A diet without meat: beyond the intellectual arguments?

A diet without meat: beyond the intellectual arguments?

By Mark F. Carr and Gerald R. Winslow

The question is: Is it a moral obligation to adopt a vegetarian diet? Tom Regan, a prominent animal rights advocate, helped lead the discussion of what some call "Ethical vegetarianism" within a moral framework.1 Regan believed that if he presented strong arguments his audience would choose vegetarianism. "If my reasoning is correct, most of you reading this should undergo a radical transformation in their lives." it asserted.2 Like many others, Regan did not seek only to defend vegetarianism. In fact, he sought not only to change the way people think, but also to eat. However, do these arguments carry enough weight to produce intellectual conviction and behavior change? These questions motivate us to consider the arguments for vegetarianism. Although we could group them in various ways, we have selected five categories.3

Health as an argument

Scientific studies have shown that animal protein is not an essential element in the human diet. In addition, other studies show that the incidence of some diseases is significantly reduced in those who abstain from consuming meat. 4 Those who analyze the issue from a Christian perspective claim that vegetarianism was God's "original diet", and cite the story of creation and the abundance that God gave Adam and Eve in Eden. According to this position, the human being was designed to live without using meat as food.

The second argument from a Christian perspective is based on scientific evidence showing that the vegetarian diet is healthier. Because God created our bodies to be the habitation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20), we have an obligation to live healthy lives. In other words, by understanding that this is the healthiest diet and that it is possible to implement it, it becomes the morally preferable diet.

Animals rights

When referring to the ethical duties towards animals, some authors combine utilitarian language with that of animal rights.5 For them, awareness of the harm and suffering experienced by animals used for food is crucial. It is considered immoral to cause such suffering to merely satisfy our food preferences.

Among the studies culminating in The New Vegetarians: Promoting Health and Protecting Life, Paul R. Amato and Sonia A. Partridge identified 11 reasons why people are vegetarian.

The first is "concern about animal suffering or belief in animal rights." 6 The widespread acceptance of these rights makes this a particularly easy argument to accept. It is sad, however, that the rights of unknown cows, chickens and pigs continue to be overridden by the wishes of the palate. Furthermore, both its philosophical foundations and practical applications continue to be difficult to establish in humans and even more difficult in animals.

Environmental concerns

Despite the efforts of the likes of Jeremy Rifkin7 and Francis Moore Lappe, 8 and beyond the success of their books, only a small number of people seem to have changed their diet as a result of environmental concerns. For example, in the aforementioned survey by Amato and Partridge, it was found that only 5 percent became vegetarian because of their environmental concerns.9 Thus, although environmental ethicists insist on adopting methods of conservation and land use, rare instead they explicitly refer to vegetarianism as a moral obligation.

Social evolution

We refer here to a variety of positions and authors who advocate for socio-political change, recognizing that there is some overlap with other categories. Lappe's work, for example, fits into more than one category. Note his concern in the preface to the revised edition Diet for a Small World: a deeper question arose… regarding the direction, with the impact of what was suggested. Would readers of my book be interested, and still focus so much on the nutritional details as to forget or ignore the real message? 10.

What was that "true message"? More than anything, the author wanted her work to highlight how the individual diet "connects us to the broader questions of the food supply for all mankind."

In the revised and updated edition, Lappe stressed that he was interested not only in making cooking and eating simpler and better, but also in "the political and social significance" of our food choices. 12


The stewardship principle incorporates the concerns of environmental ethicists and animal rights activists. Andrew Linzey, looking at the subject from a Christian perspective, urges a radical change in the Christian way of interpreting its relationship to divine creation. Linzey challenges the traditional Christian idea that this world and everything in it was made just to uplift the human race. Humans are unique in the order of creation, and this characteristic requires them to assume the special role of "servant species." As servants of creation, stewards must protect it, thus imitating God. Based on the theological concept of the suffering God, Linzey proclaims: “It is not enough to have a negative view of what we should do to prevent suffering. We need a positive vision of how we can carry the suffering of the world on us and transform it by the power of the Holy Spirit. ”13

Linzey insists that Christians have to go beyond the idea that God suffers when humans suffer. When we fully accept the fact that “God suffers in all suffering creatures” we will be more prepared to accept our role as stewards.14 Unfortunately, for adherents to this and other views, listeners are likely to simply say, “Yes, but … ”Beyond the“ Yes, but… ”

Each of the arguments already described has received great acceptance in the philosophical and popular fields, but the number of vegetarians does not reflect those levels of acceptance. People accept the arguments intellectually but continue to eat hamburgers. It is true that vegetarianism is more popular today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but why don't people change their lifestyle? And those who do, as the Amato and Partridge survey shows, do they do so out of compassion for animals suffering the cruel fate of human consumption?

Morality, conviction and action

It is possible to advocate skillfully for the moral issues associated with eating meat, but when one moves from simple description to prescribing personal obligations and actions, it is necessary to reach the heart of the audience. Changes in personal practice often originate more from the heart than from the mind. Good arguments don't necessarily translate into a lifestyle change. (To understand the authors' motivation for adopting a vegetarian diet, read the additional stories.) Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin criticizes environmental groups, claiming that these groups have failed to spread vegetarianism for fear of losing membership and membership. Financial income. His observations regarding the themes and methods emphasized by environmental groups further certify that practical actions will emerge only when people are reached emotionally as well as intellectually. By analyzing the reasons why environmental groups do not become vegetarian, Bloyd-Peshkin reveals that a difficult decision is not so much the product of a solid argument but rather emotions that produce concrete results. Bloyd-Peshkin is correct in pointing out that "the environmental impact of meat consumption is too indirect." One is not induced to abandon meat in line at the supermarket. On the contrary, the reaction is different when one is faced with scenes of suffering and torture that precede the appearance of that meat in the supermarket. As she says, “it's more likely than one…. get angry when you see the industrial plant that is on the way home, because you see the pollution it produces ”.15

Hume and the force of feelings

It is no news that moral agents are moved more by emotion than by reason. The philosophical works of David Hume highlighted this reality in the 18th century. But the hegemony of rationalism in the morality of Western society has served to oppose its adherents to appealing to emotion in the process of developing moral arguments, since its use is ridiculed as cheap sentimentality.16

Hume refused to ignore the force of feeling in the moral life of the human being. On the contrary, this feeling, considered unique in humans, distinguishes their ability to live a moral life. It is that "feeling of disapproval that we inevitably feel when we apprehend barbarism or betrayal" that leads us to declare such acts as criminal or immoral. Hume insists that human acts are never attributable to a "cold and detached" reason. Reason can transmit "the knowledge of truth and falsehood", but it will never serve to attach evaluations of virtue and vice, the essence of morality. Also, reason can never motivate someone to action.
The feeling is the "first source or impulse towards desire and will." According to Hume, "the ultimate ends of human actions can never be attributed to reason, but recommended entirely to the feelings and affections of the human being, without any dependence on the intellectual faculties" .17
Annette Baier, Hume's most prominent and capable advocate today, sums it up like this: “For all motivation to action, and for all evaluative reaction,‘ reason ’must‘ match ’with some‘ passion ’; the 'head' must work for the 'heart' ". 18 Thus, the cultivation and practice of these human feelings enables the practical reality of living a moral life.

What does this mean for the defense of vegetarianism? Something more is required to get people to change their eating habits. Good philosophical arguments don't make anyone a vegetarian. Moral sentiments, however, often succeed. The moral force of the movements of the heart is an essential element in choosing a vegan lifestyle.

The virtues of veganism

Sympathy is one of the virtues related to interest in the other, since that is the object of attention, but it presupposes a certain ability of the agent to adopt altruistic and empathic dispositions. Thus, when another suffers, sympathy prompts us to respond in a way that alleviates that suffering. Like Hume, Edward F. Mooney asserts that sympathy is “the 'mechanism' by which we share each other's situation and feel compelled to respond with benevolence.” 19

Compassion is closely linked to sympathy in that relationship with the other. Etymologically, the emphasis is on the similarity of the other's feeling; literally, in "suffering with." There is a feeling of shared community with other humans and, based on the idea of ​​stewardship already described, an extended sense of shared community that includes all beings. Like other virtues that require the emotion of the agent, compassion transcends the simple affective state to reach action.
However, as Lawrence Blum points out, this implies that often one will act "contrary to one's humor or inclinations" because one will act in favor of the other. In fact, even though our actions may not immediately eliminate the suffering of others, they have an “intrinsic value for the sufferer, independently of their instrumental value of improving” the lot of the other.20


What practical effect will the inclusion of sympathy and compassion have in the intellectual arguments for vegetarianism? We believe that if we transform ourselves into a society where these virtues are valued and practiced, we will see an increase in vegetarianism and a decrease in meat consumption. These virtues will help us transcend the moral acceptance of the arguments in favor of vegetarianism to its actual practice.

Do philosophical arguments have weight to establish the moral obligation to be vegetarian? Does virtue require meat eaters to become vegetarians? And if so, should society move towards a ban on the production and consumption of meat? Pressing for legal or moral obligations continues to be problematic even in the face of powerful arguments for vegetarianism. We cannot require people to be virtuous or eat certain foods, especially in contemporary culture. The time may come when humanity's socio-political and environmental crises will force legislators to demand such dietary practices. In the meantime, we must settle for the idea that veganism is limited to being morally laudable.

The screech of the rabbit

Several magnificent oaks towered behind the old cabin. Dad, my brother Pete, and I were on our first hunting trip at my grandfather's farm in Michigan. According to Dad, the rabbits that lived in those trees were particularly fast. Pete and I would walk around the back of the cabin without speaking, knowing that if the rabbits heard us, they would escape before we could shoot.

As I reached the edge of the cabin, I readied my 20-gauge shotgun. A rabbit darted out into the weeds at the bottom. Nothing in the world could have distracted me at the time, as I kept the rabbit within my field of vision, as Dad had taught me. The animal stopped just at the beginning of the weeds. I knew I had to get close to shoot him so I crawled towards him, but before he could close the gap, the hunt was over.

Daddy's rifle shot echoed over me as I watched the rabbit fall. From the screech of the animal, I knew that Papa had not killed it. The screech was so sharp and intense that we ran where the animal was writhing in pain. Dad bent down and grabbed him by the hind legs, laid him on the ground, put his foot on the rabbit's head and pulled. Blood leaped from her body as her heart tried one last effort. Although I tried, I could not hide the horror I felt. Dad may have noticed, because what he said revealed his own need to justify that action in front of his two sons. "It is the fastest way to get him out of his misery," he said. —Mark F. Carr

Pheasant feathers

I was extremely proud of my new 12mm shotgun, which I had bought with the money I had earned harvesting green beans. My goal was to learn to hunt pheasants, Canadian geese, and other “game birds” that were abundant in the Willamette Valley, where I grew up. My parents trusted that my 14 years were enough for that activity.

The first excursions with my friend Bob were unsuccessful. Despite our best efforts and the fact that Chinese pheasants are slow and noisy in flight, we missed all our shots. In reality, our outings were nothing more than long autumn walks punctuated with moments of excitement and fruitless shooting.

But one morning we went hunting with "the greats": Bob's brother and his friend. As beginners, we were ordered to go to the other side of the cornfield and wait. They, along with their hunting dog, would advance in our direction. If they missed the target, we had to shoot at the birds flying towards us.
So it was. A magnificent male Chinese pheasant flew past the shot and headed straight for where I was crouching. I took aim and fired just as it was flying overhead. Feathers scattered in all directions. The dog came running and picked out the largest part of what was left of the pheasant. It was almost split in two. But in the remains he could see the astonishing white neck ring, the dark red and green feathers on the head, and the beautiful long, striped tail. Bob's brother took one look at it, said it wasn't worth wearing, and tossed it among some blackberries.
While hiding my disappointment with false boasting, I took one of the feathers and placed it in my hunting cap. Later, at home, I analyzed it. I could not erase from my mind the colorful bird that had been torn to pieces for no reason. The hopeless stupidity of that action overwhelmed me. I put the shotgun in the closet, eventually sold it, and I never hunted any animals again. —Gerald R. Winslow

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Video: Joe Rogan Reports Back After a Month on Carnivore Diet (June 2021).