The title is a joke, of a sort. It’s humor comes in its truth.
It is true a self-labeling libertarian named Andy Lamey wants people to stop eating animals. He says we are sentient and animals are also sentient, and so we shouldn’t eat animals.
It follows they shouldn’t eat us, either, though Lamey forgets to mention this. This will be good news to hikers in the deep dark woods.
As comforting as that result is, it also follows that sentient animals shouldn’t eat other sentient animals. If the sentient aren’t supposed to gnaw on each other then every beast must go vegan. This argument ought to please PETA. Although they’re going to have get started on growing tanker loads of kale to feed the soon-to-be starving animals of the world.
Only wrinkle is that some think that even plants are sentient! If that’s true, we, your dog and cat, elephants, lions, tigers, perch, even cockroaches are going to have to learn to eat plastic. At least we will have solved our recycling dilemma.
Say, I wonder if Lamey knows that the definition—the old schoolmen definition, anyway—of animals is sentience? It isn’t exactly breaking news that animals can sense their environment, move around in it, and make decisions on the road to making baby animals. Yet somehow we keep seeing Science-now-tells-us stories that present shocking discoveries animals aren’t plants.
Lamey does not seem to understand that what separates man from animals is not degree of sentience, because sentience is just sentience, but that man is rational and animals are not. We differ in kind, in essence. We are different things, as different as animals are from plants.
Unless you say man is somehow special, above all the other animals, and is therefore under some special burden to care for all other animals. But what makes us special? Our “degree” of sentience? Well, sentience is just sentience so that doesn’t work.
How about intelligence? We seem to be more intelligence than other animals. But what is intelligence? Calculators can calculate faster than we can. Computers can memorize more. Both can go on doing their duties without fatigue. Birds process visual information faster than we can. Turtles know where to lay eggs, and in general how to better turtles, better than we do. Intelligence, as loosely defined as this is, can’t be the separator. Unless maybe we tighten up the definition.
We’re led back to the difference between us and them being the nature of our thoughts, and that difference is rationality, the ability to see or grasp universals, a thing animals don’t possess. Of course, it doesn’t immediately follow that because we’re rational and they’re not that we can eat them. Bats aren’t rational and eating them does no good. Here enter other arguments, which we can skip, because we don’t want to ignore Lamey.
One defense of meat eating that is not a distraction appeals to the moral importance of species membership. The moral significance of being homo sapiens is sometimes mistakenly equated with the moral significance of personhood. The difference between the two is illustrated by again recalling human beings who never possess characteristics such as moral agency or full rationality. They are homo sapiens but not persons in the philosophical sense.
He never defines what he means by “rationality”, but it appears to be consciousness, maybe “intelligence”, or even mere sentience. In our definition, a person is still rational even asleep or declared “brain dead” (which is not dead-dead). Rational is not what you’re doing at the moment, it’s what you are period. We shouldn’t eat our own kind—though it has been known.
Lamey discusses and dismisses other arguments, such as “avoiding meat would deny animals”, like cows and chickens, a decent living, or the difference between “humane” and other kinds of slaughter, or that the “popularity of meat eating is in large part a result of social conformity”. We can ignore these.
He can’t escape his commitment to sentience, and he doesn’t grade it: “hierarchy is morally and empirically shakier than people think.” And “There are no principled grounds on which to exclude animals from the protection of morality without also excluding many human beings.” If sentience is used as the eating criteria.
Say, how can we bring Jews and blacks into this?
People have at times “declared some group—Jews, kulaks, African-Americans, women—as unworthy of the same concern bestowed on ‘Aryans’ or some other favoured in-group.” Same thing we’re doing to animals now. So…only Nazis barbecue?
The case for not eating animals ultimately depends not on values of the political fringe, but on a minimal commitment to unbiased moral consideration that now finds proponents within every respectable political philosophy. Future generations may wonder why it took not just libertarians, but all of us, so long to recognize this.
Just goes to show you how far wrong you can go when you abandon traditional metaphysics.
Plus—and I must insist on this—how Lamey missed that his argument implies no animal could not morally eat any other animal, since all animals are the same, is astonishing.
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