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  • Ethical Veganism, Virtue Ethics, and the Great Soul by Carlo Alvaro
  • Daniel A. Dombrowski (bio)
Ethical Veganism, Virtue Ethics, and the Great Soul. By Carlo Alvaro. (London, England: Lexington Books, 2019. 185 pp. Hardback. $95.00 ISBN: 978-1-4985-9001-3.)

This book has two principal aims. First, the author defends ethical veganism against both meat eating and vegetarianism. And second, the author defends virtue ethics, not as a supplement to utilitarianism and [End Page 206] Kantianism (or rights theory), but as a replacement for these two dominant theories.

The four major virtues that are relevant to the defense of veganism, Alvaro argues, are temperance, compassion, fairness, and magnanimity (or great soul-ness, as found in the book's title). These virtues, he thinks, when supplemented by care ethics and feminist ethics, counteract the devastating flaws of consequentialist and deontological views, even when these latter are found in thinkers like Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Christine Korsgaard. The two biggest positive influences on Alvaro seem to be Aristotle and Rosalind Hursthouse (but curiously not Stephen R. L. Clark).

Alvaro's main criticism of Kant with respect to animals is that even to have indirect duties to animals, as Kant affirms, presupposes that there are some objective characteristics of animals by virtue of which our mistreating them makes it more likely that we will mistreat human beings. Why does cruelty to animals translate into cruelty to human beings? Alvaro rightly asks. Further, if cruelty to animals did not lead to cruelty to human beings, it would seem on Kant's view to be permissible to inflict any number of atrocities on animals. It might be asked, but what about followers of Kant like Regan and Korsgaard, who view animals as ends in themselves? Although Alvaro agrees with Regan that an animal is a subject-of-a-life, he thinks that Regan's view is unpersuasive because it is based on wrong assumptions (but which?) and because Regan thinks that moral obligations do not admit of degrees. That is, Alvaro thinks that it is a mistake to think that an animal has the same value as a human being.

Despite the historical achievements of utilitarians vis-à-vis animals, Alvaro is very critical of all versions of utilitarian morality, including Singer's preference utilitarianism, which is often seen as improving on previous versions of utilitarian theory. What Alvaro finds objectionable is the idea that human beings and animals are disposable; their value consists not in who they are, but in their contributions to aggregate utility. Further, utilitarians discount in a problematic way moral motives, and both utilitarians and deontologists discount moral feeling, in general. Mr. Spock from Star Trek should not be our moral exemplar, Alvaro argues in a Bernard Williams–like manner.

One very interesting feature of Alvaro's view is his use of Cora Diamond's 1978 article "Eating Meat and Eating People." We do not eat people because we just do not regard them as food (even when they are dead and can experience no pain and when their rational autonomy is not violated; nor do we eat amputated limbs). Likewise, we do not eat companion animals because we do not regard them as food. Alvaro thinks that we should not regard any animals as food.

One might suspect that Alvaro would be a defender of what has been called the argument from marginal cases. But his approach to this argument is unclear. At times it seems that he is opposed to this argument simpliciter. This is because he thinks we should judge moral status not in terms of individual cases, but in terms of the type of animal in question. At other times it seems that he is opposed to this argument when it is used by utilitarians, which leaves an ambiguity regarding whether it is the argument from marginal cases that is criticized or utilitarianism or both. Unfortunately, Alvaro does not clarify matters by examining the uses of the argument from marginal cases by deontologists like Regan and by fellow virtue ethicists going back to Porphyry in the ancient period.

The insufficiency of utilitarianism and deontology for issues in animal ethics is due primarily to...


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