Animal Blawg Poll Redux

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?

Luis Chiesa

“Vegetarian” & “Vegan”: How to Define A Cause

Katie Hance

How would you define a “vegetarian”?  A “vegan”?  Animal rights scholars have not collectively provided clear definitions for these terms.  I believe that it hurts the vegetarian and vegan advocacy efforts that these causes are not clearly defined.

For example, Peter Singer who advocates for vegetarianism describes avoiding eating meat or fish.  Tom Regan describes vegetarianism embodying the belief that it is wrong to eat meat.  Yet, Gary Francione, a vegan advocate, describes a “vegetarian” as basically one who does “not eat the flesh of cows, pigs, and birds, but who eats some other animal products, such as fish, dairy products and eggs” (see “The Abolition of the Property Status of Animals”).  Combining these definitions vegetarians believe it is wrong to eat meat or fish but still eat fish.  Not exactly a strong (or even logical) slogan for vegetarianism.   While there are other terms defining different degrees to which people do not consume animal products, such as pescatarian (those who do not eat meat but eat fish), lacto-ovo vegetarian (vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy) lacto-vegetarian (vegetarians who eat dairy but not eggs) and ovo-vegetarian (vegetarians who eat eggs but not dairy) none of these additional terms lead to a simple definition of “vegetarian.”

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An Asssessment of Brian Leiter’s Views About Animal Blawg’s Veganism Poll

The first Animal Blawg poll that I posted some time ago caught Professor Brian Leiter’s eye several days ago. According to Professor Leiter, the results of the poll suggest that many, if not most, vegans (or at least the readers of AnimalBlawg) ascribe to either “morally abhorrent” or “morally baseless views”. For Leiter, holding that killing animals is always wrong is morally abhorrent because, among other things, it would lead to claiming that killing an animal in order to save a human being from imminent harm is morally wrong. This, Leiter believes, is clearly incorrect.

On the other hand, Leiter believes that those who think that killing an animal is morally wrong absent exigent circumstances do not display morally “abhorrent” views. However, he believes that adopting such a position is morally indefensible, given that if animal interests stem from sentience, there is nothing wrong with painlessly killing an animal. Therefore, Leiter claims that the only morally sound reason for being a vegan is that, although killing animals is not necessarily wrong, the processes that lead to the killing of animals for human consumption typically cause an unjustifiable infliction of pain on the creatures. I have three comments about Leiter’s post.

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First Animal Blawg Poll – Why do you believe Veganism is Morally Appealing?

Given that polls about veganism seem to be the cool thing to do these days, here’s my first foray into the internet polling world. Check out the poll’s format. Isn’t it way cooler than the one used by Leiter for his veganism poll?

Luis Chiesa

Leiter Poll — The Sequel

Brian Leiter has reported the results of his poll here and contributed his own analysis of veganism, which he concludes to be a “kind of harmless and in many ways sweet eccentricity.”  I am omitting his preceding discussion, which is quite thoughtful and interesting and bears reading in its entirety.  However, in my view, his conclusion relies on an unsubstantiated assumption that animal existence is synchronic (as opposed to diachronic).  Furthermore, even if animals did exist only synchronically, that fact would not be morally dispositive.  Michael Dorf and the commenters at his blog take this argument on quite ably, and I commend their posts as well as Leiter’s responses to you.

Overall, despite an intellectual disagreement, I remain grateful to Leiter for his willingness to take on this issue — which he does, as far as I can tell, purely in the spirit of intellectual curiosity.  I continue to believe, however, that his choice of words when describing veganism is sub-optimal.  Describing it as a harmless and sweet eccentricity demeans both vegans and their values.   The question of how we relate to other species, both in and outside of the legal realm, offers some of the most interesting, complex and important moral issues of our time.  I hope that as this discussion continues, all points of views can be respectfully considered (by all sides), even as they are rigorously challenged and debated.

–David Cassuto

Dorf on Leiter’s Poll – A Must Read!

Cornell’s Michael Dorf recently posted a very witty response to Leiter’s veganism poll. In my first post on the subject I took issue with  the poll’s “veganism is disgusting” alternative. Professor Dorf believes that the proposed poll responses “trivialize veganism”. I agree.  From his comment to Dorf’s post, it’s unclear whether Leiter understands why animal advocates might object to the way in which the alternatives are phrased in the poll.

Read Dorf’s post  here.

Luis Chiesa

More on Leiter’s Veganism Poll

Surprisingly, my recent post about Professor Leiter’s poll on “attitudes toward veganism”  seems to have sparked substantial interest among AnimalBlawg readers. Given the attention that the post has received, I want to keep readers updated on a couple of developments regarding this topic.

First, it seems that Professor Leiter was somewhat annoyed by AnimalBlawg readers and other animal advocates who decided to participate in the poll. Here’s what he had to say after some of us linked to his poll:

UPDATE: Unfortunately, some pro-vegan websites have now linked to this, thus skewing the results, at least for now.  I would encourage other law-related blogs to link, so that we can get a less skewed sample of opinion.  Thanks.

Regardless of whether animal advocates voted in sufficient amounts to significantly skew the poll results, it seems pretty obvious to me that most people (50%)  who follow Leiter’s blog believe that “[v]eganism is neither morally commendable nor morally wrong, but is a reasonable personal choice for some individuals to make”. This is probably an accurate reflection of what most law professors (and students) think about veganism. (On a side note, I’m curious to know what option Professor Leiter voted for).

Second, it looks like Professor Bainbridge also voted for the “veganism is a reasonable personal choice option”. Bainbridge explains his choice in the following manner:

Brian Leiter’s taking a poll of his readers on veganism. For lack of a better option, I chose “Veganism is neither morally commendable nor morally wrong, but is a reasonable personal choice for some individuals to make” as my answer. I’d qualify that statement, however, by noting that the attitude of moral superiority on the part of many vegans gets old real fast. Plus, the efforts by some vegans to turn the issue into a political one, using the state to regulate food choices (see, e.g., foie gras bans), needs to be resisted at every opportunity.

Professor Bainbridge raises two important points. Do animal advocates generally and vegans (and vegetarians) in particular display an “attitude of superiority” when they talk about their lifestyle and food regimen? I’m sure that some do, but it’s far from clear whether most or even “many” do so.

The other interesting point raised by Bainbridge is his suggestion that the animal advocate’s attempt to ban foie gras should be resisted. While Professor Bainbridge’s contention that the state should not regulate food choices is understandable as an abstract proposition given his conservative political views, it’s not clear why he takes issue with proposals to ban foie gras but has no problem with banning dog fighting in order to prevent animal cruelty. A couple of years ago, Professor Bainbridge defended his views by pointing out that:

(1) Because “the enduring truths of what Burke aptly called “original justice” are revealed slowly, with experience, over time”, conservatives are guided by tradition, experience and history,

(2) There is a long history of  opposition to dog fighting, as “England prohibited it and other blood sports as early as 1835” and “[t]here is a longstanding consensus in the Anglo-American tradition that blood sports are cruel and ought to be banned”.

(3) There is no tradition or long history of opposition to foie gras in this country.

(4) Therefore, the wisdom of tradition and history “justifies an infringement on human property rights” in the case of dog fighting, but doesn’t justify governmental intervention in the case of foie gras.

This strikes me as a particularly weak argument. After all, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously asserted in The Path of the Law, “[i]t is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV”.

Luis Chiesa