I was talking with a family member recently, and we were discussing the topic of veganism (like vegetarianism, but with no animal products at all). She said it was wrong to kill and eat an animal as they are conscious creatures that feel pain. I suppose she would maintain that it cannot be justified morally to kill an animal just because we want to eat it. I said that animals aren’t sentient, conscious creatures like humans. Her rebuttal was that there are humans that are totally mentally disabled that are less conscious than an animal. This was the part I found hard to argue with. She went on to ask me if it would be ok to kill and eat a mentally disabled person just because they are less intelligent than us. I had no response.
I would be greatly appreciative if someone could give me good arguments - 1. As to why it is morally permissible to kill and eat another creature, and 2. As to why a mentally disabled person is not equal to an animal. I would prefer arguments from logic and reason as opposed to from Catholic teaching, as this person is not a person of strong faith. However all input is appreciated!
It’s not about pain or intelligence. It’s about the hierarchy of creation. Humans are ontologically higher than animals… We have the right to use them for our advantage, provided such use is not a threat to the deadening of sensitivities to human beings.
The mentally handicapped are humans… They possess a rational soul, but the instrument the intellect uses to obtain information and store memory (the brain) is messed up.
You might as well say it’s better to kill a sleeping man than to swat a fly.
“1. As to why it is morally permissible to kill and eat another creature, and 2. As to why a mentally disabled person is not equal to an animal.”
1 - It is obvious from observing nature that animals do not share the same sense of self and awareness of existential matters as humans. Its not just intelligence. Some animals could be said to be more intelligent or better than humans in some ways. But humans are the only species capable of looking at a rock and seeing how it can become a David or a Pieta. Or of looking at the stars and wondering are we alone in the universe. We as a species have a capacity that animals don’t have. If animals had this capacity then why don’t we see cities built by whales or apes? It’s because we are on a different level from them.
Also if animals are self aware and moral creatures then they would realise that eating humans is immoral. But somehow I don’t think the vegans would have much luck explaining this concept to a Tiger or a pack of wolves.
2 - A mentally disabled person has a dignity as a member of the human race. The majority of mentally disabled people also have qualities of self awareness and potential that all humans share. I would say that even a very mentally disabled person has more value than all the animals in the world.
In fairness, it’s hard to argue the value of a person without resorting to scripture or church teaching. The Church has a view of the human person as being endowed with dignity above that of animals by virtue of being made in the image and likeness of God. Atheistic philosophies often take a utilitarian view of human life.
All people have the capacity for a certain level of knowledge of good and evil. This gives us an ability to understand that judgement of another persons quality of life is inappropriate when considering their right to live. Beyond their offspring or herd, animals do not have this ability to reason that a member of their own species has value even though they cannot take care of themselves. People can turn from evil to good when caring for the least among us.
This is the reason we do not eat orphans during times of famine.(Swift) And it’s the same reason we should not practice euthanasia, abortion or any other such ideologies.
Animals eat animals. Animals eat plants. Animals eat people. Plants eat animals. Logically, we should not eat plants because plants don’t eat us.
If the engine of my car goes kaput, would it become a wheelbarrow? No, it would still be a car, just a car that is not functioning. If a tiger lost its legs so it had to squiggle on the ground to move, would it become a snake?
The severely disabled person is a human from his or her cellular structure on up: the DNA, the balance of proteins, etc., all human and unaffected by the fact that some parts are missing or not working properly.
Don’t eat anything that is smarter than you. Or to which you could develop an emotional attachment.
If I had a dog, I wouldn’t eat it, but I have no problem in eating someone else’s dog. If I kept a Guinea Pig as a pet, I wouldn’t eat it, but if it’s raised for food, no problem. If I was a horse lover, then Trigger would be off the menu.
But I am aware of inconsistencies in my outlook. For example, I love pork but wouldn’t eat dolphin. Sucking pig and Veal? Delicious. But puppy or kitten? Probably not.
Maybe it’s best summed up thus: you can eat anything at all, as long as you are prepared to kill it.
She has given you the perfect opportunity to explain the moral distinction to her!
What’s at play here isn’t one’s ‘consciousness’, as she claims. What’s at play is that humans are created “in the image and likeness of God.” This is what distinguishes us from animals – only humans are created in God’s image.
Therefore, it naturally follows that the amount of ‘consciousness’ one exhibits has no bearing on the matter: we do not eat humans (or, in fact, do anything that diminishes or extinguishes their life) because they have been given an immortal human soul by God. Animals, on the other hand, are not created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore, we humans have been called to be good stewards of them as part of God’s creation.
If you wish to avoid the Catholic take on things, then you’re already giving up half of the game – can you see that you’re conceding the stronger arguments in favor of the weaker? Nevertheless, you can make the claim based on ‘rationality’, but be careful: it’s not the extent to which rationality is expressed by the individual creature, but by the faculty in general as present in the species. (After all, if it were on a creature-by-creature basis, then it would be a little worse to eat her and just a little better to eat your cousin Sammy (since, after all, he’s a Cleveland Browns fan); it would be OK to eat this chicken over here, and less OK to eat that chicken over there. That’s just nonsensical.)
Of course, be prepared to be accused of ‘species-ism’… :rolleyes:
(And remember to remind her that she’s playing the same species-ist game: she chooses certain species (grains, fruits, legumes) to eat and chooses other species (chickens, pigs) not to eat, merely based on what species they are! She’s just chosen different species than you… ;))
Thanks a lot, this was the most helpful and rational response! I realise now I was looking at it from the wrong perspective, i.e. trying to argue on her level (a naturalistic, atheistic level), when, like you said, I should have been using it as an opportunity to share a Catholic perspective and maybe evangelise a little. Thanks again, I’ll give this more thought.
Explain that animals eat other animals in nature all the time (cite Omnivore Examples like bears and gorillas and pigs). Ask why it’s ok for them to but not for humans to.
You could go further by stating that the farming of fruits and vegetables, even “organic” farming of them, kills as many if not more animals as the butchering of cattle. So whether a vegitarian or not you’re still killing animals.
You could explain how, even with diminished capabilities, the mentally disabled people ARE STILL HUMANS and that cannibalism is wrong in every sense of the word (even people who eat other people for survival still feel traumatized by it afterwards).
You explain that animals don’t have sapience; ask why cows don’t have language or arts or philosophies or social structures.
Personally, I think the best argument against veganism is to not argue it. While some can get a little preachy, you’re not going to change their mind that eating meat is okay, and since they aren’t hurting anyone it seems a waste to debate.
Of course, I’m assuming that they are the type of vegan that will occasionally mention how they believe that eating meat is wrong, but aren’t insanely pushy about it. Not to mention that some of the arguments here aren’t going to be something that will win this person over. “Animals eat other animals” isn’t going to change the mind of someone who feels "eating meat is wrong, especially since most vegans are well-aware of that but think since we’re conscience enough to understand pain, we should get past that.
There is no argument without the existence of God.
If God did not exist; and if God did not create humans as having the form and likeness of God; and if God did not make us co-creators with Him; and if God did not send His Son to Die to Save us; and if God did not give us souls; and if God did not give us dignity as human beings - well then the argument that human beings and animals are equal would make some sense.
No matter what the physical or mental condition anyone of us may find ourselves, God did create us with dignity as human beings .
God gave us dominion over animals to be cared for and to use.
If God does not exist then Stalin, Hitler and like minded tyrants are merely the animals killing other animals. There is no right or wrong involved. Only the Natural Selection of Evolution is at work.