Is eating animals wrong?

Graeme M

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In no way am I suggesting anything by the question, it's just something that occurred to me while reading some posts here. The definition for veganism observes that vegans dispense with animal products in their choices of food, textiles etc. It doesn't directly say that eating animals is wrong, yet I think most serious vegans/advocates would say using and eating animals is actually morally wrong. But is something really morally wrong when we abstain from doing that something only whenever it's practicable to do so?

What if it turns out that eating animals is not wrong at all? I was thinking on this and one thing is clear - we have always eaten animals, and we may have to again in the future if things go badly for our civilisation. Doesn't it seem more likely that eating animals is only wrong when there are alternatives - it's a contingent wrong? Maybe even then it isn't directly wrong but more of a consequence of treating other animals unjustly?

To put that in a nutshell, what is wrong is using other animals as mere means, rather than as ends in themselves. Making animals property and assigning them to the class of things is what we do wrong, not so much eating them or using them. On that view, hunter-gatherers who hunt animals for food and eat them are not doing moral wrongs. The animals are free beings, living as somewhat equal partners in the endeavour of life. On the other hand, someone in a modern country is doing wrong when they support the massive industries that treat other species unjustly.
 
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Depends upon context. I would say it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering or death to any sentient being but what constitutes necessary is often open to debate. For example, when I was an omnivore, I knew that I wouldn't die without meat and yet abstinence made it feel necessary to have some. For me, this made it necessary to eat some meat from time to time because I couldn't psychologically sustain a vegetarian diet as the pressure was too strong. Some people have nutrient absorption issues and others have extreme IBS that causes intestinal bleeding when they eat too much fibre. I have no right to say that it is wrong for any individual to eat animals because I do not know that person's specific situation.
 
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In no way am I suggesting anything by the question, it's just something that occurred to me while reading some posts here. The definition for veganism observes that vegans dispense with animal products in their choices of food, textiles etc. It doesn't directly say that eating animals is wrong, yet I think most serious vegans/advocates would say using and eating animals is actually morally wrong. But is something really morally wrong when we abstain from doing that something only whenever it's practicable to do so?

I think this comes right back to a conversation we have had before. What is wrong is exploiting animals. If you can figure out a way to eat animals but not exploit them then I guess that would be ok

What if it turns out that eating animals is not wrong at all? I was thinking on this and one thing is clear - we have always eaten animals, and we may have to again in the future if things go badly for our civilisation. Doesn't it seem more likely that eating animals is only wrong when there are alternatives - it's a contingent wrong? Maybe even then it isn't directly wrong but more of a consequence of treating other animals unjustly?

IMHO, This is a worn out topic. Very reminiscent of the ol' troll scenario for vegans: If you were on a dessert island. or if killing an animal has a net good result (see trolley car thought experiments).
Maybe fun to play with or maybe a good thing to think about when you are challenging your reasoning and refining your philospophy. But in the real world these kind of issues don't come up.
 
Maybe fun to play with or maybe a good thing to think about when you are challenging your reasoning and refining your philospophy. But in the real world these kind of issues don't come up.
Maybe, but it seems to be a subtle distinction about the meaning of veganism that many people might miss. Trolls raise the desert island scenario exactly because they think veganism is about not eating meat, which suggests they do not grasp what veganism really is about. And that kind of issue - misunderstanding about veganism etc - is a common real world matter.

If you can figure out a way to eat animals but not exploit them then I guess that would be ok
This goes to the heart of the matter. Is it exploitation to kill a free-living animal for food, when little alternatives exist? I would say no. In her recent book, Justice for Animals, Martha Nussbaum observes that what is wrong about farming animals for food is that we use them as a mere means. Her terminology, "mere means", is meant to show that other animals are an end in themselves - they exist for their own purposes. But free-living animals are always subject to the constraints of a natural life, including predation.

I don't think it is exploitation for a person in certain times and places to kill an animal for food. That is simply a natural and normal aspect of life in nature. It is why I say that hunter-gatherers are not acting immorally when they use animals as resources. "Exploitation" has two meanings in this context - one is to make use of a resource, the other is to use someone as a resource unfairly. The former doesn't necessarily come with the same moral overtones as the latter.

Maybe fun to play with or maybe a good thing to think about when you are challenging your reasoning and refining your philospophy.
Yes, that's why I posted the question in the "Philosophy" section. But it might be useful to frame veganism more from this point of view than encouraging the idea that veganism is simply about not eating/using animals, given the problems of misunderstanding I mentioned above.
 
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Depends upon context. I would say it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering or death to any sentient being but what constitutes necessary is often open to debate. For example, when I was an omnivore, I knew that I wouldn't die without meat and yet abstinence made it feel necessary to have some. For me, this made it necessary to eat some meat from time to time because I couldn't psychologically sustain a vegetarian diet as the pressure was too strong. Some people have nutrient absorption issues and others have extreme IBS that causes intestinal bleeding when they eat too much fibre. I have no right to say that it is wrong for any individual to eat animals because I do not know that person's specific situation.
I recently suggested that we could think of veganism as being the idea that we act as though other species have basic rights. Those basic rights included the right to be free from being exploited and the right not to be treated cruelly. Even if one cannot meet the first of these (like in the cases you refer to), the imperative to meet the second remains. So even if people MUST eat meat, then according to vegan ethics they should still aim to buy foods that have been produced as ethically as possible (ie with the least pain and suffering).
 
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Killing people is wrong but if someone is threatened by another and have the means to take them down, they take them down
No (mentally stable) person would ever think to say anyone should starve if they're only option is to eat animals
Yes, animals are food. we all are food
 
(My ethics are informed by Buddhism.) Right and wrong are somewhat artificial categories. It may be more useful to think of wholesome and unwholesome rather than right and wrong. Causing suffering is unwholesome. Reducing suffering is wholesome.

Killing generally causes suffering and is therefore unwholesome. Killing compassionately, as in euthanizing pets, is aimed at reducing suffering and is therefore wholesome. An action can be both wholesome and unwholesome at the same time. Killing out of necessity for one's own survival can be both: it causes suffering for the animal, but reduces our own suffering. This a much more nuanced approach than right or wrong.

Unwholesome actions are to be avoided when possible, and wholesome actions should be encouraged. Since we are seldom on a desert island, meat-eating is easily avoided.
 
I think that this "what if" rhetoric is meaningless. I'm not indigenous, not going to be shipwrecked on a desert island, and not going to be snowbound on a glacier in the Artic.

It is like riding on a circular train. It never goes anywhere, and just arrives back at the same place it started.

We don't consume, or use, animal products because it causes the least damage to the animals and the planet.

Nuff said!
 
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Thanks for sharing. The argument, well we have always (well, almost always) done "x" so therefore that means we can
continue doing it and it is okay...is so mindless and excusatory. Humans have committed murder, infanticide, genocide, sacrificed millions of animals to false gods, sacrificed children and babies to Moloch/Baal, warred against each other, experessed endless hatred of other races, genders, cultures..
Mass murderers, torturers, and rapists also enjoy what they did and do. Millions of humans have been kidnapped and sold and used as slaves over the years. "Hunters" and "fisherpersons" enjoy what they do, feel powerful, dominant, get a sexual charge from the murder of mass millions of innocent creatures every year. Animal agriculture, small and large, enjoys exploiting animals and killing them to satisfy billions of human palates. However, every one of these human 'choices" were at the expense of another. When humans consume flesh and blood, etcetera, we are not giving the other animals any choice in their lives. We take, we kill, we dominate. It is egotistical, completely selfish and exploitive to do that. Humans have ego's and we want to do what we want to do and find a myriad of excuses and justifications to do so. but that does not equal that we can and should continue these, including eating flesh and blood, which are all lower frequency vibrational choices. Is mudreing animals "wrong?", not if we do not believe it isn't. I am amazed that you would actually pose this post at all.
 
I correct my stament... (Is mudering animals "wrong?", not if we do not believe it isn't). I meant to say, not if we believe it is NOT wrong to do so.
 
Doesn't it seem more likely that eating animals is only wrong when there are alternatives - it's a contingent wrong?
I absolutely agree with this statement.
 
The question is a moot point. I'm not indigenous, not going to be shipwrecked on a desert island, and not going to be snowbound on a glacier in the Artic.

We are not discussing whether the Inuits, Maasai, Maori, etc. should be eating animal products. We are discussing whether developed nations should be confining 35,000 pigs in a tiny area to be slaughtered for food. We have adequate, safe, nutritious, and tasty alternatives to animal products.

The Western Diet isn't just killing the animals; it is killing us and the planet.

Constantly presenting the straw man argument about being shipwrecked and having to go fishing is getting really tiring.
 
(My ethics are informed by Buddhism.) Right and wrong are somewhat artificial categories. It may be more useful to think of wholesome and unwholesome rather than right and wrong. Causing suffering is unwholesome. Reducing suffering is wholesome.

Killing generally causes suffering and is therefore unwholesome. Killing compassionately, as in euthanizing pets, is aimed at reducing suffering and is therefore wholesome. An action can be both wholesome and unwholesome at the same time. Killing out of necessity for one's own survival can be both: it causes suffering for the animal, but reduces our own suffering. This a much more nuanced approach than right or wrong.

Unwholesome actions are to be avoided when possible, and wholesome actions should be encouraged. Since we are seldom on a desert island, meat-eating is easily avoided.
Hi, just my curiosity. Why do you think most buddhists choose to eat animals, while others believe it is ethical and compassionate not to?.
Can you discuss this situation with fellow buddhists and influence them?
 
Hi, just my curiosity. Why do you think most buddhists choose to eat animals, while others believe it is ethical and compassionate not to?.
Can you discuss this situation with fellow buddhists and influence them?




Vegetarianism in Buddhism

As noted above, in some of his sutras, the Buddha explicitly says that his followers are not to eat the flesh of a being with sentience. This is interpreted to mean that you do not eat the flesh or meat of any animal, including fish. The Mahayana school still follows the Buddhist teachings strictly and prohibit the eating of any animal flesh. This applies to followers as well as monks. If I refrain from taking life means that all flesh is something I should avoid.


You are not entirely forbidden to eat meat across all Buddhist tradition. The popular Theravada tradition allows for the eating of pork, chicken, and fish, but there are caveats. Meat can be eaten so long as the monk knows the animal is not killed for his consumption; he will eat certain types of meat if the food is not specifically prepared for him but rather just offered.
 

Vegetarianism in Buddhism

As noted above, in some of his sutras, the Buddha explicitly says that his followers are not to eat the flesh of a being with sentience. This is interpreted to mean that you do not eat the flesh or meat of any animal, including fish. The Mahayana school still follows the Buddhist teachings strictly and prohibit the eating of any animal flesh. This applies to followers as well as monks. If I refrain from taking life means that all flesh is something I should avoid.


You are not entirely forbidden to eat meat across all Buddhist tradition. The popular Theravada tradition allows for the eating of pork, chicken, and fish, but there are caveats. Meat can be eaten so long as the monk knows the animal is not killed for his consumption; he will eat certain types of meat if the food is not specifically prepared for him but rather just offered.
I understand this. I also understand that just because it is not "entirely forbidden" is not a lame excuse to continue doing it.
Compassion should take precedent over palate. I do believe humans always make excuses and justify what we want to do.
 
Hi, just my curiosity. Why do you think most buddhists choose to eat animals, while others believe it is ethical and compassionate not to?.
Can you discuss this situation with fellow buddhists and influence them?

I can't honestly answer this: it makes no sense to me. Believe me, I have tried to discuss it with them and to influence them, but to no avail. On one Buddhist forum I hang out on, the veganism thread has been running for 6 years, with over 1100 posts. On another, the equivalent thread has been running 15 years, with nearly 7500 posts! They still don't believe me. :confused: No one is more vehemently anti-vegan/vegetarian than Buddhist anti-vegan/vegetarians.

The Buddha did not specifically prohibit eating meat (in either the Theravada or the Mahayana sects). Monks and nuns, who traditionally beg for their food, are specifically not permitted to refuse any food offered, except for meat from animals that were specifically slaughtered for them. Beggars can't be choosers. So if they are offered meat, they are required to eat it.

In the Mahayana tradition, we are supposed to be working to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings. To me, that is not compatible with eating them. Some teachers feel the same way. For example, the 17th Karmapa has declared that all practitioners in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism should be vegetarian.

But amateur-lawyerism and rationalization are as rampant in Buddhism as in other traditions, and the majority of Buddhists take the lack of explicit prohibition to be permission. In particular, many take the requirement of alms-begging monastics to eat meat if it is offered to apply to supermarket-shopping lay people. It is frustrating.

In other words, for all the good things that attracted me to Buddhism, there is as much illogic and self-serving rationalization as in any other religion.
 
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Is mudreing animals "wrong?", not if we do not believe it isn't. I am amazed that you would actually pose this post at all.
I was making a slightly different point. I wasn't talking about whether it is right or wrong to kill an animal but rather whether it is right or wrong to kill one for food. Generally speaking, we agree we should not kill people, but we can in certain contexts (for example, warfare). So the wrongness of killing people is also contingent - it just depends on the circumstances. I am saying using animals for food is similarly contingent, but with a big difference.

Because using other animals for food is natural and something we would always do when the circumstances are such that we must, we are always in a different relationship with other species than with other humans. By and large in today's world, no-one anywhere has to eat a person. But they may have to eat an animal. I have never seen anyone argue that given the choice, we should eat a human rather than another animal. Or even consider eating the person rather than the cow.

So, I am suggesting that killing and eating another animal is never wrong in and of itself. What is wrong is unjust treatment of other species whenever we can choose to do otherwise. This addresses all of the possible range of interactions we have with other species, including the wild ones. Not just eating them.
 
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In no way am I suggesting anything by the question, it's just something that occurred to me while reading some posts here. The definition for veganism observes that vegans dispense with animal products in their choices of food, textiles etc. It doesn't directly say that eating animals is wrong, yet I think most serious vegans/advocates would say using and eating animals is actually morally wrong. But is something really morally wrong when we abstain from doing that something only whenever it's practicable to do so?

What if it turns out that eating animals is not wrong at all? I was thinking on this and one thing is clear - we have always eaten animals, and we may have to again in the future if things go badly for our civilisation. Doesn't it seem more likely that eating animals is only wrong when there are alternatives - it's a contingent wrong? Maybe even then it isn't directly wrong but more of a consequence of treating other animals unjustly?

To put that in a nutshell, what is wrong is using other animals as mere means, rather than as ends in themselves. Making animals property and assigning them to the class of things is what we do wrong, not so much eating them or using them. On that view, hunter-gatherers who hunt animals for food and eat them are not doing moral wrongs. The animals are free beings, living as somewhat equal partners in the endeavour of life. On the other hand, someone in a modern country is doing wrong when they support the massive industries that treat other species unjustly.
You cannot use other animals to your own selfish interests, that's why. Clearly killing elephants to make jewelry or skinning cows to make leather for your Chrysler is wrong. But even when the animal is seemingly unhurt, animals lose in the equation. The dairy industry turns mother cows into virtual slaves. Beekeeping rapes hives.

Human beings are almost unprecedented in being able to gather plant-based food, such that we can build tools to cultivate whole fields of vegetable and fruit for consumption, as well as shape that food into convincing burger shapes. We should learn to live in harmony with nature and leave other animals alone.
 
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The dairy industry turns mother cows into virtual slaves.

I agree with you about the slavery aspect of animal exploitation. But the dairy industry is not even as benign as that.

In order to give milk, the cows have to have recently been pregnant. Half of those calves are female and will be deprived of their mothers' milk, fed formula instead, and then enslaved in their turn to be dairy cows. The other half of calves will be male. They will also be deprived of mother's milk. but they will then be fattened up to become veal calves.

The veal meat industry is an integral part of the dairy industry. They cannot be separated.