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This was a mind dump while I was considering if vegetarianism was moral. I became vegatarian for a good while, before accepting Ethics - nihilism and dropping it. A more recent update to this is in Ethics - meat. This should be merged into that. Might be interesting to keep this old file and add notes, refuting my points if possible


Idea of self-consistent morality. (link to einstein arrogance article on lesswrong?)

  • Why not to eat animals
  • But there is no absolute moral system
  • But I am selfish (link to lesswrong article talking about using selfish arguments to support EA and alturistic arguments to support selfishness — you probably aren’t realy selfish:
  • But animals are not concious / cannot feel pain / have no moral weight
  • What about fish
  • Surely free-range is fine?
  • Logic of the larder
  • The wrong side of history — try and ignore your environment, and how this is hypocritical (after all, your morality came from there, didn’t it)

Other resources: (fish) (fish) (morality) logic of the larder []( (environment) (beans for beef - environmental)


Morality evolved. Our basic moral intuitions evolved a long time ago. We can imagine an early creature with simple reactions to avoid pain and search for pleasure. Then it evolved to apply the same values to its offspring, increasing their fitness.

A big leap was then to include other, non related creatures in this group. Was it some sort of equilibrium? If everyone cooperated, then any single defector would gain a huge advantage. If the group had a compulsion to punish defectors however, they would be able to hold the upper hand. Therefore groups would increase in size until they were no longer cohesive enough to punish defectors. The tribe. (ie. If n < dunbar’s number, we get an ITERATED prisoner dilemna, if n > dunbar’s number, we get the classic prisoner’s dilemna. Laws and the like allow us to grow beyond this, but the cognitive machinery that bound those small groups together has not changed, so we still cannot feel empathy strongly for a group > dunbar’s number, only understand it on an intellectual level)

Civilisation has then been the slow increasing in the size of this group, and morality has (often slowly) caught up with this. We apply the same moral intuitions we once reserved for family and tribe to bigger and bigger groups. We have included other tribes, then other peoples, other religions, other races, other sexual-orientations. Maybe we should next include other species?

I do not see an increase in morality over time therefore (what would these even mean, lacking an external benchmark to compare to), more an increase (a somewhat eratic one, given) in our consistency in applying those same moral ideals to other beings. [todo: read tribes, look for similar ideas in sapiens, 6th Extinction, Ai-Zombies? See also:'s_number See note: In the 2012 novel This Book is Full of Spiders, also by David Wong, the character Marconi explains to David the impact Dunbar's number has on human society. In Marconi's explanation, the limit Dunbar's number imposes on the individual explains phenomena such as racism and xenophobia, as well as apathy towards the suffering of peoples outside of an individual's community (pages 295 and 296). See article: See: ]

Often have incredible arguments from non-vegetarians to justify their meat-eating, which often simplify down to "there is no absolute morality" or something similar. Of course these people are not truly selfish, and do have morality, and would not torture a cow. The simply do not think about the issue or look at it face on. Similar to smokers who claim to understand the issues with smoking, but do it anyway, and dance around the issue with strange justifications and excuses.

huh. Guess this is past-me criticising present-me. Am I definitely right now, did I not have a point back then?

Issue with emotional appeals for vegetarianism is that they are short lived. Animals are simply too unlike us (cf. influence on us liking people like us more) and too far removed from our lives for us to care. Even if we could feel emotional pain for the torture and death of one cow, we could not then scale that to X billion cows across the world (cf. scope insensitivity - see Aizombies). Even if you do not believe animals can feel pain and fear on the same level as us (although why? cf. Dawkin's argument on this below), the sheer number of them makes the crime still horrendous. Consciousness: On why only eating organic/free-range meat may not be enough (enviromental reasons):

I only think factory-farmed meat is the problem. I use "eat less meat" as a shorthand, since nearly all meat is factory-farmed meat. Factory-farmed meat converts photosynthetic energy (grass) to food much more efficiently than free-range farming. Factory farming requires less inputs in terms of arable land and water, and emits less CO2. If everyone in the world ate non-factory farmed meat, we would have to cut down the Amazon many times over, thereby drastically reducing earth's capacity to convert CO2 back to carbohydrates. When you decide whether your meat should be factory farmed or not, , there are consequences on two scales that are negatively correlated: Animal welfare and global warming. Which of these scales you give most weight to, will depend on your prior for anthropogenic global warming, on your beliefs about the consequences of global warming, and on the priority you give animals in your aggregation scheme over individuals with moral standing.

From <[>](>) Dawkins on animal suffering:

[W]ould you expect a positive or a negative correlation between mental ability and ability to feel pain? Most people unthinkingly assume a positive correlation, but why? Isn't it plausible that a clever species such as our own might need less pain, precisely because we are capable of intelligently working out what is good for us, and what damaging events we should avoid? Isn't it plausible that an unintelligent species might need a massive wallop of pain, to drive home a lesson that we can learn with less powerful inducement? At very least, I conclude that we have no general reason to think that non-human animals feel pain less acutely than we do, and we should in any case give them the benefit of the doubt. Practices such as branding cattle, castration without anaesthetic, and bullfighting should be treated as morally equivalent to doing the same thing to human beings.

From Additionally:

Increasing the number of vegetarians would likely increase the likeleyhood of that becoming the new norm of society more quickly, so the signalling alone may be sufficient to make vegetarianism the correct moral choice.

Q?: Clearly the total number of livestock would be reduced in such a world, this is morally correct if we assume that the average life of such an animal is worse than not existing in the first place (for factory farmed animals, the majority world-wide, this looks to be the case). For happy animals that are humanely killed, would reducing their number be moral?

This argument is called the "logic of the larder", this paper attempts to refute it:

One argument is that the cropland and pasture required for raising meat displaces a much larger number of wild animals, and therefore decreases the total number of hapiness-adjusted animal years lived, although it assumes that this land would revert to wild land if the farms were closed, which is not necessarily likely.

Another is the environmental impact of meat. 1kg of meat requires a large amount of water/feed input (

Finally, the "repugnant conclusion" ­- it is unsure in some moral frameworks that adding population always increases the overall utility of the system, if you accept that it does, you reach the conclusion that there is always a very large population of almost 0-utility members that has higher overall utlity than the current population (ie. A trillion not very happy crickets > 6 billion happyish people)

On balance:

It seems the environmental impact, suffering of factory farmed animals, and reduction of wild animals (through pollution and land use) suggest that it would be better overall for all society to be vegetarians rather than not, from a utilitarianist point of view, if trying to reduce suffering globally.

Disregarding utilitarianism, it seems clear that killing and eating the flesh of animals is currently only acceptible to people because it is the norm, and meat-eating will most likely be on the wrong side of history. It "feels" morally wrong, it is also a shelling point of sorts, that the killing of sentient beings is wrong, regardless of the intelligence differential between them.

On value of animal:

Like, if you'd kill a cow for a 10,000 dollars (which could save a number of human lives), but not fifty million cows for 10,000 dollars, you evidently see some cost associated with cow-termination. If you, when choosing methods, could pick between methods that induced lots of pain, versus methods that instantly terminated the cow-brain, and have a strong preference toward the less-painful methods (assuming they're just as effective), then you clearly value cow-suffering to some degree.

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Last modified 2019-08-16 Fri 16:27. Contact