- Duty and the Beast: Should We Eat Meat in the Name of Animal Rights? by Andy Lamey
At a minimum, it seems highly counterintuitive that in the name of animal protection [End Page 86] we do best when we eat (nonhuman) animals. Nonetheless, this is just the claim endorsed by the new omnivorism. Andy Lamey, in this admirably clear and timely work, argues that, despite the fact that the arguments employed by the new omnivores are more worthy of serious attention than we might have initially thought, they fail. Although there's a sense in which we end where we began, we are better off for the journey. This hard-fought battle provides us with a far better appreciation of the challenges to which vegetarians and vegans must respond.
Protectionists and new omnivores presume some common ground. Many animals—and certainly those in factory farms—are sentient, and their suffering is real and often severe. The intentional infliction of pain on animals requires justification. Species membership, understood as a legitimate basis for granting more weight to the interests of some over the like interests of others, is intolerable.
Yet shared beginnings can culminate with contrary conclusions. One popular omnivore gambit suggests that painlessly killing animals causes them neither harm nor significant loss. Unlike humans who have a sense of themselves as temporally enduring creatures, animals conceive of themselves as existing in an "eternal present." Animals, therefore, can have no interest in their own survival and possess no capacity to make—let alone satisfy—plans and projects. Where an instantaneous death necessarily frustrates our future-oriented goals, the very nature of nonhuman animals shields them from such losses. So, we are more than welcome to maintain our carnivorism as long as we ensure that the slaughter of chickens, cows, and pigs causes them no suffering.
This argument is plagued with both empirical and conceptual problems. As Lamey points out, the impoverished animal mind that grounds this line of reasoning is a myth. Nonhuman animals have the ability to construct and fulfill future-oriented aims, and while their temporal horizons may generally be less expansive than those of humans, this is a difference in degree rather than kind. The "generally" qualification augurs a philosophical problem. Some humans—think here of fetuses, infants, and the severely cognitively impaired—also lack the capacity for self-involved future-oriented thought. Unless one is sanguine about conceptualizing the quick killing of these humans as imposing no harm, it appears as if only a speciesist appeal could ground the distinction between condoning painless animal killing and condemning painless human killing. But, since the terms of agreement to which the omnivorism is committed to renders such appeals impermissible, omnivorists are left with little room to maneuver.
Omnivorism finds a vocal ally in Steven Davis who insists that, as a purely factual matter, plant harvesting results in the deaths of more animals than does harvesting animals. The suggestion is that we should eat grass-fed beef. Lamey finds Davis's calculations problematic, and when the subtleties of plant and animal harvesting are recognized, the numbers suggest that a vegetarian diet is, as we might have thought, more animal friendly. Lamey also makes the point that even if Davis's numbers are correct, vegetarianism may still be the right course of action. Lamey's idea is to offer a variant of the venerable "doctrine of double effect" in which a wrong, in addition to the harm brought to a victim, is produced by an act if it involves "direct" rather than "indirect" harm. We directly harm when we, at least in part, deliberately involve the victims in some act in order to further our harmful purpose precisely by way of their being so involved. No such intention is involved in indirect harm. Since animals are directly harmed in meat production but not in plant [End Page 87] harvesting, it may well be more morally objectionable to engage in producing...