice. I have seen this type of argument in many different venues of thought and from both vegans and omnivores. It is a vulgar embodiment of what is commonly called relativism, and in this case moral relativism, in this case an utterly bankrupt ethical position, as it destroys the foundation for having any meaningful ethics whatsoever. Whenever someone starts to argue for strong relativism in ethics they either have not thought out their position, they are pessimistic about life, or they are someone you should run away from and be thankful that they are not in charge of anything important. The negative results of this view of course make it neither true nor false. Such reasoning is an appeal to the consequences of a belief, a common enough fallacy in its own right.
What is the problem with this view then, aside from the fact that it is unsavory? The problem is that it is simply taking what someone feels (whether it is spiritual, emotional, or some other form of subjective experience) and stating that is the foundation for the rightness of an action. At best this is a higly contentious position that demands defence and explanation. For someone simply to assert it is ridiculous. Commonly enough, it is an occurrence of the appeal to emotion or the relativist fallacy (see fallacies).
Sentience creates simply another bias. Why should we stop or begin at sentience to create a system of ethics?
This is an interesting and important question.
The first and second points to glaze over here, are that privileging of the human species over all of the others is arbitrary or at least illogical; secondly, most other qualities do not allow us to recognize the value in many humans. Michael Pollan contends that this is the case from the margins; however, we are not only talking about severly mentally disabled human beings, but also infants, some elderly, and even the potential creation of a human hierarchy based on a quality that can also be quantified. From a pragmatic perspective this is highly problematic, suggesting through inductive weight that we may want a better option.
You are being overly sentimental and irrational about how we should treat animals. An ad hominem attack, demonstrating ignorance. It is interesting that a vegan can be called irrational. Granted, there may be some contexts where any of us have seen a vegan get worked up and seem emotional about the whole thing. If animal exploitation and commodification is not something that we can excuse a little emotion about (at least socially) than what is? In truth veganism is based on very simple premises that strive for logically ethical consistency, putting it all together in a very easily manageable way of life.
Veganism is a step back from what we are perhaps naturally inclined to do and at least socially programmed to do; the omnivore in this case follows an impulse (and in this context displays certainly the opposite of reason). Then he or she argues backwards from there, using apologetics and begging the question, coming up finally with an elegant ad hominem such as the one found above, or employing false logic through the naturalistic fallacy, concluding perhaps that veganism is irrational because it is unnatural.
Is that seriously what this is about? Vegans are irrational because we are going against our natures? Think about that for a second. For human morality it is entirely irrelevant to think about what is natural. We are thinking about what is best (and in this case easy to achieve). Veganism is easy in many parts of the world. If you are reading this I am sure it is ridiculously easy for you to do. The burden of proof on someone who wants to claim that veganism is irrational is to show that concern for any interests of any other species of animal is irrelevant (based solely on the criterion of their species). Good luck with that.
Veganism (referring here only to the diet component) is like so unhealthy because I know someone who was vegan and it did not work out for him or her. Furthermore, I heard about this other vegan guy who does not sound (or look) terribly healthy, so veganism clearly is not healthy.
This argument is embarrassingly anecdotal. It is embarrassing for the fact that people propose it as if a few anecdotes can serve as ample evidence for … anything. Hey we all generalize, but there is specific logical reason not to. It is not only illogical but foolish, the same form as a stereotype. The fallacy of hasty generalizations is the name of this error in logic. It really is self-explanatory: someone is making a generalization or case of some kind without substantial evidence or too small of a sample, or merely an anecdote or two.
The fact that one, or a few, or even many people did not fare well ‘as vegans’ does not mean that it is unhealthy to be vegan. It is possible that there is a questionable cause (another fallacy) cited in the reasoning of the person proposing the above argument. This is fractured deduction, that associates two things together merely for their appearing together (commonly). The person who is not healthy and is or was vegan may be unhealthy because they are somewhat incompetent. Anyway, we need not speculate over why the person who used to be vegan became unhealthy, or why that woman down the street, who is a vegan, is unhealthy or looks unhealthy or whatever. Indeed, without more rigorous study, speculating is all that we can do. So what can we know in the absence of knowledge of such a study?
We can point to the ADA … or go back to good old logic to point out that the fact that there are a group of unhealthy vegans does not prove anything but that they are unhealthy and vegan. Correlations require evidence to be sound. That’s not my rule; that is inherent in the structure of such claims and the logic that makes them meaningful. Anyone who has studied a social science for more than five minutes, let alone any form of science, should understand what I am talking about from the practical side of things.
This may sound like a logical trap, because if veganism (the diet component) does not work out for me, I cannot logically state that veganism is unhealthy! That sounds terrible, even fascistic! We may experience some indignation towards the implication that we cannot use our experience to make tried and true blanket statements about the world. However, that is the logical reality that we are presented with. That is the scientific reality. And, importantly, the scientific approach is more than simply dogma; as Bernard Lonnergan once observed, the scientific method is a natural process of discerning the qualities and validity of an observation (an observation being the start of the whole process). It is beyond any claim or belief, a mere fact of making meaningful claims from observations in this universe with our brains. But hey, I did not make the rules; this universe just came with them. If you doubt that the scientific method is hardwired look at an infant trying to eat a block or a bowl, the cute little scientist. The simple stages of this interaction, with the block or whatever it is, are science in action. What we call the scientific method is really just a formalization of our natural thinking processes. Certainly science adds complexity to this method beyond the learning of an infant, but the rudiments exist in the act of a child. Cool right?
I would never eat an intelligent animal. There are certain animals that I simply would not eat, because they are too intelligent, like dogs, cats, dolphins, or chimpanzees - to name a few.
The truth is that the person who is saying this likely does not even use so called intelligence as a criterion for determining which animals are fit to eat and which are not. Rather, this criterion seems more like a self-inflicted smoke screen to shield themselves from the fact that pigs are just as smart as dogs, and none of the animals they eat are really as dumb as they think. The point is that there are arbitrary reasons all over the world for not eating specific animals, or maybe they are good reasons, but the arbitrariness comes in then going and eating other animals (for no good reason). It is uncertain why these people actually do not eat some particular animals; however, it seems feasible that they are simply going with the customs of their inherited culture. There's nothing wise about that. At least two fallacies come to mind (appeal to tradition and relativist) when thinking about how they might propose their arguments, if they took down the smoke screen from their consciousness.
Of course the bigger point is that intelligence is A STUPID absolutely STUPID (that may sound ad hominem, but I have some angst this morning, and I'll back it up) criterion to determine how we should treat a fellow being. Yet, you will come across plenty of intelligent people, from professors to adults who were once 'that gifted kid in English class' to that smart guy in your philosophy class who seems so annoying but actually has all of the best answers, who will argue that this is why they eat some animals and not others. Here's why it's stupid: people who argue, as above, are essentially assigning value to some beings because of the intellectual capacity of some members of their species. This brings two important issues to mind: 1. No good reason is provided to measure every individual in a species based on the merits of a few in the species. 2. And the bigger problem is that it creates a system where the value of a being comes from their level of intelligence. Eating mentally disabled dogs for example would not morally reprehensible if that is why we do not eat dogs, and the same would go for severely mentally disabled homo sapiens sapiens or infants. As I said, stupid ... I could flesh this out, but it seems unnecessary to me. The point is that intelligence is a useless criterion for determining how we ought to treat a fellow being, provided they are or may be sentient.
Finally, the sub-criteria for the criterion of intelligence are completely arbitrary. First of all they have not been defined, even to the person themselves in this context; furthermore, the cut off is simply where ever he or she says it is. In other words, the cut off is arbitrary and relative to the context and employer of this argument.
Need I go on?
The fact that you don't eat animals, their products, use their body parts, and deliberately commodify them or support their commodification in other ways is YOUR CHOICE. You do it for personal reasons, so don't try to force that on me, and don't think that you have found something better ... etc. What an unfortunate statement. In the same breath this disregards the value of communication and logic in being persuasive and having some value beyond mere subjective fancy and it disregards the possibility (at least in terms of the fundamental issue of animal objectification and exploitation, potentially welfare also) respect that there can be no imperatives and no better way. Of course the fact that the above position is appears unfortunate on these accounts, that does not create a finally persuasive argument. That is an appeal to emotion of sorts, if we were to leave it just there; however, there is some value in understanding what is at stake when we realize the full implications of our arguments.
See the Relativist Fallacy.
Well what about vegetables? Don't vegetables have feelings too? If we start to recognize the feelings (interests) of (all) animals then we should recognize the feelings of plants as well. Shouldn't we? Often this is proposed mockingly. These people usually already recognize dogs, cats, and horses as sentient and worthy of at least not being tortured. By my experience the people who propose this argument don't even usually believe in what they are saying. Nonetheless, it seems that they think they are providing an original and creative critique of the vegan position. In truth, they are providing a gross abuse of logic in the form of the slippery slope Fallacies.
They are contending that if we extend recognition of interests, recognized by rights, to other animals then we might as well extend the same recognition of interests to plants. Firstly, there is no evidence of plant sentience that has been reviewed, repeated, and accepted. This means that, as far as we can tell, they do not even have interests that we could protect. Applying parallel logic of a case for animal rights to plants makes no sense then.
Another interesting point to consider is that if plants were also sentient, eating the plants would still cause less suffering. If we assume then that any human would want to stay alive, eating plants would cause less plants to suffer than when someone eats animals. You can understand this by understanding the second law of thermodynamics. Basically we get more energy, protein, and nutrients from the plants (which are the original food source [after the sun] for any animal) if we eat them ourselves, than if other animals eat the plants and we eat those animals or things they produce. So, even if plants are sentient, and there is no scientific evidence that has been re-tested that suggests they are, eating them would still cause less suffering than eating animals. Even if it did not employ fallacious logic, the above argument could never even possibly lead us to the conclusion that we should then keep eating animals and their products.
Remember that veganism is not only about diet. The same arguments and refutations apply to other animals products and methods of exploitation as well.
Humans have souls, and other animals do not; therefore, it is alright for us to use them, especially to kill them and eat them. This is generally an argument that you might encounter from a Christian (not all Christians of course). First of all, this position assumes that humans have souls and that those souls are immortal. I would ask for evidence, but you already have to believe in souls for the evidence to be persuasive.
Despite the fact that I have never heard a good reason for this claim, let us assume for a moment that we have souls and non-human animals do not. If we have souls that endure, we will still be alive when death meets us. We will carry on. You may be thinking: 'No shit! Way to state the obvious man.' LOL. It is uncertain what degree of our potential meaning that would provide for our lives. It is somewhere between a lot and very little or none.
If one does not have an immortal soul, however, the only possibility for meaning is in this life. Without a soul all of the potential meaning (of someone with an immortal soul) still exists, while there is also the realization of mortality, that this is all we have. I understand that some Christians might say that this life is infused with meaning based on its preparing us for the life to come, or something like that; however, it says in holy books that the life to come is more important than this one. That is the point. If this life is all we get, there can be nothing higher or more important for an individual. Ironically then, the above proposed argument is actually a case for not killing and exploiting animals.
One final thing should be said: sometimes, with this proposed argument the proponent may actually mean that non-human animals are not sentient (that may be what they mean by saying that "animals don't have souls"). If that is the case, simply ask them to consider the evidence. I will put a link for my evidence for sentience blog when it is completed (or even just in action).
Here is an interesting position, that some people take on eating animals (road kill and 'waste' animals/products) - proposed by some freegans, dumpster divers, and some others: I found this animal carcass in the garbage or on the side of the road, or someone else was not going to eat it, so it is a waste and therefore alright for me to eat. It doesn't monetarily support the industries that exploit animals. By no means is this the most important ethical issue to address when it comes to veganism; however, there are some important things to consider. Also, it is a position that I have come across more than a few times.
First of all, this position raises an important issue. The carcass of the animal in these cases is being considered as 'waste'. We must remember that we are the only animal that creates genuine waste, things like plastic and styrofoam. In our garbage dumps meat (and produce) does not actually break down, because aerobic bacteria cannot work in there - the garbage is piled too densely. The problem then, is twofold. 1. The animal is not being identified truthfully, for what and who it (he or she) actually is, which leads ultimately to 2. the animal is still being viewed as an object, a thing, that we can use.
The first issue here is not only logical, a case of 'breaking' the law of identity (one of the laws of logic, that simply exists in our universe or our part of it anyway). There is far more at stake however than a logical faux pas. This view of non-human animal corpses as waste appears to stem from a view of animals as things. Think about it: nothing material is wasted in nature (yes energy moves towards entropy, but that is unavoidable here). If an animal's carcass were left to the elements it would nourish the ground, insects, bacteria, fungi, and even other animals. If it does not end up in the dump, it will not end up as waste. If people were thinking clearly they could see that they have created a false dichotomy. To them the two options are to let the animal carcass 'go to waste' or to eat it. Although the latter is perhaps the less of two evils, there are clearly other possibilities, such as taking the animal's remains and burying them or putting them in a forest for another animal to eat, to keep the list short.
Secondly, the sincerity and consistency of these people must be questioned. Would they see a dead dog, cat, horse, or even human and think the same thing - that they don't want that carcass to go to waste? Of course not. This appears to indicate that calling the carcass 'waste' is still a way of creating separation from the truth via semantics and language. They still have not made the full connection it seems.
Finally, this position neglects the fact that the animal carcass may not be good for them anyway.
To be Continued. I know. I know... You can't wait, but you are going to have to my young padawan.