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Moral Relativism - Discussion

None of this word salad even points in the direction of being relevant to

Sure, nonhuman animals have rights, for the same reasons and to the same extent that human animals have rights -- because and to the extent that we are sentient creatures. More sentience means more rights, more or less.

You do not need any data to explain why some animals having some rights entails that all animals have all rights. You merely need to note that, as a matter of brute logic, it is a non sequitur, and hence your claim that anyone and everyone who supports any animal rights is a "hypocrite" is risible.

Moral judgments are expressions of our psychology, so I would start by trying to analyze what emotional evaluation these people are trying to express.

We're all familiar with the scold; the fuddy-dudd, finger-wagging, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou figure, the meddlesome know-it-all busybody, the prude, the prig; the puritan. Our discourse would be impoverished if we didn't have a family of expressions to cut these pricks down to size, and taken without any philosophical implications, "moralism" is a perfectly fine word in English to describe this sort of thing.

So like "spiritual", "moralistic" can be a perfectly good description of someone, provided no one is trying to make some additional, metaphysical claim about what's going on. And it drives me up the wall when I hear "it's all subjective! it's all subjective!" played as some kind of trump card to avoid addressing someone's argument, especially when you can see that person posting in half a dozen other threads where they're perfectly happy to give and defend their reasons for taking a particular normative stance. (You are virtually guaranteed to see this bullshit in any thread where someone tries to argue for the reduction of cruelty to animals. There's no good argument against it, so, hey, maybe all arguments are equally bad!)

It is very difficult (psychologically) to remain a consistent moral nihilist -- to refrain from any moral judgments. I suppose it may help that sufficiently proficient nihilist would (by definition) not feel chastened by the accusation of hypocrisy. There are ways of being a subjectivist which do allow you to continue to make sincere moral judgments without hypocrisy or "crossing your fingers behind your back" -- my own noncognitivism falls into this category -- but they take a bit more theoretical nuance than opportunistically declaring your opponent to be wrong on the very grounds that he is taking a moral stance at all.

My own view is that the various forms of subjectivism are simply expressions of a reluctance to be judgmental. At best, they are a first-order moral expression of a distaste for the prudish characters I mentioned above, of a desire for tolerance, freedom, and peaceful coexistence. At worst, they are an expression of moral cowardice in the presence of evil, a sort of general irritation at being forced to actually give reasons for their own belief. Conversely, moral realism, at best, is an expression of one's moral seriousness in the presence of the flippant, the milquetoast, and the self-satisfied. At worst, it's the arrogation of the right to tell everyone else what to do because of the speaker's access to some occult form of metaphysical authority. Do what I say because the Bible is on my side. Do what I say because Evolutionary Psychology vindicates my political conceits. Do what I say because I have privileged access to the Form of the Good.


He goes on to say that devaluing animals for slaughter is wrong because it is based on another morally irrelevant biological feature--a certain genetic makeup.

I question whether distinction of species is morally irrelevant. We're geared as gregarious animals to protect our selves and our gene pool. We domesticated animals for the specific purpose of their donation to our welfare, as protectors, as assistants, as food, as clothing...

Why is this not a textbook example of the genetic fallacy?

The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevancewhere a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question.[1]Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are irrelevant to its merits. [2]

Example: "You're not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don't you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice." There may be reasons why people may not wish to wear wedding rings, but it would be logically inappropriate for a couple to reject the notion of exchanging wedding rings on the sole grounds of its alleged sexist origins.

Example: Man evolved by eating meat.

I think biological distinction is a significant moral feature.

What makes a cow deserving of protection by human morals? I can see an ethical base to the idea that the human that owns it deserves to make a living, deserves to profit from the amount of time and money spent on acquiring, raising and protecting the dumb beast.
And i can see protecting an animal from unnecessary suffering, but that could as easily be motivated protecting humans from developing into torturing bastards, thus protecting OUR herd by not letting members prey on other herds. We're not saying the cow deserves a right to live (especially considering that we named it Ribroast when we registered it), we're saying that we don't want to be that sort of person, we don't want the sort of person that tortures animals among us.

But all you've done here is simply switch vocabulary horses midstream. You start out talking the language of rights theory, then end up talking the language of virtue ethics. One could as well say that women don't have a right per se not to be raped, just that we don't want the sort of person who rapes among us.

An important point that should not go unclarified:

We do not discriminate morally between beings who can understand our morality and those who cannot.

Some have suggested that because animals maim each other and have no concept of ethics, it's alright for us to do so. But at least one person has rightly pointed out that there are many humans who behave horribly and many who are developmentally retarded and yet still able to suffer. Do we deny them our moral consideration?

Can eating meat be considered ethical, since it's a natural behavior that is sometimes necessary for survival? Are natural behaviors in that realm subject to ethical consideration? If so or if not why? I would also like to hear any other strong arguments for eating meat that anyone might want to throw out.

Apologies for any terrible grammar or spelling issues.


Natural behaviors are most certainly in the realm that is subject to ethical consideration because all behaviors are natural. Furthermore, just because something is natural does not mean it is ethical. That is an example of what is called the naturalistic fallacy. Consider rape. This is perfectly natural, but would you consider it ethical?

The naturalistic fallacy is often claimed to be a formal fallacy. It was described and named by British philosopher G. E. Moorein his 1903 book Principia Ethica. Moore stated that a naturalistic fallacy was committed whenever a philosopher attempts to prove a claim about ethics by appealing to a definition of the term "good" in terms of one or more natural properties (such as "pleasant", "more evolved", "desired", etc.).

The naturalistic fallacy is related to, and often confused with, the is-ought problem(which comes from Hume'sTreatise). As a result, the term is sometimes used loosely to describe arguments that claim to draw ethical conclusions from natural facts.

Alternatively, the phrase "naturalistic fallacy" is used to refer to the claim that what is natural is inherently good or right, and that what is unnatural is bad or wrong (see "Appeal to nature"). It is the converse of the moralistic fallacy, or that what is good or right is natural and inherent.

The term "naturalistic fallacy" is also sometimes used to describe the deduction of an "ought" from an "is" (the Is-ought problem), and has inspired the use of mutually reinforcing terminology which describes the converse (deducing an "is" from an "ought") either as the "reverse naturalistic fallacy" or the "moralistic fallacy." An example of a naturalistic fallacy in this sense would be to conclude Social Darwinismfrom the theory of evolutionby natural selection, and of the reverse naturalistic fallacy to argue that the immorality of survival of the fittestimplies the theory of evolution is false. Moralists Jeremy Benthamand Immanuel Kantboth indicated the is-ought problem in order to identify their theories of morality and law.

In using his categorical imperative Kant deduced that experience was necessary for their applications. But experience on its own or the imperative on its own could not possibly identify an act as being moral or immoral. We can have no certain knowledge of morality from them, being incapable of deducing how things ought to be from the fact that they happen to be arranged in a particular manner in experience.

Bentham, in discussing the relations of law and morality, found that when people discuss problems and issues they talk about how they wish it would be as opposed to how it actually is. This can be seen in discussions of natural lawand positive law. Bentham criticized natural law theory because in his view it was a naturalistic fallacy, claiming that it described how things ought to be instead of how things are.

Originally Posted by J842P

This question is for those that say they don't want to cause suffering: how do you kill an animal without it suffering? Why do you assume the animals you eat didn't suffer?

The animal will die ... one way or another ..... animals in the wild have fairly miserable and gruesome deaths ... so no additional suffering need occur... possibly less.

Why does this not apply to humans? In many third world nations, people die pretty terrible deaths from disease and injury, hell, even from other animals. Is it OK to eat them? To understand the fundamental difference between our points of view, replace the word 'animal' in your arguments with 'humans.'

This question is for those that say they don't want to cause suffering: how do you kill an animal without it suffering? Why do you assume the animals you eat didn't suffer?

I don't assume it, I go through hell every time I buy meat to try and figure it out. I've read Pollan and Singer; they're the reasons I'm on this side! Factory farms, or CAFO's (Controlled Animal Feeding Operations) are precisely the kinds of places I avoid getting meat from. Places where cows cannibalise each other unwillingly, chickens get seared alive or starved in order to induce molting, and pigs get their most sensitive body part clipped off to reduce in-fighting. Milk production isn't much better, since the cows deprived of their young pretty much live miserable lives, and the calves go to veal production. I don't condone any of that.

But I can see shades of gray. If an animal is given shelter, a steady supply of nutritious food, not injected with hormones and antibiotics, given the ability to act on its instincts (Pollan's "let a chicken be a chicken"), and killed painlessly, then I don't see the big deal in eating their flesh after they're dead. I make damn sure all the meat products I buy meet this standard. By using my money this way, I'm doing my part to promote local farmers, animal welfare, and the environment. I'm also not increasing the demand for tortured animals that don't even have enough room to turn around in their own feces-lined cages.

This way of eating is not too hard to do, and doesn't make me feel like I'm a "whiny" vegan (a fear that dissuades many people from choosing that lifestyle). The meat I buy is usually a luxury, and since it's naturally raised, always tastes way better than Tyson or Burger King crap.

The insistence that people adopt an all-or-nothing approach is hurting the animal rights cause. Nobody likes to be made to feel guilty, especially when they (like me) have already invested serious thought, time, and money into changing the way they eat to be more conscious of animal suffering. People who use their dollar to support people who care about animals and the environment shouldn't be chastised because they still eat meat, because that might make them give up altogether and go back to Arby's.

Keeping the natural law fallacy in mind, it is also my opinion that one should not bother going against one's nature unless there is a compelling reason to do so. I don't personally see the compelling reason to avoid being omnivorous.

Being an omnivore does not mean it is mandatory to eat everything you are able to eat. It gives you the ability to adapt your diet to the environment you are in. So our advantage, as omnivores, is that we can make ethical choices about how our lifestyles impact the environment and other animals without having to suffer any ill effects, and it is perfectly natural for human beings to care about these things since we evolved the capacity for higher reasoning, altruism and ethics. So vegetarians are going entirely with their nature, not against it.

Going back to the thought experiment, we can construct in such a way that the perpetrator has no features of his own psychology (no internal reasons) that would prevent him from abusing the victim and also no external reason (no one will find out, it won't affect society in any way). What I am suggesting with this is that the pain and suffering of the victim may be a reason in itself.

So, I am not saying that mental capacity is the end all and be all of morality. I am suggesting that it is a morally relevant reason in questions of action. Obviously, the next step in my argument is that if mental states (such as pain and/or suffering) have moral weight for human animals, why don't they have weight in non-human animals?

So if animals eat other animals it's ok, but if humans eat animals it's unethical? And how exactly do you justify this special pleading?

When nonhuman animals eat other nonhuman animals, it isn't unethical because there are no moral agents involved. Just like when a baby hurts someone, we don't consider the baby to have done something unethical because the baby is not a moral agent. Sure, we attempt to teach the baby to train the baby, being aware that it will likely become a moral agent, but we don't blame it or punish it. Blame only applies when we can expect the individual to have done otherwise.

It's called a reductio ad absurdum. You imply that 'basic and normal' behaviors deserve some sort of moral shield before we consider them wrong, because then we would have to accuse animals of being immoral. I showed you why this is a faulty argument.

Infanticide and meat eating are both basic and natural behaviors. That was the hypothesis of your argument. What is the difference between these two activities with regards to that assumption? I would consider both wrong, you obviously don't consider eating meant wrong. Fine, we disagree about ethics - there is no remedying that if we start from a different set of axioms.

Decapitated skeletons of hominidchildren have been found with evidence of cannibalism.[5]Joseph Birdsell believes in infanticide rates of 15-50% of the total number of births in prehistoric times.[6]Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15-20%. [1]Both believe that high rates of infanticide persisted until the development of agriculture.[7]Comparative anthropologistshave calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents in the Paleolithic.[8]

Child sacrifice, the ritualistic killing of children in order to please supernaturalbeings, was far more common in ancient historythan in present times.

Killing painlessly is a piece of cake. Assuming we began free-ranging all food animals and killing them by lethal injection (pretend it wouldn't taint the meat for the sake of argument), then I can think of no grounds on which the vegetarian could object -- especially since, as you say, the mental capacities of animals are on a different level than ours, so it's highly unlikely that they would suffer mental anguish over knowing that they were destined for the dinner table. Bossy would spend her life munching away in a nice big rolling field, happy as can be, then one day she wouldn't wake up. Any complaints about that would expose some other agenda.

Unfortunately, this is not how things work in the real world. I agree that IF animals were raised and killed in a method similar to what you've described many would find it unobjectionable. However, claims about the mental capacities of certain animals are open empirical questions.

On the other hand, it wouldn't necessarily do away with all objections, depending on your ethical theory of choice. Those who believe in a right to life need to have criteria for deciding which individuals have this right. As it turns out, group membership (such as species or race) just doesn't cut it. Some people end up concluding that there are nonhuman animals that fit firmly in the right to life camp. Before some of you balk at this claim, attempt to make your own set of criteria and run a few thought experiments against it; it isn't a straightforward task.

So yes, a distinction needs to be made between the claims: that it is inherently wrong to kill animals for food, that it is wrong to kill animals for food today, that it is wrong to kill animals for food under certain conditions today. Very different claims that tend to get muddled together.

However, for most of us in the US today, our only readily available source of meat comes from factory farms. This is a premise that is sometimes falsely presumed, which confuses things a bit.

This topic has always been tough for me personally. Generally, I agree with the 'suffering' side of the debate.

1. I value other beings. I think it follows then that I value their freedom to live happy lives and their freedom to avoid suffering and harm.

2. 'freedom to live happy lives' seems to come in degrees since a being that can 'deliberate' seems to have a more complex freedom. Such ability comes in degrees. Sentience and intelligence seem to be factors associated with the ability to be "freer."

The ending of a being's life is often the destruction of their freedom. In those cases, it is to some extent "wrong" from my perspective. It would be 'more wrong' to kill a human (under this case) than it would be to kill a parrot. But still wrong to kill a parrot. It would be more wrong to kill a chimpanzee than a frog. It would be more wrong to kill a dolphin than a plant.

3. Suffering, on the other hand, I think is shared across multiple kingdoms of organisms. I believe years ago I had read that to some extent plants react to music and will grow better around soothing words. Maybe this is too sci-fi. If so, ignore it. In any case, it is clear that most animals at least can feel physical pain. Mental anguish and suffering may also be a part of the equation and this might be correlated with sentience/intelligence.

It seems most wrong to make a sentient being suffer, but also wrong to make a non-sentient being suffer. As I believe that sentience and intelligence come in degrees, there is also a degree to which the suffering might be appreciated by a moral observer who values the sufferer.

4. I made a personal choice in life to avoid eating semi-intelligent animals. I do not eat read meat, primates, pork, whales, dolphins, giant squid and a bunch of other things. I do eat poultry (not parrots), seafood (not giant squids), eggs, and dairy but try to focus on fruits and veggies when I can.

I do not buy into the "meat is murder" rhetorics for two personal reasons:

First of all, anything we eat, whether a broccoli or a lamb chop was alive at a point in time, before we decided to eat it for our survival. If you are going to compare a chicken to a human being and claim both are living beings entitled to live, then you are skipping 200 million years of separate evolutionary paths, and may as well claim that fish are also entitled to live, and shrimps, and sea urchins and once you are that far, why not also trees, lettuces, potatoes and mushrooms. Who sets the line about which living beings are entitled to live and which can we eat? It seems pretentious to me that anybody tries to draw that line arbitrarily. Let's face it: Every time we eat, we kill something.

Firstly, all ethical lines are drawn arbitrarily. But thats another issue. I see one big glaring problem here: what you describe is not the 'meat is murder' argument. In other words, you are attacking a straw man. Let me put it this way, no one is saying that killing animals for food is wrong because they are alive and life shouldn't be killed (well, some people might but then I disagree with them) - what most people are saying is that since animals have brains we can induct that they have the capacity to suffer like we do. Therefore, we would want to avoid causing suffering (this is the arbitrary line in my ethics) by not killing them for food. Do you see how that is different? Basically it comes down to this: my ethical considerations extend to non-human entities that (we presume) have consciousness. Of course, you can always say you don't care about non-human entities, at which point we have a fundamental disagreement and no more can be said. Is that the situation for you?

No one here as said that animals should not have some sort of moral consideration, only that being a vegetarian does not automatically provide the moral high ground on this issue.

You're right, no one has explicitly claimed this, but it is something that I think can easily be inferred from some of the posts here.


No matter what you do in this world (as has been mentioned) you live on other life. If you choose to be a vegan you have to get your nutrients from somewhere, growing those involves the displacement and death of many animals (see the issues with soy cultivation and the Amazon rainforest). There is in fact nothing you can do in this world that does not in some way harm another creature. So there is no way to be consistent in this moral superiority.


In fact I would argue that putting my money towards those farmers who produce in sustainable and humane ways is far more effective than absolutely refusing meat of any sort, and I have helped to reduce the harm.


If you've made the choice to state your feelings about factory-farming by not eating meat, that's fine and good for you. I prefer to do it by supporting free-range and local farms where possible because something has to replace those factory farms in order for people to have the choice to eat better meat. Either way, hit them in the wallet and they might pay attention.

I agree that no matter what course of action we choose, we will be contributing to the pain and suffering of animals in some way. However, I think that we can make choices that will limit the degree to which we contribute. There will always be a question of tactics and as we've seen with the global warming issue, many of our attempted solutions will end up causing other unforeseen harms. This proves that the world is a complicated place and connected in many ways that aren't at all obvious. Anyone who thinks that they are morally "pure" in the sense that they do not contribute to the pain and suffering of animals is flat wrong. Such a state of "purity" does not exist, there is no black and white, just shades of grey as I've suggested. Anyway, simply because some initial attempts at alleviating a problem end up backfiring, does not mean that the goal is unobtainable, just that it is more complex than we thought and will take much more work.

So, we come to the question of what tactic works best. You seem to suggest that putting money towards more humane sources of meat is the best tactic because it is a positive tactic (in that it supports these farms) rather than just a negative tactic (boycotting factory farms). However, by boycotting meat, one is in effect supporting foods that can replace meat. Of course, you will respond that these foods contribute to suffering as well in some way or other. To me, this will always be a problem and merely points out that one will always have to be vigilant in choosing the types of food to eat.

As far as why I have not chosen your route and supported free-range sources of meat'

Personally, I have never found a reliable source of meat with any meaningful certification of the "humane" conditions that the package espouses. I find this especially true in the case of eggs. It is entirely possible that you have access to or knowledge of products that I do not. It is also entirely possible that you have a better shade of grey than I do. I don't care to try to judge that. You have made an excellent point in bringing up the question of tactics. However, like I have said, I have simplified that question for the sake of discussion (questions of tactics often turn people off before they can truly consider the issue - once again, the issue of global warming). I would be very interested in hearing about the humane sources of meat that you have found though.

Again though, this all ignores the nagging question of rights. If one believes in human rights, it begs the question of where the line is to be drawn for rights. If it turns out some nonhuman animals have rights, then it will be wrong to eat (at least some kinds of) meat regardless of the treatment of the animal.

Who sets the line about which living beings are entitled to live and which can we eat? It seems pretentious to me that anybody tries to draw that line arbitrarily. Let's face it: Every time we eat, we kill something.

Is it safe to assume that you don't eat the flesh of humans? If so, then you have arbitrarily drawn the line about what life forms you will and will not eat. Not only that, but you appear to have drawn it based on group membership.


Although I doubt the use, I'll give in and provide you a quick formal argument against factory-farming.

1. It is wrong to cause unnecessary pain and suffering.
2. Factory-farming causes pain and suffering.
3. Factory-farming is unnecessary.
4. If (1)-(3), then it is wrong to factory-farm animals.
So, it is wrong to factory-farm animals.

So, you can object to one of the premises, show that the argument is invalid (reject (4)), or accept the conclusion. Note that if you reject (1), we will be diverted into an argument of ethics, where your own views on ethical theory will suddenly become quite relevant, as I suggested.

As to the fallacy that you continue to express in one way or another, a better term for it might be the is-ought fallacy. You are moving from a description of nature to a prescription for the way things should be. I'm sure you'll have a response to scream. But hold on a second. You need to be more specific. Either you can claim that things CAN'T be any other way or that they SHOULDN'T be any other way. If you are claiming the latter, then you are expressing a moral claim! If your are expressing the former--good luck. You might also want to clarify what you mean by "the food chain as the foundation of the ecosystem". That claim is a bit vague.

Also, before you respond, please look up the Principle of Charity.


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