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Ideological basis for humanist vegetarianism?

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tubataxidriver
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Ideological basis for humanist vegetarianism?

#1 Post by tubataxidriver » August 26th, 2007, 10:18 pm

Please forgive me if I am asking the obvious. I am not a vegetarian, though some of my favourite dishes could be described as such. From a humanist point of view, what is the ideological basis for vegetarianism? Is there one? Are they linked at all? Is it just personal choice?

In my simplistic view, vegetarians either (1) don't like the taste of meat, or (2) can't stomach the thought of eating animals, or (3) meat eating is not environmentally efficient, or (4) their religion tells them not to eat meat. Where do humanist vegetarians sit? If their vegetarianism is not ideologically based and is a free choice, can humanist vegetarians promote vegetarianism with a clear conscience?

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Alan H
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#2 Post by Alan H » August 26th, 2007, 10:29 pm

Tuba

I think there is another option: I don't need animals killed for me to survive.

Apart from that, for many veggies, there may well be elements of your other reasons (apart from the religious one!).

Alan

tubataxidriver
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#3 Post by tubataxidriver » August 26th, 2007, 11:50 pm

What's the difference between an animal and a plant, then, from the food chain point of view?

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Alan H
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#4 Post by Alan H » August 27th, 2007, 12:25 am

I'm not sure I understand your question. From purely a food chain point of view, presumably nothing - both can supply all the nutrients for human survival.

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jaywhat
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#5 Post by jaywhat » August 27th, 2007, 7:07 am

To add to your list, tubtadri -
- it may be considered wrong or cruel to kill any creature for any reason
- it may be considered cruel (as I do) to keep animals in uncomfortable or filthy conditions
- it may be considered dangerous (as I do) to eat food produced by an industry that I do not trust

However I do not agree that this should preached through humanism. What people eat is not my responsibility.

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StevieP
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#6 Post by StevieP » August 28th, 2007, 9:59 am

This is a big subject and after years of thought I see little difference between the justifications of humanism and vegetarianism.

I am to write some thing for the HVG web site to explain it in depth but this is the crux of my thinking ....

Our morality is ultimatley derived from evolved mental facilities that improved our ability to pass on our genes.

We have compassion, trust, sacrifice, charity etc because they proved to be useful in passing on genes.

These abilities evolved in a very different environment to what most of us experiance now.

We have "hijacked" these abilities and apply them to situations that they were not "designed" to solve - the non adaptive abilities, such as music, driving cars, maths, writing novels, great works of art, adoption, war, pornography, using forums, thinking about evolution and vegetarainism etc.

Many of these traits are what many would say are humanity's greatest achievements - the defining qualities of our species, such as art, science & morality.

It could be argued that vegetarianism is "anti-evolution" because it a process that saves the genes of another (the chicken) while not advancing the genes of another (the eater). But to accept this argument would be to throw out most of the things we value as a modern society including most charities and acts of "pure" kindness.

We know that humanist derive their morality in regard to other humans on these exact lines.

A question. This based on omething I think I read in a Dawkins book.

Imagine a child holding the hand of her mother. That mother hold it's mothers's hand and that mother in turn hold it mothers hand in a line, and so on down the generations of mother and child. Each mother in the line occupies about a metre of space. The line continutes for 300 miles until the final mother holds her two children's hands and the line starts going back up parallel to the orginal line through, again, the generation of mothers holding their child's hand.

Back 300 miles to the begining of the one line and the end of the other, two distant cousins are facing each. One is a human the other is a chimp.

The interesting point is that as the line moves back in time no mother is ever aware that she has given birth to another species. She loves that child because it is like her (genetically).

And here is the question: at what point on that line would a humanist deny human morality is applicable. E.g. which mother would it treat as food, a commodity, an exhibit in a cage, an animal? Which mother would you take away and put in a zoo?

clayto
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Ideology of Humanism and Vegetarianism

#7 Post by clayto » August 28th, 2007, 2:45 pm

This thread is particularly important from the persepective of the Humanist Vegetarian Group and I am glad to see the reponses are so constructive. Before adding my own views I have copied below an article from the HVG website by leading Humanist Moral Philosopher Peter Singer because it seems to add quite a lot to this discussion.

Chris Clayton
HVG Founder

VEGETARIANISM by Peter Singer
Vegetarianism Peter Singer In Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford, 1995, p. 897

The view that we should avoid eating meat or fish has ancient philosophical roots. In the Hindu Upanishads (about 1000 BC) the doctrine of reincarnation leads to opposition to eating meat. Buddha taught compassion for all sentient creatures. Buddhist monks were not to kill animals, nor to eat meat, unless they knew that the animal had not been killed for their sake. Jains hold to ahimsa, or non-violence toward any living creature, and accordingly do not eat meat. In the Western tradition, Genesis suggests that the first diet of human beings was vegetarian, and permission to eat meat was given only after the Flood. After that, vegetarianism gains little support from either the Jewish or Christian scriptures, or from Islam. Philosophical vegetarianism was stronger in ancient Greece and Rome: it was supported by Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plutarch, Plotinus, Porphyry, and, in some passages, Plato. Pythagoreans abstained from eating animals partly because of their belief that humans and animals share a common soul, and partly because they appear to have considered the diet a healthier one. Plato shared both these views to some extent. Plutarch's essay On Eating Flesh, written in the late first or early second century of the Christian era, is a detailed argument for vegetarianism on grounds of justice and humane treatment of animals. Interest in vegetarianism revived in the nineteenth century, on grounds of health and humanity towards animals. Notable vegetarian thinkers included the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry Salt (who wrote a pioneering volume entitled Animals' Rights), and George Bernard Shaw, who said that he put into his plays the ideas that he learned from Salt. In Germany Arthur Schopenhauer urged that ethically we should become vegetarian, were it not for the fact that the human race cannot exist without animal food ‘in the north’! Since the 1970s vegetarianism has gained strength from three major lines of argument: health, ecology, and concern for animals. The first of these grounds rests on a scientific, rather than philosophical, claim and will not be discussed further here. Ecological concerns about eating meat arise from the well-documented inefficiency of much animal-raising. This applies especially to intensive farming, in which grain is grown on good agricultural land and fed to animals confined indoors, or in the case of cattle, in crowded feed-lots. Much of the nutritional value of the grain is lost in the process, and this form of animal production is also energy-intensive. Hence concern for world hunger, for the land, and for energy conservation provide an ethical basis for a vegetarian diet, or at least one in which meat consumption is minimized. Arguments for a reassessment of the moral status of animals have also given support to vegetarianism. If animals have rights, or are entitled to have their interests given equal consideration with the similar interests of human beings, it is easy to see that there are difficulties in claiming that we are entitled to eat non-human animals (but not, presumably, human beings, even if through some accident they are at a similar mental level to the animals we do eat). These ethical arguments for vegetarianism may be based on the view that we violate the rights of animals when we kill them for our food, or on the more utilitarian grounds that, in raising them for our food, we cause them more suffering than we gain by eating their flesh.

Bibliography Keith Akers, A Vegetarian Sourcebook, 2nd edn. (Denver, 1989). Francis Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, 2nd edn. (New York, 1985). Tom Regan and Peter Singer (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations, 2nd edn. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1989).

Utilitarian Philosophers :: Peter Singer :: ‘Animals’
clayto

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gcb01
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#8 Post by gcb01 » August 28th, 2007, 7:33 pm

So what about the poor little cabbage then? Ripped cruelly from mother earth?
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tubataxidriver
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#9 Post by tubataxidriver » August 28th, 2007, 8:26 pm

Peter Singer covers the religio-social history of vegetarianism well, but states:
If animals have rights, ...
and much of his approach and argument is based around this issue. This is key for me, because I consider that, in the absence of an absolute moral / religious code, organisms (humans included) have no rights ab initio. Organisms only have those rights that society collectively chooses to assign to them. Hence society currently outlaws bear baiting and cruelty to domestic animals, but permits some animal experimentation and meat eating. Singer's argument in favour of mass vegetarianism on the grounds of cruelty to animals falls away if most of society does not assign such rights to animals, and carries on eating meat. All cultural adoptions of vegetarianism appear to me to have a historic basis in some aspect of supernatural religion, and hence can be discounted. However, on an individual basis vegetarianism is a valid position to hold and lifestyle to adopt if you personally assign such rights to animals.

Is this nonsense or do people agree?

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Alan C.
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#10 Post by Alan C. » August 28th, 2007, 9:31 pm

Tubataxidriver
Singer's argument in favour of mass vegetarianism on the grounds of cruelty to animals falls away if most of society does not assign such rights to animals,
I've said this before, but I'll repeat it here.
There is no way either myself or my wife, would condone cruelty to any animal, but we do eat meat.
We buy pork from Yell (an island north of us) We buy beef from Orkney and Shetland, and of course we get Shetland lamb and mutton (given by friends and neighbors) On the rare occasion we buy chicken, we buy Scottish free range chicken.

We are able to see for ourselves the way these animals are kept, this is not factory farming for maximum profit, these are crofters making a very modest living the only way they can (the land and terrain here is no good for growing crops) Shetland folk on the whole, are very big on animal welfare, their livelihood depends on it, come up here and you'll see every little croft house has huge sheds adjacent, so the animals can be taken in for winter, hell! you only have to go back 40 or 50 years, and they were still keeping livestock in the house for winter.

I am total opposed to "factory farming" And would never buy meat from a supermarket. But I am quite happy to eat the meat (and fish) that we do, and no; we don't buy farmed Salmon or Cod either.
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Nick
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#11 Post by Nick » August 29th, 2007, 9:39 am

I agree entirely, TubaTD. Singer may be a 'noted humanist moral philosopher', but that doesn't make him right. IMO he doesn't deserve capital letters either. BTW Do you veggies let rats run free in your house?

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StevieP
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#12 Post by StevieP » August 29th, 2007, 11:13 am

tubataxidriver wrote: if most of society does not assign such rights to animals, and carries on eating meat. However, on an individual basis vegetarianism is a valid position to hold and lifestyle to adopt if you personally assign such rights to animals.

Is this nonsense or do people agree?
Rights: This is the hub of it all. It not a question of do animal have rights (they already do in many respect as previous posters have stated), but what other rights they should or could enjoy. Vegetarians prompt the extension of rights as did anti-slavery, feminist etc have before in other areas.

There are poster who a very ready to put forward that they are more than willing to grant many rights to animals (owners beating up their pets, various types of hunting, some types of factory farming, "unnecessary cruelty" in farming and vivisection etc), without stating why these rights are deserved but other rights such as not being used for human food are not applicable.

The vegan view on treating animals is, in many ways, an attempt to put more consistency into how we treat other animals besides humans.

If we ago about this problem in the same way we think of the god/no god debate we may make progress. I think most of us would agree that it is the theist that needs to put forward some very good reasons for his belief - it is not for the atheist to prove why gods is not there.

In the same manner, it is not for the vegan to justify why he does not consume animals, as there is no requirement in any respect to eat them.

The onus lies upon those who do consume meat to justify their actions and esp. to clarify why some animal rights they agree to, but to the most cherished one they reject. What is the basis of their judgments?

(Of course, these are the actions I went through that got me into this vegan thing - I just couldn't find any substantive reasoning behind my old eating habits.)

tubataxidriver wrote:
All cultural adoptions of vegetarianism appear to me to have a historic basis in some aspect of supernatural religion, and hence can be discounted.
Hmm ...
Guilty be association? Next we'll have Hitler was a vegetarian and Stalin was atheist argument.

What about ....

All cultural adoptions of the 'concept of murder' appear to me to have a historic basis in some aspect of supernatural religion, and hence can be discounted.

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StevieP
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#13 Post by StevieP » August 29th, 2007, 11:21 am

Nick wrote:Do you veggies let rats run free in your house?
What rats?

I've put sonic deterrents in my house against mice. What of it? I agree blacks/gays/females people & whatever should enjoy the same rights as myself - but I also don't allow them to come ago freely in my house and take appropriate actions to ensure it does not happen to readily.


But I fail to see the reasoning for your statement. Are you attempting to justify your own actions by finding fault or inconsistency in others actions? Is your moral code purely - if he an do that then I can do worse?

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#14 Post by Nick » August 29th, 2007, 12:08 pm

Hi StevieP!

I used the rats analogy in an attempt to establish that there may be times when veggies in general (I was not trying to pick on you specifically) find it expedient to abandon their 'kill nothing' pov. And you answered it with a straight bat. No wicket for me from that delivery!

Expressing it in a different way, are there not times when it is the right thing to do to kill things? Eg, instead of rats, what would you do if your larder were infested with ants and /or cockroaches? (That is not supposed to be an insult to your cleanliness btw!)

I am not trying to give myself permission to do 'bad' things by pointing out that others have been naughty too. I hope that I try to justify my own view (with varying degrees of success) by reason. And sometimes I change my views too.

I do however think there are some failings in the veggie arguments, but I don't mind people being veggies. It would be intolerant of me to do so. I am, however, a tad concerned that humanism may become linked in the minds of the general public (whom in my experience, tend not to have thought things through) with a bunch of nutters (pun, not insult, intended) as they may see them. I don't believe (within my definition of humanism) that there can be an 'ideological' basis for vegetarianism, or captitalism or defence policy or pretty much anything. My criteria for humanism are pretty loose: that one does not believe in a supreme being, and that life is positive. How you arrive at your own solution to life's problems is a matter of (your own) reason. And on the whole, veggies have attempted to apply reason more than most.

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Alan C.
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#15 Post by Alan C. » August 29th, 2007, 12:41 pm

StevieP
The onus lies upon those who do consume meat to justify their actions and esp. to clarify why some animal rights they agree to, but to the most cherished one they reject. What is the basis of their judgments?
First of all, were just another animal ourselves, some animals eat meat, we are one of those animals, (indeed some animals eat humans!) Would you have all the meat eating animals in the Zoo's fed on vegetables? (I am not in favor of Zoo's by the way) I justified my actions in an earlier post, the animals I consume have been well treated and well looked after, if we didn't eat them they would not even exist in the first place. Would you like to see a world with no domestic livestock? If everybody was vegetarian, that's what you would have.
I would like to suggest that vegans and vegetarians, leave us conscientious meat eaters to get on with it, and instead direct your attention to the dreadful practice of Halal and Kosher slaughter. which would quite rightly, be against the law if it didn't have a "religious" connection.
Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers.

clayto
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Humanist and Vegetarian Ideology

#16 Post by clayto » August 29th, 2007, 12:54 pm

Quote: "Organisms only have those rights that society collectively chooses to assign to them. Hence society currently outlaws bear baiting and cruelty to domestic animals, but permits some animal experimentation and meat eating. Singer's argument in favour of mass vegetarianism on the grounds of cruelty to animals falls away if most of society does not assign such rights to animals, and carries on eating meat."

Surely this is nonsense? Was it wrong to fight for the abolition of human slavery when 'most of society did not assign the right of freedom to slaves'? Or the emancipation of women? Or a thousand other things humanists and other enlightened people have fought for and will fight for? If 'most of society' do not accept that non-religious people have rights, as is / has been the case should the BHA fold up its tent and go away to a remote island where such rights can be established among 'most' of its inhabitants? I respect this posting as a serious attempt to advance an argument, unlike sillyness about cabages which have neither brains or nervous systems or consciousnes, but I cannot see it to be other than nonesense. Explain yourself!

Chris
clayto

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Humanist and Vegetarian Ideology

#17 Post by clayto » August 29th, 2007, 1:05 pm

Nick, the fact that you can associate vegetarianism / veganism with in your words "a bunch of nutters" provides one of the strongest arguments for why the Humanist Vegetarian Group is needed!

The Humanist Vegetarian Group is no more associated with "a bunch of nutters" (a distasteful expression anyway) than the Humanist Science Group is associated with "a bunch of mad scientists".

Either you are suffering from the effects of ill-informed prejudice, or you fear that 'the public' are, in which case you should join in the campaign to spread knowledge and enlightenment in this and other areas of concern to Humanists.

Chris
clayto

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Alan C.
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#18 Post by Alan C. » August 29th, 2007, 1:10 pm

clayto, if you read again what Nick said, I think you;ll see he was making a joke.
Nick
humanism may become linked in the minds of the general public (whom in my experience, tend not to have thought things through) with a bunch of nutters (pun, not insult, intended)
My bold.
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#19 Post by Nick » August 29th, 2007, 1:25 pm

Thank you, Alan.

Chris, I fear that the public may dismiss humanism when they see it linked too closely to vegetarianism. We all have our priorities. I am not a veggie through choice and (my) reason. I am perfectly happy for you to do whatever you feel you need to do to convince people to change their diet. I just don't want to have to justify veggies or meat eating when I am trying to persuade someone that they should not base their morals or science or anything else on religious nonsense.

clayto
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Humanist and Vegetarian Ideology

#20 Post by clayto » August 29th, 2007, 1:38 pm

For some people rights are a key issue in this and other debates. I have always looked on concepts such as 'Natural Rights', 'God Given Rights', 'Inalienable Rights' as a tool rather than an objective reality, ie. a tool available to political campaingners seeking to advance the rights of whoever they are campaigning for. I actually accept that the 'objective reality' is that rights in practice are whatever a society chooses to grant, through its law making and judicial processes. But much of my pupose as a humanist and political activist is to persuade others to grant the rights which my 'humanist and liberal ideology' leads me to believe in, such as the right to a dignified death (euthanasia, assisted dying), the right of gays to marry and adopt, the right of non-theists to the same things as theists, (like belonging to the Scouts), and so on endlessly. Rights are not set in stone for all time, they evolve.

Some people (Singer and others) find 'animal rights' a good tool to advance their cause. Fine. Personally I do not. I apply the concept of duty, not rights ---- the duty of moral human beings to avoid, as far as they reasonably can, being the cause of unnecessary pain and suffering to all animals, human and non-human (a negative duty) plus the further duty to promote as far as they reasonably can the happiness / welfare / welbeing of all animals, human and non-human (a positive duty).

To me this is a core requirement of being a Humanist (capital H) and if humanism did not point in this sort of direction I would consider it to be virtually useless.

Chris
clayto

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