Moderation, morals, and meat

Inquiry 29 (1-4):391 – 406 (1986)
Abstract
Meat-eating as a human practice has been under ethical attack from philosophers such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan on both utilitarian and deontological grounds. An organicist ethic, on the other hand, recognizes that all life other than the primary producers, the plants, must feed on life. This essay affirms, with many environmental ethicists, the moralconsiderability of biota other than the human, but denies that this enlargement of the moral community beyond Homo sapiens necessarily precludes our eating of meat. First, absolute deontological arguments against meat-eating are disputed, then utilitarian-hedonistic arguments are shown not to be sufficient to require ethical vegetarianism. Both sorts of arguments have strengths, however, that set us on guard against current abuses in the meat-raising and slaughtering industries. If the principle of 'due respect' for beings with different degrees of intrinsic value is honored, then moderate meat-eating under reformed social practices can be seen as licit. Two final problems then require investigation: the problem of dietary justice for poor humans and the problem of 'speciesism'. Dealing with the latter requires discussion of cannibalism and the ethics of humans being eaten by still higher 'aliens'.
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