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Duty and the BeastReview - Duty and the Beast
Should We Eat Meat in the Name of Animal Rights?
by Andy Lamey
Cambridge University Press, 2019
Review by Christopher Bobier
Jul 2nd 2019 (Volume 23, Issue 27)

Many philosophers have argued that farm animals belong to the moral community, and hence, deserve protections from human-caused harms. A common thought is that animal protection entails or otherwise encourages the practice of refraining from eating meat. If we care about protecting animals from harm, the thought goes, we should refrain from eating them. Proponents of New Omnivorism challenge this idea, arguing that animal protection entails that it is morally permissible or even obligatory to eat animals.  Andy Lamey's book, Duty and the Beast, offers the first, book-length criticism of the new omnivorist position(s). For readers interested in food and animal ethics, this is an important contribution worthy of close study.

Lamey is upfront and honest about his position: "In challenging new omnivorism I seek to defend the traditional view that endorsing animal protection entails a diet free of animal flesh" (9). The book's structure is ordered to this thesis. The first two chapters set out the case for moral veganism and the following five chapters criticizing the variety of the new omnivorist positions. The first chapter sets out a case for animal protection that does not depend on a controversial ethical theory, but rather, depends on plausible moral principles that most people accept. These principles include 'the capacity to suffer is morally salient' and 'we should be impartial regarding suffering' (19-23). The principles entail that human should regard animal suffering as morally salient. Chapter two sets out the case that killing animals for food is a moral harm—animals have a time-relative interest in their future and killing them prevents them from actualizing this interest (44-54). Therefore, killing animals for food is morally wrong.

With his positive case made, Lamey turns in chapter three to examine the case for new omnivorism. Stephen Davis (2003) argues that a diet of large herbivores and vegetables produces less animal suffering than a strictly vegetarian diet on account of the large number of field animals that die growing plants. Lamey criticizes Davis's argument in two stages. First, he challenges Davis's calculation of field animal deaths, arguing that some field animal deaths result from predation and not farming, field animal deaths are good for other predatory animals, the cited studies are not applicable to most farms, and evidence suggests that animals migrate during harvesting season (66-73). Let us, however, grant that fewer animals die on an herbivore-plant mix diet than on a plant-based diet alone. Does it follow, then, that we are morally permitted to eat herbivores? Chapter four sets out the second stage of Lamey's criticism, namely, intentionally killing animals in farming is morally worse than accidentally killing them in plant agriculture—killing animals for food is to use and directly harm animals (116).

In chapter five, Lamey  examines another possible position, namely, moral consideration of animals entails only that we should treat animals humanely. On this position, espoused by Temple Grandin and—on some readings—Peter Singer, animals may be slaughtered and eaten if they are treated well during their life. Lamey argues (137-141) that it is implausible, as Grandin herself admits, to think that most animals are killed painlessly, even in ideal circumstances.  But even if painless slaughtering were possible, Lamey's argument in chapters one and two that killing animals harms them and such harms are morally salient entails that humane slaughtering is morally problematic (148-149). In chapter six, Lamey argues that farm animals, specifically chickens, "have mental abilities that place them in an intermediate status between merely sentient beings and persons" (154).  Drawing on research in neuroscience on avian brains that suggests that chickens possess mental abilities "no less sophisticated than mammals" (171),  Lamey argues that we should err on the side of caution and ascribe relatively high moral standing to chickens, moral standing akin to the moral standing of other mammals.

In chapter seven, Lamey  engages the "Logic of the Larder" argument, which roughly goes as follows: since farm animals exist only to be eaten and it is better to exist than not, so long as farm animals are treated well, it is permissible to eat them. Lamey argues that "a necessary condition of a choice being morally good…is that failing to bring it about will be bad for someone" (178). Not bringing farm animals into existence does not harm them, for they never exist, and so, there is no reason to bring them into existence.  Thus, if it is better to exist, it does not follow that animals should exist.

In chapter eight, Lamey engages the new field of plant neurobiology. According to some botanists plants display evidence of some kind of intellectual and perceptual capacities, including memory and learning. If plants are sentient in some sense, then they might fall in the moral community, and hence, deserve protections. Lamey not only criticizes the few studies suggesting plant sentience, he offers philosophical criticisms. Specifically, he argues that sentience requires a first-person perspective and plants clearly lack this. Plant behavior does not indicate sentience (206-213).

In chapter nine, Lamey engages the topic of in vitro meat. This is the one kind of new omnivorism that Lamey defends from two vegetarian arguments. The first is that in vitro meat inclines us to view animals as edible, worthy of being "killed and eaten without risk of social or criminal sanction" (220). This argument is too broad, Lamey argues, for it entails that stuffed animals and dolls are morally objectionable (222). The second objection is that in vitro meat promotes an irreverence towards animals (226). However, all that follows is that we rethink or reimagine in vitro meat, not as animal flesh, but as a kind of animal-replacement, food substance (230-232).  

Thus, ends the sweeping and wide-ranging argument of the book—new omnivorism, in all of its guises, is morally unfounded and eating animals is morally wrong. Given the argumentative scope of the book, I close here by raising three questions for thought. First, do not plant farmers intend to kill field animals? Lamey argues that intending to kill an animal for food is worse than accidentally killing an animal because of machine harvesting grain. Let grant this point. It still seems that farmers intend to kill field animals when they pesticides—after all, not all pesticides are for weeds.   Second, Lamey argues in chapter seven that "a necessary condition of a choice being morally good…is that failing to bring it about will be bad for someone" (178). How does this principle apply to abortion? Lamey is keen elsewhere to argue that his account of moral standing does not entail the moral impermissibility of abortion (chapter two); however, the principle in chapter seven would seem to entail that aborting a fetus for abortion is bad for someone, namely, the future person. Third, what about the possibility of designing animals that do not experience pain or high-level sentience?  Lamey's defense of in vitro meat and account of moral standing suggests that he would be okay with genetically designed animals, but this is left unclear.

 

© 2019 Christopher Bobier

 

Christopher Bobier, Department of Philosophy, Saint Mary's University of Minnesota


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