Many of us, even slightly familiar with ethics, know about Tom Regan and his quest of establishing animal rights with us humans. According to him, vegetarianism is a moral obligation of all people, because animals suffer and feel pain, thus they need our protection from being eaten, starved, used in scientific experiments or abused.

I agree with him... But where on the evolutionary 'tree of life' do we draw the line of what things to eat and what not to eat? Certainly all plants are fine because they lack a nervous system, but what animals deserve our protection and which ones, if any, do not? Certainly eating members of one's own species is out of line (I hear the forearm is the best part), but so is killing and consuming members of the other great apes.

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    The question right now can be pulled in lots of directions: are you looking for how Tom Regan justifies his argument? Counterarguments? Is there anything you've looked at trying to set up a limiting principle for which animals are safe to eat? Jun 30, 2014 at 20:17
  • James, I mean not what animals are "safe" to eat, rather, what animals, if any, are "ethical" to eat. I agree with Regan--animals, even the great white shark, is a brother of ourselves. Because -- Darwin is right! Jun 30, 2014 at 21:13
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    Not sure how convincing the "Darwin is right" argument is. One could also say "Darwin is right, we're just animals, and animals eat members of the other species all the time." Jul 1, 2014 at 17:13
  • A great white shark eats people from time to time, yet it's dumb to say they are evil because they know no better. Us humans are different - I'm interested in knowing how I should behave, not only with other people, but also with the environment. I just do not know to what end. Jul 1, 2014 at 23:52
  • Your Q contains a good question: "where to draw the line of what things to eat and what not to eat??" But in your last paragraph, then, you go off tangent (the only objection to Regan's call is the fact that you do eat meat and …your age?). Would you mind deleting the last paragraph? It would improve your Q!
    – DBK
    Jul 2, 2014 at 0:16

1 Answer 1


First, I should warn that I'm not a vegetarian nor do I play one on TV. My wife is one however, and there are many different reasons people make this choice: ranging from not liking the taste of meat, health reasons, moral concerns (which could include religious reasons) about animal consumption or the treatment of animals who are later consumed, religious beliefs about animals (think cows in "Hinduism").

Most of those who believe it is wrong to eat animals for philosophical moral reasons are types of consequentialists who think it is wrong to inflict pain and suffering on animals, because wrong is the infliction of pain and suffering, and animal suffering is identical or sufficiently similar in kind to human suffering (this is the argument put forth by Peter Singer).

You could also come up with a conclusion that it is in practice wrong to eat meat due to the treatment of animals who are consumed for meat that is not universally opposed to eating meat. Here, a potential Kantian angle is that Kant thinks enjoying animal suffering is immoral because it encourages us to enjoy human suffering.

A separate route is the similarity route which argues that insofar as it is immoral to kill humans, it follows that it is immoral to kill something that differs from humans in only the most minute regard -- since whatever the basis is for killing humans being wrong, it's difficult to grasp how a minute change would completely eviscerate that. (This is a type of argument by analogy). This route could be rejected if you think rationality is the definition of why human life has worth but not price.

A further distinct avenue is to accept the Kantian premise that what makes our lives have worth is that we are rational -- and to show that many animals (say Dolphins) demonstrate a degree of rationality that means we should afford them this protection. This is the logic behind say the PETA lawsuit arguing that Seaworld is slavery because whales are people. It seems that Kant would accept such an argument since our rationality and humanity for him refers not to our participation in the human biological species but insofar as we are rational creatures (thus, an alien on Kant's view would have humanity if it has rationality and empirical desires).

There's a separate thread somewhere on here about being vegetarian that might give you more to chew on.

  • But vegetarians need larger teeth, and they have to consume more.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 13, 2022 at 1:55

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