animal ethics

No, Plant-Based Meals Do Not Undermine Freedom of Choice

No, Plant-Based Meals Do Not Undermine Freedom of Choice

Written by Joanna Demaree-Cotton

 

Last month, TV personality Jeremy Clarkson took centre-stage in our local county politics with an argument against plant-based meals. His fury—expressed on television, on Twitter, and in a strongly-worded column in The Sun—was sparked by the Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to provide only plant-based meals at council-catered events as a move towards environmental sustainability.

 

Local farmers—including Jeremy Clarkson, whose farm in Oxfordshire was the focus of his latest TV venture Clarkson’s Farm—protested the measures. There is nothing surprising about this. There’s a straightforward conflict of interest here. It’s in the interests of people who make a living from selling animal products to promote diets based around animal products. (As local arable farmer John Richardson was reported to have said at the protest, “[we’re] just trying to promote the good food we produce”.)

 

More curious, however, is the claim that it’s morally wrong to have policies committing to plant-based catering. More specifically, one of Clarkson’s arguments was that deciding to provide plant-based catering is morally wrong because it interferes with freedom of choice. Standing with protesting farmers, Clarkson reportedly argued:

 

“I think people have to have choice. If people want to eat seeds and weeds, fine. If people want to eat meat, fine. … You can’t dictate. You might be a vegetarian but you can’t make everyone else a vegetarian just because you are.”

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Guest Post: No, We Don’t Owe It To The Animals to Eat Them

Written by Adrian Kreutz, New College, University of Oxford

That eating animals constitutes a harm has by now largely leaked into public opinion. Only rarely do meat eaters deny that. Those who deny it usually do so on the grounds of an assumed variance in consciousness or ability to suffer between human and non-human animals. Hardly anyone, however, has the audacity to argue that killing animals actually does them good, and that therefore we must continue eating meat and consuming animal products. Hardly anyone apart from UCL philosopher Nick Zangwill, that is, who in a recent article published in Aeon argues that “eating animals’ benefits animals for they exist only because human beings eat them”. One’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens, right? Let me unpack and debunk his argument. Continue reading

Video Series: How To Prevent Future Pandemics

First interview in the new  Thinking Out Loud series on ‘Animals and Pandemics’: Katrien Devolder in conversation with Jeff Sebo, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU, on how our treatment of animals increases the risk of future pandemics arising, and on what we should do to reduce that risk!

Assessing and Respecting Sentience After Brexit

Thanks to a generous grant from Open Philanthropy, last year the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities co-sponsored a workshop with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) examining the ethical and legal implications of recent advancements in our ability to assess the mental states and well-being of nonhuman animals.  The impetus for the meeting was that since 2009, the United Kingdom had been operating under article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty which states that the European Union and member states, ”shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.” However, after voting to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom was tasked with deciding which rules and provisions to retain, and controversy erupted several years ago when MPs voted against transferring this provision of the Lisbon Treaty to the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

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Hornless Cattle – Is Gene Editing The Best Solution?

In this talk [AUDIO + SLIDES], Prof. Peter Sandøe (Philosophy, Copenhagen University), argues that, from an ethical viewpoint, gene editing is the best solution to produce hornless cattle. There are, however, regulatory hurdles. (Presented at the workshop ‘Gene Editing and Animal Welfare’, 19 Nov. 2019, Oxford – organised by Adam Shriver, Katrien Devolder, and The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics; funded by the Society for Applied Philosophy.)

 

 

Panpsychism and Moral Status

Panpsychism is the view that sentience is ubiquitous in the world. Some people find it attractive because it sidesteps the challenge for dualists of explaining why there are two radically different types of things in the world, physical things and mental things.  And panpsychism seems to avoid some of of the challenges that face physicalist accounts of consciousness of explaining how mental properties are related to physical properties; since pan-psychism says that “mentality” is everywhere, the task left for cognitive scientists is simply to explain why that mentality is organized in a particular way rather than needing to directly address the “hard problem of consciousness'” head on.

Many people also find sentientism, the view that sentience is sufficient for moral status, attractive.  So it can be tempting to combine panpsychism and sentientism and conclude that we can assume that all animals, including oysters, snails, and fruit flies, must necessarily have moral status.  This move is a mistake.

The problem with the above move is that it rests on an equivocation on the term “sentient.”  One definition of sentient means “the ability to feel pleasure and pain.”  Another definition means “the ability to have any types of conscious experiences.”  The link to moral status requires the first definition of sentience.  But panpsychism, if true, only entails the second.

Beyond just the definitions, it certainly seems like there are a lot of experiences that are neither positive nor negative…they are simply neutral.  So the fact that some experiences occurred doesn’t tell us that anything morally significant occurred in the absence of further knowledge about what types of experiences they were, even for a sentientist.

But what about observing avoidance behaviour?  If we see that, and we think that mentality is everywhere, shouldn’t we conclude that the avoidance behaviour is indicative of suffering?  But this seems contrary to what we know about pain.  People can still have withdrawal reactions that rely on spinal reflexes, even when they self-report that they don’t feel pain.  In fact, in rare cases, people even report feeling pains but not finding them unpleasant.

So panpsychism doesn’t really sidestep the challenge of determining which types of behaviours in nonverbal populations are indicative of positive or negative experiences.  They may avoid having to take on the hard problem of consciousness but they are left with the hard problem of morally relevant consciousness.

Pain for Ethicists #2: Is the Cerebral Cortex Required for Pain? (Video)

Here’s my presentation from the UQAM 2018 Summer School in Animal Cognition organised by Stevan Harnad:

I also highly recommend Jonathan Birch’s talk on Animal Sentience and the Precautionary Principle and Lars Chittka’s amazing presentation about the minds of bees.

Thanks again to EA Grants for supporting this research as well as my home institutions Uehiro & WEH. And thanks to Mélissa Desrochers for the video.

You can find the first Pain for Ethicists post here.

Adam Shriver is a Research Fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.

Follow him on Twitter.

Pain for Ethicists: What is the Affective Dimension of Pain?

This is my first post in a series highlighting current pain science that is relevant to philosophers writing about well-being and ethics.  My work on this topic has been supported by the W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics, the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, as well as a generous grant from Effective Altruism Grants

There have been numerous published cases in the scientific literature of patients who, for various reasons, report feeling pain but not finding the pain unpleasant. As Daniel Dennett noted in his seminal paper “Why You Can’t Make A Computer That Feels Pain,” these reports seem to be at odds with some of our most basic intuitions about pain, in particular the conjunction of our intuitions that ‘‘a pain is something we mind’’ and ‘‘we know when we are having a pain.’’ Dennett was discussing the effects of morphine, but similar dissociations have been reported in patients who undergo cingulotomies to treat terminal cancer pain and in extremely rare cases called “pain asymbolia” involving damage to the insula cortex. Continue reading

Gene-Editing Mosquitoes at The European Youth Event 2018

By Jonathan Pugh

 

The below is a slightly extended version of my two 5min presentations at the European Youth Event 2018, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. I was asked to present on the following questions:

 

  1. What are the ethical issues surrounding gene-editing, particularly with respect to eradicating mosquitoes?

 

  1. Should the EU legislate on gene-editing mosquitoes?

 

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