Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On the Vegetarian Strawman

I think Sam’s argument is unsuccessful. I believe he misconstrues my argument, and that the vegetarianism that he defends is quite weak.

Take the following two vegetarian positions:

V1 Eat the rainforest
V2 Don’t eat animals, be kind to them

My argument is somehow different to what Sam thinks, It doesn’t point out that the vegetarian claims we should defend V1). That would be, as Sam claims, like building up a strawman. Rather my argument is a reductio ad absurdum. It starts (literally) by attributing V2 to the vegetarian and agues that V2 has a ridiculous consequence. As a matter of fact, it has V1 as a consequence. It is just a matter of fact that eating soybeans in such a big amount is destroying the rainforest. There’s nothing more to be said here.

So, unless vegetarians in fact do not defend V2, then I’m either building up a strawman or simply mislabeling the claim. I do think, however, that many a people that call themselves “vegetarians” embrace V2. Thus, it can be said that my argument successfully shows that some form of vegetarianism (V2) is ridiculous.

Sam presents vegetarianism as defending V3

V3 Eat closer to the bottom of the food chain to avoid environmental cost

I want to say three things about V3. First, this is not a vegetarian argument in principle. It is, as we might put it, a utilitarian form of vegetarianism. It is compatible with eating animals, if we could just find an animal pretty low in the food chain. Second, if V3 is not a moral claim, then it is not vegetarian. Sam thinks V3 is a non-moral claim.

I don’t know what to think about this. V3 is telling us (and Sam with it) what to do when we eat. In so far as moral claims are claims about what we should do, V3 is a moral claim. Furthermore, I think V3 better be a moral claim. If it isn’t, V3 is no vegetarianism at all. It would just be the same as claiming V4

V4 Eating closer to the bottom of the food chain avoids environmental costs

I still think V3 is different from V4. No matter what you think about moral naturalism, it is just not true that you can get an imperative from V4 alone. Thus, if V3 is non-moral, then it is compatible with V4, and it is totally consistent for someone to defend V4 and still eat meat. And that’s because V4 is no vegetarianism.

Third. I guess that makes V3 a moral claim, or a claim about what we should do when thinking what to eat. The problem is that, as I claim with my first point, it is a utilitarian or consequentialist claim: you should eat vegetable if you want to reduce environmental cost. This way of putting things, however, falls prey of similar problems to those of endorsing V2. As any consequentialist claim, V3 most endorse the consequences of its imperative claims. And, as we can clearly see, eating at the bottom of the food chain (i.e. eating soy-beans) in fact is destroying the rainforest. I'm not sure, thus, that it's the cheapest environmental way to go.

I guess this is a way to show either that V3 gets us back to V1, or that we should go and do some research before claiming that eating at the bottom of the food chain has the lowest environmental cost. No matter how intuitive that claim might be.