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Ethics - meat

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Update 2019-05-07

The below sections were written from a utilitarian point of view. As my moral views have changed, I wanted to re-evaluate this decision.

For a moral nihilist, egoist, who aims to satisfy their own desires, including values that might include the welfare of others (humans, animals, etc.) is eating meat "wrong"?

From a purely egoistical perspective, some arguments AGAINST meat eating are:

  1. May be some health benefits, although they could be offset unless you eat a carefully planned vegetarian/vegan diet.
  2. Signalling: it shows that you are a caring person who likes animals
  3. Feeling of virtue: It makes me feel like a more virtuous person
  4. Valuing the continued existence of the future race: eating vegetables is better for the environment
  5. Value animals: I still think that the meat industry causes significant animal suffering
  6. Valuing "nature": where nature is forests and rivers etc. These are often destroyed to be used for animals to graze instead of being beautiful
  7. Pleasure of eating animal products, enjoying local dishes on holiday, eating the same meal as my wife, etc.
  8. Moral uncertainty: what if I change my mind in future about the correct moral framework, this might make meat-eating 'obviously wrong' again. Need to consider the EV of that guilt

Trying to reject each one:

  1. -1V: does not seem convincing in either direction. For myself, I would lean toward meat-eating being slightly better, as I tend to eat less well when I am eating vegetarian.
  2. +2V: likely balanced by the people who think you are annoying or judging them. Most people will not care. On the other hand, "falling" from vegetarianism signals weakness, flip-flopping, being unable to stick with things, etc. Most people do not consider "changing your mind" to be virtuous.
  3. +1V: I think this holds, it is slightly offset by feeling like someone who changes their mind, which is also a good feeling, but slightly less powerful than virtue.
  4. 0V: Likely true, but my own actions have negligible effect on the world, even if it popularises the choice with others.
  5. +0.5V Likely true, although I could likely choose to eat only animals I thought were positive utility. This would likely assuage my guilt at first until eating meat felt normal again.
  6. 0V: Again, my own actions are negligible
  7. -3V: When I ate meat, I was an enthusiastic meat-eater. Food is quite important to our family, and extended family. The sacrifice made is not small.
  8. +1V Indeed, under moral uncertainty it might be better to abstain, just in case. This could apply to anything of course (pascal wager situation), but in this case I think the probability is high enough to be worth considering.

I am therefore balancing: PRO veg: feeling of virtue, avoiding a feeling of guilt, being morally conservative, avoiding negative signalling from reverting to meat-eating. CON veg: small health improvement, enjoyment of eating meat. I end up with -4V vs +4.5V from that very rough estimate! This is mostly due to point 2, which could be countered by eating meat occasionally, at home, from ethical souces (to help with point 5.

To put it another way, if I had never stopped eating meat, and was considering the question today, I would continue to eat meat. However, as a vegetarian now, it may make sense to continue abstaining.

Eating meat is immoral (confidence: likely)

Eating meat is likely wrong. I believe animals are capable of suffering.

I think most people also believe this, but do not confront the question. For example, most people would presumably prefer a painless method of killing cows were used over a drawn out pain-inducing one, showing that they believe cows do suffer.

When discussing this issue, people often mention the 'logic of the larder' argument: that if we stopped eating meat, the number of animals would diminish, thereby reducing the number of farmed animal lives lived, which would be bad. "To help animals", they say, "you should eat them" (http://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/meat.html)

I would argue that the majority of farm animals actually have utility negative lives, so eliminating future farm animal lives is intrinsically good.

Even if you do not believe this, my goal here is not to increase the overall number of cows in the world. My goal is to maximize utility. The argument assumes a false dichotomy whereby you can choose to either raise animals and eat them, or simply throw away all of those resources.

Realistically if we eliminated farmed animals, those freed up resources would be used to provide value to humans in other ways (they could be used to feed, water and house human vegetarians for example). In our current world there is a set of externalities (torture, pollution) that is not priced into the cost of meat. If they were, we might see:

  • a huge drop in meat consumption
  • a drop in the cost of foods, water and land currently consumed by those animals
  • destruction of businesses that do intensive factory farming
  • creation of businesses that raise very happy animals and kill them in mostly painless ways
  • far more investment into cultured meat (that would suddenly become profitable), and meat alternatives

I don't think that the number of cows is an integral part of most people's utility function, so keeping a few in zoos should be fine. Removing meat from the diet of humans might be a small utility hit, but surely balanced by the advantages.

to add into the above: Views meat, would there be resources freed up? Free market revealed preferences etc

Maybe it works out if you price in suffering as externality, but what is value to cow of not being killed?


My goal is not to increase cow utility! It is to increase utility full stop. I believe the average human has higher utility than even a quite happy cow (rare in the current world). Why do people assume we must throw away resources spent on cows? There is a huge utility opportunity cost here! We could use the resources dedicated to those cows to feed, water and house human vegatarians.

Repugnant after all? Maybe..

Would the cow people support billions of cockroaches? Doubling the number of cows?

Eating eggs is also immoral (confidence: likely)

Producing eggs requires chickens, the male chickens will be killed. The egg laying chickens will be killed when their laying rate slows. Even assuming free-range chickens, the conditions are not excellent, although probably positive-utility (at least in the UK, where the laws are strict).

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Last modified 2019-07-12 Fri 09:06. Contact max@maxjmartin.com