cow2There are many good reasons for reducing our consumption of meat. The most important reasons have to do with the impact of meat eating on the environment and climate change. But as I’ve argued often on this blog and elsewhere, the moral arguments for vegetarianism based on animal suffering are weak. Although we should strive to reduce animal suffering as best we can, we have no general moral obligation to refrain from killing animals for food.

Philosopher Julian Baggini’s recent article in the Times Literary Supplement is the most succinct, accessible argument against moral vegetarianism that I’ve seen. Here is a brief summary of his main points:

How can you compare Hammy the hamster playing on his wheel and Miles Davis playing his trumpet?

Jeremy Bentham tended towards the view that all pains and pleasures are on a par, but the idea that all creatures with the capacity to suffer deserve equal moral consideration is implausible to say the least. That animals can suffer is a reason to give them moral consideration, but that does not tell us what kind and how much of that consideration is required.

Unlike the killing of persons,

“No ambitions are thwarted when a sheep is killed, no dreams lie unfulfilled….The animal would have had no life at all were it not brought into the world to eat. Dairy cows are not kidnapped from wild pastures. There is no happier, longer life such a beast would otherwise have had.

No single factor such as the fact that animals suffer is sufficient to guide complex judgments about what we should value or what is worth caring about. As Baggini writes: “This isn’t Disneyland and living authentically, as an adult, requires us to embrace fully the bitter-sweet nature of many of our most profound pleasures.”

No matter what we do, causing harm is unavoidable. It’s worth reading the whole article.