Friday, August 04, 2017

Philosophy food fight falls flat

A favorite modern philosopher of mine, Massimo Pigliucci, on his blog, runs a Friday links roundup. This one, per a link of his about ethical eating, has exploded in comments.

Massimo, per that link, is a "reducitarian." So am I, but for different reasons and for a different moral compass. And, he's very ardent about it.

Fueling the comments fire was, first, Rita Wing, a hardcore vegan, and second, and interesting, or sometimes "interesting," but not-favorite philosopher, philosophical friend, and sparring partner of Massimo's, Dan Kaufman. He's not a philosopher enemy; he's more a semi-frenemy.

And now, our philosophers, with their "philosophy food fight falls flat."

Massimo comes off as defensive, and very defensive for an admirer of Stoicism who even has a second blog about modern Stoic-based advice, "How To Be a Stoic." It's an "if you're not for me, you're against me," defensiveness.

Dan comes off as smug. (That's not new, even more so on his own blog site, The Electric Agora.) That said, Dan seems to largely reject animal rights issues, and not just an extreme, Peter Singer version of them, but all of them. (More on that below, though.)

Behind the "smug," I think Dan's stance is twofold:
1. People can become preachy on this issue without warrant;
2. This isn't that big of a deal for him.

Now, to comments.

First, Wing comes off as sanctimonious, especially when she appeared ignorant about Jainism, notably, "sky-clad" Jains and the most rigorous of them starving themselves to death because they believe even plants have some senses.

I mentioned that vegans, without supplements, have Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Massimo, after critiquing her for an appeal to nature fallacy, called mine a naturalistic fallacy.

I think not, when I unpack the shorthand.

Yes, I can get B-12 from a pill. But that's coming from animal products that, if the whole world went vegan, we'd have to raise just for that purpose. That would be costly, wasteful and have environmental burdens. (More on that in a minute.)

Let me state one other thing for the record, before I dive into the two protagonists.

I'm not a moral realist, but, if I'm presented that as an issue of two polarities, moral realism vs. "moral non-realism," I reject that.

I consider myself some sort of moral semi-realist.

I don't think empirical facts, whether findings of science, recordings of history or other things, should control moral investigation, articulation of positions and stances, etc. I do think, though, that empirical findings should guide such things, and on a case-by-case basis.

As I told Ms. Wing, I'm a definite Humean, and with him, I affirm the "is ≠ ought," IF that means, "an is doesn't necessarily imply an ought." Because an "is" may imply an "ought," and certainly, the extreme idea, that any "is" should have zero consideration on any "ought," is flat wrong.

Back to Massimo, and first with a prelude.

He called extreme Jainism's belief "bizarre." Yeah? So are other religious and quasi-religious arcane dietary beliefs. Kosher rules are just such an example. And I believe veganism is just such a quasi-religious system.

Per the matter at hand, and animal pain, that means getting the best scientific information, and interpretation of it, on what animals can feel pain, or something like it. The "interpretation" issue means no anthropomorphizing.

That also includes the "folk science" issue of knowing that, if an animal is capable of feeling pain, it's not just factory farming that causes pain. The act of killing an animal, unless you've shot it up with morphine or gassed it with ether first, also inflicts pain.

Massimo also didn't really like this observation. Nor various spinoffs, largely from me, but also from others.

On the commercial side, of empirical facts in record, for reducitarians to ponder, it is to be noted that major fish, such as salmon and catfish, are factory farmed. Therefore, above and beyond the note above, a reducitarian, for even a partial moral cover, must logically avoid factory farmed fish as well as beef, hogs, etc. (And, I'm venturing that a significant minority, at least, do not.)

One smaller note on issues of philosophy, and even more, of psychology, THEN the protagonists.

I see scales and shades of gray in many things, not just what I mentioned above.

Fernando raises an interesting aside in comments there. We have pretty good reason to be sure that any mammal feels pain. And, beyond the idiots in the cosmetics industry, a fair amount of “legit” scientific research causes lab rats pain, let alone dogs, doubly let alone primates.

It seems the only way to justify such research is to be a utilitarian, but of a different stripe of what one’s utilitarian canon contains than Singer. But, Massimo in general is a virtue ethicist.

However, Massimo rightly calls out Kaufman for calling Peter Singer shallow. And he's right. Dan unconvincingly appeals to other philosophers. I disagree with Singer less than Dan — and probably find him a bit more discomfiting. Shallow, though, he is not.

That said, given the degree of Massimo's emotional angst, I suspect Singer hits kind of close to home for him, and he'd like to dismiss him.

As for claims I'm committing the naturalistic fallacy? I suggest a little MatthewArnold. Or if that's not good enough, I'll riff on that and suggest that Arnold was saying, contra Hobbes, we can never totally rise above a state of nature. In other words, the only good Buddha is a dead Buddha. With that, if I am still committing somebody's definition of that, then, I'm definitely making only a non-Edenic appeal.

What I see Arnold as saying is that we're never going to truly transcend "it ≠ ought" issues, and we're certainly not going to expand our addressing of them, on natural issues, if our attempts to transcend a Hobbesian state of nature remain selective. And, yes, that's what I think Massimo is doing.

Contra sky-glad Jains, I do not think plants feel pain. Therefore, if one wants to be vegetarian, as long as they don't preach at me, I think they've got a pretty strong moral standing.

Veganism? Milking a dairy animal causes no pain, per se. Factory dairy farming may, but that's a different critter. Therefore, if one "sources" one's cheese, butter, etc., one can make a legit claim to dairy products. Eggs? It's possible a hen feels a psychological pain from egg theft, so, maybe leave them out. Clothing? If the cow's dead for other reasons, don't waste the leather. Wool-shearing, as long as sheep aren't too exposed to elements, is not painful. Down? If taken from natural molting, no pain.

So, one can certainly ethically wear animal-based clothing. Ms. Wing is wrong, and sanctimonious.

Finally, the issue of animals suffering pain ANYWAY. A leopard or lion would kill a wild cow. Something might kill a wild hog. Varieties of animals kill wild sheep and goats. Bears kill wild salmon. Etc., etc.

Other animals don't have a second-level sense of others, like we do. Even if it cared, an obligate carnivore leopard, can't stop killing a cow anyway.

Is the fact that we can sense pain of other creatures of itself enough reason to stop?

Back to utiltarianism.

What if ... ants and flies sensed pain.

Are sprays and swatters always OK, or, how do you justify it? I'm sure many vegans who aren't sky-clad Jains haven't thought about this and would prefer not to.

Some opponents of factory farms will talk about broader "quality of life" issues rather than pain.

Quality of life is itself a quasi-anthropomorphizing concept when applied to animals. I mentioned free-range cows to Saph. We don't build barns for free-range cows. Millions of them died on the US High Plains in the blizzards of 1886-87. Barning free-range livestock would be pretty silly, in my book.

Dan's blog discusses a piece by Cora Diamond which partially, but not entirely, parallels my thought.

However, without reading Diamond's original, I think Dan's piece isn't totally relevant to Massimo's piece, as he is not adopting a quasi-Singerian position. And MPBoyle in comments is one reason I not only stopped writing for Dan but largely stopped reading.

I do think he in particular, Boyle, misses friend Thomas' points. And, one of those is that Diamond, and from her, Kaufman, may push some things too far.

On the other hand, Massimo's own stance is presented largely in terms of the western world, and beyond that, a more privileged subset of it.

And, I mean that. Not all Americans, with our factory agriculture, can afford to pay to be vegetarians, let alone vegans. Many can't easily even afford Massimo's reducitarianism.
Finally, in an interesting sidebar from the non-human portion of the natural world: sometimes vegans, under duress, become cannibals!


As noted, my animal ethics is based on environmentalism, and two subgrounds.

One is that it takes 10 pounds of food to put a pound of weight on a cow, about 8 for a hog, etc. Except in places, like savannah plains that are semi-dry, and not suitable for much agriculture, where we should ranch animals like cows (or better, in the US, the native bison), we have too much livestock. We can feed people better with a more vegetable-based diet.

This is even more true in places in the world where most cannot yet afford the Western hankering for meat.

Second is global warming, and things like cow farts.

Too much livestock is killing our future. And, killing it more rapidly than most conservative-minded scientists want to admit — along with all the other causes of global warming.

Finally, there's good non-ethical reasons to avoid not meat in general, but modern factory farmed meat, especially in the US, or countries making special trade with the US. Food safety reasons. That article ignores the fact that the USDA's own stateside food safety programs suck as is.

There's yet other issues.

A stance like Massimo's, to get back to capitalism, involves a certain amount of privilege. I mentioned that in a late comment that he didn't address. So, too, do other moral issues that are in part, aesthetics issues in disguise.

Next, it's not just veganism, or even vegetarianism, that are arcane dietary systems. Some, as those of a Kamchatka Peninsula people, are culture-wide.

Finally, one last thought.

Massimo, it's OK to be non-Stoic once in a while.