The Moral Maze on veganism and animal rights (Radio 4)

Panel:
chair: Michael Buerk
human exceptionalist: Clare Fox
three worried carnivores: Ann McElvoy, Matthew Taylor (whose book The Philosopher and the Wolf I later read), Giles Fraser

interviews
Anthony Warner (The Angry Chef)
Claim: ‘no guilt or shame about what you eat’
He was naïve and unthinking, and treated thus in the subsequent discussion. He hadn’t really thought about it and didn’t seem to understand the point of the question ‘What about eating dogs then?’.

Samantha Calvert (the Vegan Society)
GF: Is it the same, eating a chimpanzee or a fly?


SC: I wouldn’t do either.
That let GF attack the ‘bonkersness’ of not eating or killing flies.
Also, SC has a carnivorous cat, which left her open to charges of inconsistency.
CF: Are humans above animals? Is using them for medical research OK?
SC: No.
CF: Animals don’t have moral reason, so are different. SC is still putting human views at the centre, ignoring the animals’.
CF ignores the ‘superior aliens’ argument (see below), but seems to be basically for ‘might is right’

Bella? Williams (defender of animals for medical research, including vivisection)
We don’t have to eat meat, but do have to do research, so the latter is actually ‘the moral use of animals’.
MT: Why aren’t you a vegan then, if you (as you admit) seek to reduce the harm done to animals in science?
BW: Fair point. I’m inconsistent.
GF: Could superior aliens experiment on us?
BW: Er, I suppose yes. as AW, she didn’t seem to have thought about this kind of question at all
GF: So what’s the moral difference between what humans do to animals and what aliens might do to us?
BW: We are more sentient and advanced than animals…
GF: How about vegetative humans then?
BW: Er, that’s abhorrent, but logically OK I suppose.
GF: You’ve conceded loads – there’s no morality in your position.
BW: No – it’s morally right to experiment on animals to help humans.
No mention yet of utilitarianism, which she could have used to some effect.

Mark Rowlands (animals rights author, and philosophy professor)
MB: How can animals have rights?
MR: Babies do, so animals can.
CF: But animals can’t take responsibility.
MR: And we can? Young children aren’t criminally responsible.
CF: I meant a species – ignoring outliers like people with dementia.
MR: ‘Species’ is an arbitrary distinction – why not age or anything else? Yes – seems sensible to attack her primitive human exceptionalism He didn’t though push the ‘capacity to suffer’ line (see below)
MR: Why are animals inferior?
CF: I ask the questions… but, we’re superior as a species.
AM: What’s the link between moral status and ‘rights’?
MR: Yup, we don’t need the word ‘rights’ – that whole agenda can be expressed in other language.
AM: Why not a more nuanced set of views of how we can use animals?
MR: Yes – one can use ‘needs’ and ‘wants’.
AM: So why not nutrition then, as we’ve evolved to eat animals?
MR: But nutrition is clearly a ‘want’, not a ‘need’.
AM: So isn’t it just a personal choice then? You shouldn’t proselytise.
MR: Morality is more than just a choice, else it’s not morality.

Discussion
MT: AW was rubbish – no arguments.
CF: No need to worry about eating animals.
AM: Utilitarianism! Not ‘can they reason?’ but ‘can they suffer?’
MB moved it on – just when they were getting onto an important point
GF: (Re SC) ‘Bonkersness’ from her ‘extreme commitment to consistency’ (not eating flies).
CF: SC’s morality is human-centred.
MB: SC’s cat? AM: She was thinking of her cat’s health. Let’s not fall victim to ‘moral impossibilism’ great phrase!
GF to CF: Even if we accept human moral exceptionalism, that doesn’t stop us reducing animal suffering.
CF: Agreed – wanton cruelty is wrong, but because of what it says about the human agent. If we go back to Bentham and suffering, putting animals and humans together ‘reduces humans to lumps of meat’. Our suffering is more than their (mere) physical pain. Wow – she’s really irrationally committed to a metaphysical human exceptionalism.
MB: How about BW?
CF: The only way to defend animal experiments is through human exceptionalism. Aliens? She could argue it’s not analogous as we’re more sentient than animals
MB: MR? CF – yes – meal is not a need (’vital interest’), but a want.
?GF: ‘We haven’t got a leg to stand on.’
AM: Yes – it’s about preferences.

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