Monday, November 5, 2007

The Philosophical Choice of Vegetarianism

People choose to become vegetarians for a number of reasons. I would like to directly address the idea of a philosophical choice that humans make to be vegetarian. There are a number of approaches one may choose to become a vegetarian, two broad views include a simple moralistic view, and a ecofeminist view, with differing views within those fields. In choosing one of these dominant views, one may speak of their over-all moral views in life, but only if they have the choice.

I myself have been a vegetarian at different points in my life. Each time was for different reasons but generally they have come from a moralistic philosophy. The idea that we have a moral choice is what many say differentiates us from animals. The fact that we can make a moral choice however, does not necessarily make us better than animals; many would say it actually gives us the ability and need to care for, and not abuse animals. This was at many times my personal view on vegetarianism. Perhaps this comes from my Roman Catholic background that states that, although we have full domain over animals, we should not purposefully harm them.

It is this harm that I see is central to my philosophy on vegetarian beliefs. Where as at one time animals were hunted while in their natural state, or even domesticated in larger areas, today animals are “farmed” as products. Although a pig, chicken or cow may not have the reasoning or moralistic capability of a human, the animal clearly has a natural habitat in which it lives. Peter Singer states in Animal Liberation: Vegetarianism as Protest, animals in their natural habitat such as chickens will flock, and hogs will furrow and create breeding areas and social structures within their social environment. Even if we are to still consume them as food, should they not have the ability to live in their natural environment?

Pope Benedict XVI has even spoke out against cruelty to animals. When asked about his views on animal cruelty he stated:

“we cannot just do whatever we want with them. ... Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”

This is clearly a moralistic view based upon Bible teachings. Pope Benedict XVI is not a vegetarian, but understands the nature of animals created with humans and sees the need for humans to care for these divinely created animals without harming them. We then however get into the debate on what constitutes harm. We also address as Carl Cohen does in A Critique of the Alleged Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, do animals have a right to be cared for by humans, or is it our obligation. I would argue, as would Pope Benedict XVI, that it is our obligation and Cohen would agree.

If we were to take the ecofeminist approach to vegetarianism, we would be looking at the notion of the domination of animals is likened to the domination over women. We should in turn choose to be vegetarians to protest the male dominated society which subjugates both animals and females. Marti Kheel in Vegetarianism and Ecofeminism, also believes that women are owned by their husbands, likening this to cattle “husbandry,” In this same belief, women are kept in families in the same way animals are kept on farms, citing that the world “family” is derived from the Roman word “famulus,” which means “slave.” The ecofeminist approach requires not only the belief that animals are exact equals to humans, but also that the traditional roles of male and females are improper, confining and wrong.

Whichever approach one takes to this philosophy on vegetarianism, the person needs to make a conscious decision as to why they would desire to be a vegetarian. Not becoming a vegetarian can also be a moralistic choice taken on the basis that animals have no rights and we have no moral obligation to animals whatsoever. The issue can be taken even broader to those who do not have a choice based upon Pierre Bordieu’s logic that we can only make these choices if we know they are available. Using this logic, most should agree that people unable to make the choice are not immoral until they are educated in one of these philosophies.

P.S. Just on a side note, I am making cassoulet this week, so the vegetarian thing is hard for me to stick to.

Currently reading :
Food for Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat (Contemporary Issues (Prometheus))
By Steve F. Sapontzis
Release date: May, 2004

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