Why be vegetarian?

September 29, 2010

I have never been a vegetarian and only entertain the idea occasionally, inbetween stuffing sausage rolls and steak and kidney puddings into my mouth. My reasons for cutting down on meat (I have. Me and Copes went a couple of weeks recently without touching the stuff. Factumundo) is for climate change reasons – does that mean I care not for animal welfare? No, but I’ve always found it difficult to express the reason why I don’t follow the vegetarian logic through to its conclusion. This post – how to think about vegetarianism – helped me to put it simply: I cannot find enough motivational reason to do so.

But I’m interested in the idea that people give up meat to avoid being complicit in something they feel will harm their integrity:

Integrity is also important for moral agents. People like McMahan are appalled by the meat industry. The mass suffering – and as they see it, exploitation and murder – of animals is to their minds indefensible. In turn, such people may decide they want to have no association with such an evil (as they see it) industry. They do not want to benefit from, or even enjoy, the products of such processes. Nor do they want to be (even symbolically) complicit in them, say by handing over money for flesh. To do otherwise would cast a stain on their moral character – and they want their characters to be clean.

For people who reason this way, vegetarianism will probably be the right option, insofar as it guarantees of their own personal integrity. But not everybody needs to end-up at that decision.

I think this is true in some cases and that for some people it is about showing their moral superiority and contrasting it with others who don’t measure up. But for some people it is not about demonstrating their better moral fibre but about doing something they believe to be good and right. In the case of vegetarianism that is to be admired. Abstaining from something you find pleasurable because you find it to be morally wrong or indefensible – aside from whether it makes a difference in terms of consequences – is laudable.

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