Thursday, June 25, 2009

Must-Reads: Unpopular Vegan Essays

In his Unpopular Vegan Essays blog, Dan Cudahy wrote an excellent piece contrasting the rights-based abolitionist approach to new welfarism. He clarifies what importance either side places on veganism, with abolitionists using it as their absolute moral baseline, and new welfarists embracing it as more of a tool (e.g. to boycott the animal slaughter industry). Dan explains how, among other things, new welfarists are missing the point and wasting valuable time and resources hitting the industry where it's already strong with public relations and marketing campaigns, while neglecting to make a significant effort to engage in the most effective form of activism--educating people about veganism.

9 comments:

Dan Cudahy said...

Thanks for posting this, Mylene.

faithfullyagnostic said...

Where do you stand on non-rights-based attacks on the meat industry that are still not New Welfarist?

Mylène said...

Thank for writing it. I'm looking forward to heaps of vacation time over the summer to be able to spend more time writing some more informative and insightful pieces, myself. It'll be nice to break out of abolitionist-lite mode.

Mylène said...

faithfullyagnostic: Gimme a "for instance".

faithfullyagnostic said...

Virtue ethics, for example.

It's not rights-based.

The argument would be something like this:

A good person aiming for the good life is compassionate, and a compassionate person cannot tolerate inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on another sentient being. Since the meat industry involves such suffering and death - and as an empirical fact New Welfarism doesn't reduce or end it - a good person should oppose New Welfarism and the meat industry.

There is no assumption made about rights here. Animals do not have to have rights for the industries in question to be wrong, and for New Welfarism to be inadequate.

Dan Cudahy said...

Faithfullyagnostic,

I think the line of thinking you propose is cogent in a virtue ethics paradigm, and virtue ethics certainly has stronger arguments supporting vegan education as a route to ending animal exploitation than not.

One difficulty with virtue ethics is that it is more psychological and subjective in nature than rights-based and deontological ethics; therefore, unless a given individual insists on virtue ethics as their only way of thinking ethically, rights-based or deontological ethics will give a stronger argument for protecting the important interests of another individual.

To answer your question more directly, at this point in history, as long as someone is doing vegan education and avoiding welfarism and single-issue campaigns, it wouldn’t matter very much (to me at least), what ethical theory or theories guided their actions. Eventually, however, I think legal rights are necessary (in a vegan society) to adequately protect the important interests of individuals in a large society, regardless of species.

Mylène said...

"One difficulty with virtue ethics is that it is more psychological and subjective in nature than rights-based and deontological ethics; therefore, unless a given individual insists on virtue ethics as their only way of thinking ethically, rights-based or deontological ethics will give a stronger argument for protecting the important interests of another individual."

Thanks, Dan. That was sort of my understanding of it, as well, from the bit I've read concerning virtue ethics. Of course, I wouldn't have worded it as well.

faithfully agnostic: I think that virtue ethics can fill in some gaps when it comes to a deontological system; I'm just not convinced from what I've read and know that it could be effective in any way in standing on its own.

Along with what Dan's pointed out, it's one thing to incorporate the approach into your own ethical framework when your intuition already tells you that treating non-human animals as things or property is wrong, but I'm not sure how you could convince others of the same thing. It goes back to the subjectivity that Dan mentioned.

For your approach to work, you present as a given that:

a compassionate person cannot tolerate inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on another sentient being. Since the meat industry involves such suffering and death - and as an empirical fact New Welfarism doesn't reduce or end it - a good person should oppose New Welfarism and the meat industry.

Unfortunately, this approach is precisely what's driving the whole happy meat movement championed by guys like Michael Pollan. You want to reduce unnecessary suffering? Eat "happy meat" raised by friendly farmers. You want to reduce unnecessary death? Eat less meat. You or I may think that New Welfarism, as an empirical fact, doesn't reduce or end it, yet New Welfarists would think the opposite.

Although I think that it has its place complementing others systems, I just don't think that virtue ethics could ever be effective on its own to convince the unconvinced.

Anyway--those are just my ramblings on it.

Dan Cudahy said...

Excellent points, Mylene, about virtue ethics filling in the gaps of deontology and complementing other conceptual guides to our moral intuition, while being insufficient by itself as a conceptual guide. I employ various conceptual guides, including rights, obligations, and virtue, in thinking about what the best decisions are in any given case as well as in how to live life in general.

A quick note about moral intuition (directed at anyone reading this): while it sounds a bit subjective and nebulous itself, it is more like the concrete foundation of moral thinking, similar to the way mathematical and logical intuition is the foundation of mathematics and logic. There are some fundamental basics in morality, mathematics, and logic that we ‘just know’ as ‘givens’. Yes, the ultimate ‘justifications’ of these intuitions are debated in the philosophy of all three subjects (morals, math, logic), and it’s true that any system in any of the three subjects cannot rely entirely on itself for ultimate justification (as shown in math by Godel’s incompleteness theorem), but our basic intuitions in all three subjects are sufficient to make claims of right and wrong, at least at the most basic levels.

faithfullyagnostic said...

Yes, I do find that virtue ethics is very difficult to persuade people with. However, my own virtue ethical system (which has a strong Eastern mystical component) is a sufficient theoretical framework for me. It serves the same purpose as deontology as far as leading to a conclusion on the issue of animal rights, while avoiding the pitfalls of deontology.

When it comes to the animal rights issue, I'll just let the abolitionists do the talking, since I know that 'good people don't hurt animals' isn't a very tactical argument to approach meat-eater/farmers/HSUS with :P.