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Moral Arguments For and Against Meat Eatin

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2864 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Singer claims that utilitarianism is consistent with vegetarianism; we are causing suffering to animals by making them endure the methods used to rear and kill them for us to consume their meat which is not essential to our diet. Singer uses his four premises to explain why utilitarianism provides us with sufficient grounds to conclude that eating meat is morally impermissible. Regan also agrees that eating meat is morally impermissible, but rejects the utilitarian argument for vegetarianism. Instead, Regan uses Kantian moral ethics and claims that eating meat is morally impermissible because animals are ends in themselves, and we should focus on their inherent value instead. I will show how Singer’s utilitarian approach champions over Regan’s ‘inherent value’ concept, still ultimately showing that is impermissible to eat meat considering the suffering caused to animals in the process.

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Singer’s position is that eating meat is not necessary, it is a luxury. ‘Vegetarianism is, for me, a means to an end rather than an end in itself’ (Singer 1980: 327). Singer believes that it is morally impermissible for us to consume the meat of an animal, if that animal has suffered for the purpose of our consumption. Singer’s four premises are as follows:

  1. We should try to minimise pain and suffering
  2. We should try to give equal consideration to animal’s pain and suffering
  3. Human consumption of meat involves the suffering of animals
  4. For the majority of humans, become vegetarian requires very little ‘suffering’ in comparison to the suffering of animals involved for human consumption of meat.

Firstly, I will explain the first premise; Peter Singer claims that utilitarianism is consistent with vegetarianism. ‘I believe that applying the principle of utility to our present situation-especially the methods now used to rear animals for food and the variety of food available to us-leads to the conclusion that we ought to be vegetarian’ (Singer 1980:325). Utilitarianism is the doctrine that claims an action is morally right if it results in happiness or the absence of pain, and morally wrong if it results in unhappiness or pain. Therefore, from a utilitarian perspective, Singer believes that the consumption of meat is morally impermissible, as it involves the suffering of animals.

With the second premise, Singer explains that many animals can experience feelings of pain and pleasure and thus have a moral standing, much like humans do. Singer employs the concept of speciesism to illustrate his premise, which can be defined as “a prejudice or attitude of bias towards the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species” (Singer 1975:7). Singer argues that we should be able to apply to principle of equality used to argue against discrimination based on gender, religion or race for humans, to non human animals. Singer claims that ‘experimenting on animals, and eating their flesh are perhaps the two major forms of speciesism in our society’ (Singer 1975: 8).

Singer draws upon Benn’s example of whether one should feed a hungry baby or hungry dog, stating that it would be considered ‘morally defective’(Singer 1975:10)if anyone were to feed the dog instead of the baby, because we as humans prioritise other humans. Singer questions, with this reasoning, why there should be any discrimination between an animal and an imbecile. Singer claims that we do not ‘respect equally the dignity or personality of the imbecile and of the rational man’ (Singer 1975:11), even though ‘we should respect their interests equally’ (Singer 1975:11). Benn would argue that it would not be fair to treat an animal like an imbecile, as the lack of rationality for an imbecile is a deficiency which is not normal for the species, but if a dog is irrational, it is because it’s normal for the species and not because the dog is deficient.

However, Singer argues that it would not be unfair as the imbecile’s deficiency is just unfortunate, and ‘neither is any more responsible for their mental level’. He questions ‘If it is unfair to take advantage of an isolated defect, why is it fair to take advantage of a more general limitation?’ (Singer 1989:224) Singer employs the following example, asking us to suppose there is a difference in IQ for whites and blacks, thinking of this example by substituting ‘white’ for ‘men’, ‘black’ for ‘dog’, ‘high IQ’ for ‘rationality’ and ’species’ for ‘race’ (Singer 1975:12). Thus, ’imbeciles’ would be ‘dumb whites’ who do not meet the standard white IQ score. Singer explains how we would view this new example as wrong and ‘outrageous’, as we are not racists. However, if we did not see what was wrong with the first example, then it is because most of us are speciesists.

Singers’ reasoning for why a dog and an imbecile should not be viewed differently by humans, is objectionable. For instance, I see a dog as more valuable than a cow not because of their capacities, for they both have feelings and preferences, but because they are perceived differently by humans. We value dogs higher because recognise them as more compassionate and loving beings, and we value humans higher because they have a higher capacity for rationality and emotion. Despite this, animals should not have to suffer for human pleasure.

Singer’s third premise is one that many consumers of meat agree with and are willing to accept. In the process of consuming meat, animals suffer and live miserable lives being factory farmed in  order for their meat to be sold at the lowest cost to humans. The suffering of the animals involved is treated as necessary, due to the fact that humans like to consume meat at the lowest cost possible. Singer holds that eating meat is not necessary, nor is paying the lowest price for their meat; it is a luxury thus, if an animal has suffered for us to consume it, then we should not eat it.

One could object that cattle farmers would suffer hugely if many people chose to only eat organically farmed meat, this would not be consistent with utilitarianism as it would make most cattle farmers suffer great losses, and utilitarianism is a moral theory aiming to minimise suffering. However, utilitarianism aims for the maximum happiness and minimum suffering, thus the suffering that cattle farmers would endure is little in comparison to the large suffering that animals endure, thus this objection can be dismissed.

Lastly, the fourth premise explains that eating meat is a luxury, for taste and not health, as we don’t need to eat meat for our health: ‘This is purely a matter of pleasing our palate. There can be no defence of eating flesh in terms of satisfying nutritional needs, since it has been established beyond doubt that we could satisfy our need for protein and other essential nutrients far more efficiently with a diet that replaced animal flesh by soy beans, or products derived from soy beans, and other high- protein vegetables.’ (Singer 1989:220) As meat is not essential to our diet, the little luxury we would lose out on from not consuming meat would count as very minimal suffering.

The ‘no woman is an island’ objection could be applied to this premise, claiming that following a vegetarian diet would impose this on the people around you, unless you were to live on your own. For example, if a vegetarian attended as a guest to a party, they would be imposing their vegetarian diet on the other guests and the host of the party. As Singer is a utilitarian, his priority is to reduce suffering. Consistent to his argument, the suffering endured by the animal in the process of killing and rearing it would be greater than the little suffering the host will undergo by providing a vegetarian dish for the guest.

Singer has convincingly argued why eating meat is not morally permissible by employing the utilitarian argument and focusing on animal suffering. However, Regan disagrees with Singer’s argument, claiming that utilitarianism is not sufficient grounds to make eating meat impermissible. He presents utilitarianism as problematic as it encourages choices based on greater good, which may not be in the interest of individuals or of animals.

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Regan identifies his first issue of utilitarianism with the following example: ‘My Aunt Bea is old, inactive, a cranky, sour person, though not physically ill. She prefers to go on living. She is also rather rich. I could make a fortune if I could get my hands on her money, money she intends to give me in any event, after she dies, but which she refuses to give me now. In order to avoid a huge tax bite, I plan to donate a handsome sum of my profits to a local children’s hospital. Many, many children will benefit from my generosity, and much joy will be brought to their parents, relatives and friends. If I don’t get the money rather soon, all these ambitions will come to naught. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real killing will be gone. Why, then, not kill my Aunt Bea?’ (Regan 1985: 185)

Regan argues that according to utilitarianism, killing Aunt Bea is not immoral. By donating a large sum of money to the children’s hospital, he has helped children and brought happiness to them, their families and friends; this happiness is greater than the little suffering endured by Aunt Bea, thus he claims his action is not morally wrong according to utilitarianism. However, Regan claims that evil cannot be justified by a good result and so it is wrong Aunt Bea, as thus utilitarianism fails as a moral theory in this respect. In utilitarianism, Regan claims ’neither you nor the animal have any value in your own right. Only your feelings do.’ (Regan 1985: 184) Regan argues that the problems of utilitarianism are a result of the moral theory being aggregative, as focusing on the ‘greater good’ dismisses the interests of individuals. Like the dismissed interests of Aunt Bea and her preference ‘to live’, Regan argues that the option which brings the maximum happiness may not be the same option that would result in the best results for an animal. Thus, Regan does not view utilitarianism to be an argument that successfully supports vegetarianism.

Regan has explained why the utilitarian’s view of the value of the individual is problematic. Instead, he adopts a deontological approach which he commits to; Regan holds a Kantian position, one that claims that animals should be treated as ends in themselves, just like humans. Regan coins the term ‘aninherent value’, which is an unearned respect that all living beings possess equally. Regan holds that any living being that cares about their welfare and doesn’t believe that they are simply means to someone else’s end, has an inherent value. As animals have an inherent value, they should not be used to benefit humans and their lives, and thus they should not be killed in order for humans to consume their meat. It is clear to see that Singer and Regan are arguing it is impermissible to eat meat, but for different reasons.

Furthermore, Regan claims that humans share the ability with animals to have individual happiness and experiences that matters to them, and both humans and animals should have moral consideration. Regan claims that people and animals ‘want and prefer things, believe and feel things, recall and expect things. And all these dimensions of our life, including our pleasure and pain, our enjoyment and suffering, our satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely death—all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as experienced, by us as individuals. As the same is true of … animals … they too must be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with inherent value of their own’ (Regan 1985: 186). I will show how Regan’s argument is flawed because 1) ‘inherent value’ requires animals to have the rationality to think they are valuable and ends in themselves and 2) an individual’s feelings cannot be separated from the individual.

Firstly, Regan’s adoption of Kants argument is flawed, as Kant specified ‘rational beings are called persons because their nature already marks them out as an end in itself, that is, as something that may not be used merely as a means’ (Korsgaard 2012:1); Kant believes this respect is only due to rational beings, not animals. Thus, it is problematic for Regan to argue that animals believe they are not simply means to someone else end, as they do not have the ‘rationality’ that Kant requires in his argument, so it can be argued that they do not have the capacity to think about their value and not simply beings means to someone else end. Thus, Regan’s argument cannot be applied to animals as it was formed for humans.

Secondly, Regan argues that in utilitarianism ‘only your feelings’ have value, and not you as an individual. However, feelings are not independent to someones value, thus they cannot be separated from the individual. Indeed, feelings are an expression of one’s individual self, and thus would be expected to be strongly linked to ‘inherent value’ (Regan 1986:185). In utilitarianism, value is placed on feelings because they are a key component of an individual as the most important aspect of our mental lives; if your feelings have value, so do you. This could also be applied to some animals; Darwin claims “so intense is the grief of female monkeys for the loss of their young, that it invariably caused the death of certain kinds” (1871: 40) Even for animals, their feelings of ‘grief’ is so large that it ‘caused death’, thus showing why the importance is placed so heavily on having feelings in utilitarianism. Regan’s claim that humans and animals share experiences and the capacity to have individual happiness is true, but the concept of ‘inherent value’ has not accurately captured their capacity. Regan cannot adopt Kant’s argument as he has specified it for rational human beings, and most animals lack rationality and cannot be viewed as humans in terms of their value.

Singer’s argument that animal suffering should not take place is a much more convincing argument as to why making animals suffer for human consumption of their meat is impermissible. Singer believes that it is morally impermissible for us to consume the meat of an animal, if that animal has suffered for the purpose of our consumption. One could assume from this that Singer would not have an issue with the prize that PETA is offering of $1million (The New York Times 2008), for any company that is able to mate real meat that is grown in a lab process, but not through a live animal. We can assume, that in this instance, eating meat would be deemed permissible by Singer and consistent to the utilitarian argument.

To conclude, it is true that animals should not be poorly treated and killed for humans to consume their meat for their own pleasure. However, this is because they should not have to suffer so much for the little happiness we humans gain, and not because they possess an ‘inherent value’ and are ends in themselves, instead of ‘means to an end’ (Singer 1980: 327). Unlike Regan, Singers’ argument only holds that eating meat is morally impermissible because it causes animal suffering through methods of killing and rearing. Thus we could assume that eating meat would be morally permissible if it did not cause suffering to animal. However, as Singer convincingly argues, due to the poor treatment and death of animals in the process of human meat consumption, it is currently impermissible to eat meat.


  1. Korsgaard, C (2012) “A Kantian Case for Animal Rights.” In Animal Law – Tier and Rect: Developments and Perspectives in the 21st Century, ed. Margot Michael, Daniela Kühne, and Julia Hänni, 3-27. Zurich: Dike Verlag.
  2. Regan, T. (1986). A case for animal rights. In M.W. Fox & L.D. Mickley (Eds.), Advances in animal welfare science 1986/87 (pp. 179-189). Washington, DC: The Humane Society of the United States.
  3. Regan, T. (1975). The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 5(2), 181-214.
  4. Schwartz, J. (2008). PETAs Latest Tactic: $1 Million for Fake Meat. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/us/21meat.html
  5. Singer, Peter (1989). All Animals Are Equal. In Tom Regan & Peter Singer (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations. Oxford University Press. pp. 215–226.
  6. Singer, P. (1980). Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 9(4), 325-337.


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