Can we say that no matter what philosophy a person holds, ultimately, all humans use double standards to live? The reason is: all continuously living human beings, will prefer to eat other living things, and not want to be eaten by other living things. Because if there is any human that is not using this way of thinking, and not eat other living things (plants, or animals), he or she will not live past a few days or weeks.

Or can we say that no matter what philosophy a person holds, it needs to break down sometimes, because, ultimately, all humans use double standards in order to live? Unless, if the philosophy itself already include this double standard element in it.

  • why do you lump plants and animals together?
    – Dr Sister
    Aug 17, 2012 at 14:02
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    What is wrong with eating things? Or, alternatively, do you mean by "double standard" "making no distinctions"? I agree that it is very difficult to exist without drawing distinctions. The world is not uniform.
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 17, 2012 at 14:20
  • @Rex I think you are asking "What is wrong with eating things" just because you are so used to the idea. Do you know that Chicken or Sheep has children and the mother chicken likes to protect the children, and the children love to be around the mother? So what is wrong about eating the mother, you ask. To turn the question around, what if there are space aliens and they say, "What's wrong about eating humans", and you may be able to give 20 reasons in 5 minutes. Aug 18, 2012 at 16:32
  • @動靜能量 - As a practical matter, most chickens raised for food in industrialized countries do not have chicks these days. I'm not sure this is better for the chickens involved, but that's how it goes. Anyway, it's entirely possible to live as a vegetarian, and lettuce does not have children who like to be around mother lettuce, and it is also possible to draw distinctions between chickens and humans. As I said before: the world is not uniform. We do make distinctions. Your reasoning only can work if we do not--otherwise, maybe there is a distinction between a human and the thing being eaten
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 18, 2012 at 16:51

2 Answers 2


The reason is: all continuously living human beings, will prefer to eat other living things, and not want to be eaten by other living things.

Alternative wordings of your question might include, "Is it practical to live without hypocrisy?", or, "Is it possible to apply the golden rule to all acts consistently?"

If I understand you as you mean, then you would define "holding a double standard" as

desiring to act upon a self-like class of entities while desiring not to be samely acted upon by that class of entities.

For example,

class LivingThing
    public void Eat(LivingThing& anotherLivingThing);

Instantiations of this class would be holding a double standard if they desired to invoke LivingThing::Eat while desiring not to become the parameter themselves.

I use this example not (only) because you have 17,874 reputation on Stack Overflow :p, but because, for me at least, it isolates the major ambiguity: What constitutes a LivingThing?

  • Would you consider microorganisms in the air LivingThings? Or only multicellular organisms? Or perhaps, only multicellular organisms with sentience, i.e. not plants?

  • To be "eligible for double-standardness," do two entities need to be LivingThings, as in, be instantiations of the base or a derived class, i.e. must they be linked by a nature of what they are? Or, do two entities simply need to do things that LivingThings do, as in, implement a common interface (er, abstract class), e.g. is it a double standard for us to desire to destroy a computer, if we also desire not to be destroyed by a computer? (In this context, personally, I believe the object-oriented and functional views are the same.)

I understand that "living things" was only one example. But generally speaking, and maybe this is what Rex Kerr was getting at too, I believe that no matter what you talk about, the same ambiguities would arise, because lumping and distinction are operations local and subjective to our brains.

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    It's a good point, but both I and tea cups are unambiguously objects. I want to lift my tea cup, and not have my tea cup lift me. Ambiguity is not the problem; absurdity is.
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 17, 2012 at 23:29
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    @RexKerr: I would have no qualms about being lifted by my tea cup, if I was confident that no ill would come to me by it and that it didn't pose an obstacle for my personal objectives. Being eaten, however, is commonly accepted as presenting a major obstacle to achieving one's goals. Aug 18, 2012 at 12:18
  • @NieldeBeaudrap - Well--I don't want my tea cup to pour liquids out of me and into it, either. I don't want my light bulb to pass electrical current through me and heat me to 2000C. I don't want the oxygen in the air to tear me in half and bind each half to carbon.
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 18, 2012 at 15:57
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    @Rex it is meant for looking at the phenomenon of people wanting to be a director, or VP, or CEO, to command other people and not want to be commanded; or people who want to be first class citizen and be higher and not want to be treated as second class citizen. And I used to "want to eat" and "not want to be eaten" to illustrate that. But if you start to say, "want the light bulb to be 2000C and not want the light bulb to change us to 2000C", then you are merely making it sound absurd to "disprove" the idea Aug 18, 2012 at 17:11
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    @RexKerr (cont'd) - From there, generalizing these principles to non-human entities are a matter of definition, and what I was originally trying to untangle. What entities are "similar enough" to be considered "self-like" and deserving of our attention and empathy? (Personally, I would draw the line at sentient beings. I would not consider tea cups nor light bulbs entities to which the principles are applicable. Subjective of course, but that was partially my point from the beginning.) Aug 18, 2012 at 23:52

Your example of eating and being eaten does not produce an unsolvable moral problem, for it is easy to defend the position that killing living things in order for human beings to survive is right, as is always has been done (although there certainly are valid opposite positions, e.g. Singer's preference utilitarianism).

Of course you could make the empirical observation that persons live by a double standard, but neither can you claim that this is true for all persons in history, past and prospective (problem of induction), nor can you conclusively claim that it is an ontological/anthropological condition for being human, because there is no logical need in being hypocritical. One might be "forced" by life to abandon one's maxims, but in that moment one has to simply accept that one's leaving the "moral path" to instead act by hypothetical imperatives (cleverness) or arbitrariness. One does, however, have the choice to not do that. As long as one has this option, there can be no "need" for double standards (and there is no moral act without options).

The answer to your question, "can we say that...", probably depends on who "we" are. I'd say that it is not a valid philosophical conclusion. However an empirical science could phrase that theory, and then it's up to the empirical evidence to "proof" (we know there is no proof...) whether or not the theory is conclusive.

  • While I do agree that one can defend the position of killing living things, I want to point out that you have chosen an appeal to tradition as an example.
    – k0pernikus
    Oct 21, 2013 at 0:45

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