After reading the comments to the Animal Blawg poll that I posted on “Why is Veganism Morally Appealing” and thinking about what Brian Leiter and Michael Dorf had to say about the meaning of the poll’s results (here and here), I think it is worth conducting the poll again. This time, however, I will include an option that asserts that veganism is morally appealing because participating in meat consumption is harmful to the environment. I will also clarify the implications of voting for the “killing animals is always wrong” and “killing animals is wrong absent exigent circumstances alternatives”. Let me explain why.
Professor Leiter believes that those who voted for the “killing animals is always wrong” option hold morally repugnant views because it would lead them to claim that killing an animal in self-defense is wrong. This, Leiter believes, is abhorrent. If killing a human being in self-defense is not wrongful, why should killing an animal in self-defense be considered wrongful? For what it’s worth, I agree with Leiter that killing an animal in self-defense is not wrong and that’s why I did not vote for this option. I think that anyone who believes that killing a human being in self-defense is not morally wrongful has compelling reasons to also believe that killing non-human animals in self-defense is not morally wrongful. However, for the reasons that I pointed out in a previous post, I don’t believe that those who vote for this option hold “morally abhorrent views”.
Professor Dorf made an important point with regard to why some people might have voted for this option. According to Dorf, “it’s not entirely surprising that 30% of this self-selected group would choose the “always wrong” option. Some fraction of these respondents probably just didn’t think the question through”. In other words, Dorf believes that some of those who voted for the “always wrong” option would vote differently had they considered that voting for that option meant that killing an animal in self-defense is morally wrongful. I think Professor Dorf might be right. Therefore, I believe it’s worth clarifying that voting for this option entails accepting the proposition that it is wrong to kill an animal when it’s attacking you in a way that will surely lead to your death (or the death of another). For what it’s worth, Professor Dorf would not vote for the “always wrong” option because he has “no moral qualms about killing a human or non-human in self-defense (although I’d likely find the experience traumatic)”.
Before conducting the poll again, it is also worth mentioning that Professor Leiter believes that voting for the “killing animals is wrong absent exigent circumstances” exception is morally indefensible, although not morally abhorrent. His position stems from the fact that many, if not most, animal advocates believe that animals are worthy of legal protection because they are sentient beings (i.e. they have the capacity to feel pain). If this is the reason that justifies affording moral status to animals, it would seem that painlessly killing them does not violate their interests, as, by definition, killing them in such a manner does not entail inflicting pain on them. Furthermore, since Professor Leiter believes that animals do not have the capacity for self-consciousness and for planning for the future, he thinks that there are no sound moral reasons to hold that painlessly killing an animal is morally wrong. I agree with Professor Leiter for the reasons I point out here and here. That’s why I did not vote for this option.
Finally, Leiter acknowledges that there is a defense of veganism that he does not find morally “abhorrent” or “indefensible”. This defense of veganism is represented by the option stating that being a vegan is morally appealing “because although killing animals painlessly is not necessarily wrong, animals that are killed or used for food, clothing, cosmetics, etc., are usually treated in an unjustifiably cruel manner”.
Personally, I find this option not only morally defensible, but morally compelling as well. If sentience is morally relevant, as I believe it surely is, we should not inflict pain on sentient creatures unless we have powerful reasons to do so. It seems obvious to me that “I love the taste of steak” or “I love the look of leather shoes” do not count as morally compelling reasons to contribute to industries that inflict gratuitous amounts of pain on non-human animals. That’s why I find veganism morally appealing. How about you?
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