The Heterodox

The Heterodox

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Epigrams and Enlightenment 2.0

January 28, 2011 , , , , , ,


The focus for this second installment of Epigrams and Enlightenment will be on vegetarianism and the ethical considerations which are intertwined with this philosophy; the most opportune philosophic system in this vein being Utilitarianism. So under this heading I have provided two extracts from JS Mill’s ethical canon—although not directly addressing vegetarianism, these two passages nonetheless illustrate the ethical framework from which I consult in these moral and dietary considerations. Like before, I will highlight key writers and philosophers on this topic who have most acutely informed on my own epistemology and approaches to any ensuing dialectical inquiry. It is the continuing mission of these particular posts to provide interesting and intriguing thoughts which may in turn foment in your own cogitations. Please cognitively enjoy.


George Bernard Shaw“Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into a giant oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay!”

“As long as men torture and slay animals and eat their flesh, we shall have war.”


John Stuart MillAgain, defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objects as this—that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness.(…)The answer to the objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, the whole past duration of the human species. During all that time mankind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which experience all the prudence as well as all the morality of life, is dependent. People talk as if the commencement of this course of experience had hitherto been put off, and as if, at the moment when some man feels tempted to meddle with the property or life of another, he had to begin considering for the first time whether murder and theft are injurious to human happiness.(…)There is no difficulty in proving any ethical standard whatever to work ill, if we suppose universal idiocy to be conjoined with it; but on any hypothesis short of that, mankind must by this time have acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of some actions on their happiness; and the beliefs which have thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he has succeeded in finding better.

What Utilitarianism Is

There is, I am aware, a disposition to believe that a person who sees in moral obligation a transcendental fact, an objective reality belonging to the province of ‘Things in themselves’, is likely to be more obedient to it than one who believes it to be entirely subjective, having its seat in human consciousness only. But whatever a person’s opinion may be on this point of ontology, the force he is really urged by is his own subjective feeling, and is exactly measured by its strength. No one’s belief that duty is an objective reality is stronger than the belief that god is so; yet the belief in god, apart from the expectation of actual reward and punishment only operates on conduct through, and in proportion to, the subjective religious experience.(…)The question, Need I obey my conscience? is quite as often put to themselves by persons who never heard of the principle of utility, as by its adherents. Those whose conscientious feelings are so weak as to allow of their asking this question, if they answer it affirmatively, will not do so because they believe in the transcendental theory, but because of the external sanctions.

Of The Ultimate Sanction Of The Principle of Utility


Peter SingerMost human beings are speciesists. The following chapters show that ordinary human beings—not a few exceptionally cruel or heartless humans, but the overwhelming majority of humans—take an active part in, acquiesce in, and allow their taxes to pay for practices that require the sacrifice of the most important interests of members of other species in order to promote the most trivial interests of our own species. There is, however, one general defense of the practices(…) It is a defense which, if true, would allow us to do anything at all to nonhumans for the slightest reason, or for no reason at all, without incurring any justifiable reproach. This defense claims that we are never guilty of neglecting the interests of other animals for one breathtakingly simple reason: they have no interests. Nonhuman animals have no interests, according to this view, because they are not capable of suffering.(…)

If it is justifiable to assume that other human beings feel pain as we do, is there any reason why a similar inference should be unjustifiable in the case of other animals? Nearly all the external signs that lead us to infer pain in other humans can be seen in other species, especially the species most closely related to us—the species of mammals and birds. The behavioral signs include writhing, facial contortions, moaning, yelping or other forms of calling, attempts to avoid the source of pain, appearance of fear at the prospect of its repetition, and so on. In addition, we know that these animals have nervous systems very much like ours(…) Although human beings have a more developed cerebral cortex than other animals, this part of the brain is concerned with thinking functions rather than with basic impulses, emotions, and feelings. These impulses, emotions, and feelings are located in the diencephalon, which is well developed in many other species of animals, especially mammals and birds.

Animal Liberation

The shaky nature of the boundary between human beings and the other great apes is emphasized by most authors: we share 98.4 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, and only slightly less with gorillas and orangutans. As Robin Dunbar, professor of biological anthropology, points out, nonhuman great apes “differ only slightly more in their degree of genetic relatedness to you and me than do other populations of humans living elsewhere in the world.” Jared Diamond, whose expertise ranges from physiology to ethology, goes so far as to maintain that humans do not constitute a distinct family, nor even a distinct genus, but belong in the same genus as common and pygmy chimps. Since our genus name was proposed first, and takes priority, he suggests that there are today on earth three species of the genus “Homo”: the common chimpanzee, “Homo troglodytes; the pygmy chimpanzee, “Homo paniscus; and the third, or human, chimpanzee, “Homo sapiens”. Relatedness is also present in Richard Dawkins’s essay, in the form of an attack on the “discontinuous mind,” which, dividing animals up into discontinuous species, forgets that on the evolutionary view of life there must always be intermediates, and that it is sheer luck if they are no longer here to fill in the gaps that the discontinuous mind erects. These and other contributions, like the one in which James Rachels directly addresses Darwin’s theory, help to erase the idea of a sharp separation between us and other great apes by removing its traditional background.

The Great Ape Project


Carol J AdamsNot only is our language male-centered, it is human-centered as well. When we use the adjective “male”, such as in the preceding sentence, we all assume that it is referring solely to human males. Besides the human-oriented notions that accompany our use of words such as male and female, we use the word “animal” as though it did not refer to human beings, as though we too are not animals. All that is implied when the words “animal” and beast” are used as insults maintains separation between human animals and nonhuman animals. We have structured our language to avoid the acknowledgement of our biological similarity.(…) On an emotional level everyone has some discomfort with the eating of animals. This discomfort is seen when people do not want to be reminded of what they are eating while eating, nor to be informed of the slaughterhouse activities that make meat eating possible; it is also revealed by the personal taboo that each person has toward some form of meat: either because of its form, such as organ meats, or because of its source, such as pig or rabbit, insects or rodents. The intellectual framework of language that enshrouds meat eating protects these emotional responses from being examined. This is nothing new; language has always aided us in sidestepping sticky problems of conceptualization by obfuscating the situation.

Since meat is not eaten in its “natural” state—raw, off the corpse—but is instead transformed through cultural intervention, vegetarians have directed their energy toward analyzing the specifics of this cultural intervention. They claim that the structures that transform flesh as it is eaten by the other animals into meat as it is eaten by human beings are not unimportant or trivial, especially as they signal the degree of distancing that our culture has determined is necessary for consumption of animals to proceed.

The Sexual Politics of Meat


John RobbinsOf course, just because the concept of the “basic four” food groups was promoted by the National Egg Board, the National Dairy Council, and the National Livestock and Meat Board, doesn’t mean it is necessarily false. Just because there were hucksters in our classrooms doesn’t mean the hucksters lied. But it does mean their motives were a little less pure than we thought, and their “concern” for our education a little more self-interested than we knew. It might cast a shadow upon the wisdom of unquestioningly accepting the “truths” we were taught. It might mean, for example, that we should consult sources of information less biased than the Egg Board, or the Meat Board, or others who applied so much political and economic pressure to get those nice pretty charts to say what they wanted them to say.

Diet For A New America

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