THERE ARE ONLY TWO months of the year that mean anything to me: October and February.
Not because of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.
The reason why October and February hold such a dear place in my heart is because October and February are the months when The Walking Dead seasons begin.
First half of the season begins in October. Second half begins in February.
It’s March. Second half of season 8. They just killed Carl Grimes.
No old man Carl. No Lydia licking Carl’s empty eyehole. No Carl doing ANYTHING.
Oops. Spoiler alert.
While watching a tv show about flesh eating ambulatory revenants, my mind drifts, from time to time, to the subject of flesh – namely, the fact that zombies consume human flesh.
In the world of The Walking Dead, living humans are just meat to eat.
Even the vegetarian zombies chow down on the non-undead.
It must be quite odd for a person who has their entire life not eating animal flesh to die, knowing that their reanimated corpse will compelled to eat nothing other than the substance they’ve sworn off.
I mean, is a vegan zombie morally offended every moment they’re devouring a person?
Can a zombie experience an ethical dilemma?
A zombie probably can’t, but a living person certainly can experience the ethical conundrum – should I eat meat?
Now, I’m not asking if a person can eat meat – most humans have canine teeth, meat is digestible, and we can derive nutrients from animal products.
Heads up: I’m not making my argument here.
Not doing a because-we-can-we-ought-to kind of argument kind of thing.
But I will say this. I’m gonna say it right now:
I eat meat.
This is a fact about myself that I’m not exactly proud of.
As a person who is halfway aware of the way things are and remotely concerned about my health, I’m aware that the unnecessary suffering and abuse inflicted on animals on factory farms is not only cruel to my fellow living beings, but also the unsanitary conditions (and excessive use of antibiotics) makes for meat that is potentially harmful to human health as well.
And as a philosopher, the infliction of pain and suffering on sentient beings should bother me (at least a little bit) morally.
But still… despite what I know about harvesting and eating, I continue to consume meat. I feel like there’s something that is keeping me from joining the growing chorus of voices that have abandoned their meat-eating ways and declare I AM VEGAN.
…and not just because bacon tastes yummy.
I think the reason why might have something to do with speciesism.
A lot of humans, whether they know it or not, practice speciesism.
In his book Animal Liberation (1975), the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer (born: July 6, 1946), describes speciesism as a bias in favor of one’s own species and against a species because that particular species is that species. That is, people are biased in favor of people (and people-like animals like primates) at the expense of the interests of other non-human species.
We are less inclined to consider the interests of species that do not resemble humans or ones we cannot anthropomorphize.
The fact that non-human animals are not human or can’t be given human-like qualities shouldn’t exclude them from our moral considerations. Non-human animals feel, and that, Singer argues, is enough to consider the interests of non-human animals.
Preferably using utilitarian ethics.
According to Singer, speciesism is as morally wrong as racism or sexism.
We recognize that prejudice against humans based on religion, gender, or race, is arbitrary (therefore, unjustifiable). Most people would reject the argument that a particular race or religion is more valuable than another. The notion that men are more valuable than women is…well, we like to say that we’ve advanced beyond thinking about women like Aristotle. Or Nietzsche.
Likewise, according to Singer, valuing human life over non-human life or treating a species better because it is cute and cuddly (and it does “human” things) is arbitrary and unjustifiable. To insist that a cat or a dog is more valuable than a cow or a chicken is, according to Singer, a double standard.
Historically speaking, philosophy hasn’t been kind to animals. Aristotle referred to non-human animals as “brute beasts”. Rene Descartes (1596 -1650) maintained that animals are incapable of reason and do not feel pain. Animals, Descartes stated, are mere organic machines.
Because animals cannot reason, Descartes argued, they don’t have souls. And because animals don’t have souls, we are not morally obligated to consider their interests.
Remember, folks… that howling you hear isn’t the sounds of an animal screaming in pain.
It’s the sounds of the clock’s springs breaking.
Although the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) believed that animals are mere beasts, Kant rejected the notion that we can do with non-human animals as we please. Kant argues that, although we are not directly morally obligated to animals, we have an indirect moral duty to care for their welfare. Kant argues that our treatment of animals is tied to our treatment of those we have a direct moral obligation to people.
Kant argues that people who are cruel to animals are often also cruel to people.
In Lectures on Ethics, Kant states:
American philosopher Christine Korsgaard (born: April 9, 1952), not only argues that it is wrong to kill animals for consumption, but also argues that the factory farming, specifically the production of meat, is more damaging to the environment and human health than a plant-based diet. Korsgaard argues, like Singer, that our moral obligation to animals is not negated by the fact that animals are not human.
…the loss of life matters to a human being in certain ways that it wouldn’t matter to another sort of animal… I don’t think it follows that a non-human animal’s life is of no value to her: after all, the loss of her life is the loss of everything that is good for her.
On factory farms, Korsgaard states:
…the whole human enterprise will be supported by a bloodbath of cruelty, hidden away behind the closed walls of those farms.
Korsgaard also observes the irony of maintaining the belief in the higher rationality and morality of humans while simultaneously justifying the killing of other, supposedly less developed, species.
Ok… Factory farms are bad. And maybe we shouldn’t eat animals. But that doesn’t mean that we should start treating non-human animals like people, right? Humans are just different from other animals… right? But what, if anything, makes people different from non-human animals? What makes people different from cats and dogs and cows and chickens has something to do with a little concept called personhood.
Our friend, Wikipedia defines personhood as:
the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law and is closely tied with legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. According to law, only a natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.
If you are a person, you are worthy of moral consideration.
If you are worthy of moral consideration. your interests matter.
And exactly what makes you a person with interests that matter?
If you ask Immanuel Kant, you are a person with interests that matter if you are rational.
…every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will…Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves.
Non-human animals can’t be “persons” because they are not rational.
Hold on a minute, you say. There are plenty of humans that aren’t rational.
Small children are notoriously irrational. Mentally ill and developmentally disabled people may also lack the degree of rationality required for personhood. On the other hand, non-human animals such as crows, pigs, octopuses, certain breeds of dogs, and primates (like chimps and bonobos) often display a degree of cognitive ability (aka, rational thought) not seen in some humans.
So, that means some animals are persons, right?
In 2013, the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in the state appeals court of Manhattan on behalf of a pair of chimpanzees named Kiko and Tommy, arguing that the pair should be released from captivity and placed in an outdoor habitat. The lawsuit claimed the chimpanzees’ captivity violated their rights. Wise argued that Kiko and Tommy are entitled to the same legal rights as persons. Their lawyer, Steven Wise, argued that chimpanzees (like Kiko and Tommy) possess the mental capacity for complex thought and can perform tasks and make choices.
Now, if philosophers (including Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant) hold that the capacity for cognitive thought and decision making are qualifications for personhood, it should follow that a non-human animal capable of complex thought and decision making – even to a minimal degree − is a person.
If not legally, then at least philosophically.
And if we hold moral objections to eating animals that are like us or are us, then we should not eat non-human animals.
Unfortunately for Tommy and Kiko, the Appellate Court in Manhattan ruled that Kiko and Tommy are not persons under the law and therefore not entitled to human rights.
The Court ruling stated:
The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions
The Court added that non-human animals “lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing.”
So…. What are we to do?
As of now, non-human animals are not entitled to legal personhood. Legally speaking, speciesism remains the law of the land. Killing, eating, or experimenting on (most) non-human animals is legally permitted, if not, in large part, socially acceptable.
Unless the law changes (or a zombie apocalypse turns us all into meat eaters), the question of eating meat will remain a philosophical conundrum – a matter of personal taste between you and your ethical theory of choice.
Until then…. Subway® Chicken & Bacon Ranch sandwiches. Forever.