I am currently writing an essay on the ethical status of the meat industry. As part of that essay I want to put forward the commonplace views held by European citizens that:

  • We have the right to utilise animals and their products
  • We have a moral obligation to maximise an animal’s welfare
  • Welfare standards for animals should be improved

Is the best way to put this across by using survey data and other empirical means? Or are there any other ways people use to show that a particular view is widely held?

Edit: The view put across above was a rough formulation of some of the common place views (held in Europe) about the use of animals in the meat industry. For those interested, I was specifically looking at the moral permissibility of dis-enhancement in animals to reduce suffering. Here is a good summary of some of the arguments on the topic.


3 Answers 3


I think it's going to depend on what you then plan to do with those views. Specifically, are you taking them as valid or invalid assumptions for doing ethics (i.e. will you knock them down or does your paper focus elsewhere and take them for granted?)

If my goal is to attack a common place view, then it really helps to have some evidence that the view is common place. If you can't get that, then

In the Modern West, many people intuitively believe that ...

(bears some weakness on dubitability but ...)


It is commonly held that ...

(Weakness of where? who?)

If you are going to grant these claims and focus elsewhere

I will take it for granted that ...

(you can add the common place somewhere in there but it's not absolutely necessary).

While argument can be made for and against, I will for the purposes of this paper work under the assumption that ...

In this case, it's wise to pick assumptions that make your argument harder in which case you can add:

I do so because if I can prove my claim under these conditions, it also obtains without these assumptions.

A good place to look is Peter Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" where he artfully uses views and positions that aren't his to highlight the effectiveness of his claim even outside his framework..

For the first category, famous citations and statistics help (I would suggest for instance Kant's views on animal suffering as a place to start). For the second category, you don't really need them. Depending on the scale of where you are trying to make these claims, this is not the most important thing to focus on. (If you are aiming for a journal, try to see if people in that journal generally concern themselves with (a) empirical surveys when they mention common views or (b) like famous figures or (c) gleefully say things like this without citing anyone).


What do you mean by commonplace view? Is there such a thing when most people never gave the issue a thought? Maybe the commonplace view is the status quo? The view held by a particular authority figure? The view transmitted in popular culture?

Precisely formulating your idea could help you support it with strong references.

Some ideas.

  • Cite the point of view of an authority figure, such as a prominent philosopher, on the issue.
  • Cite laws and reglementations in the industry.
  • Cite consumer behavior (do people prefer to buy free range eggs?)
  • Cite court rulings in animal cruelty / animal activism "terror" cases.
  • Highlight a dichotomy between the legal status of livestock and domestic animals.

Edit: My suggestion is that you could replace the "commonplace view" by the view upheld by an authority figure (such as a philosopher, a judge, the law, ...) you choose. This will allow you to be much more focused and prevent you from making questionable claims such as "statement X is believed to be true by 80% of the population", when in fact most people never gave serious thought to the problem.

  • I've edited the question and clarified what I meant by the commonplace view, but as I said in the original question, I'm not looking for advice about the view. I was asking about the appropriate way to present a commonplace view (views that are held by the majority of people of a given culture). That view isn't going to benefit from authority figures per se but I have looked into opinion surveys that I can cite, part of which include consumer behaviour, as well as more general attitudes towards animal welfare.
    – Matt-T
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 20:26
  • I think I was a bit unclear. I'm not talking about the particular issue (although I tried to stay on topic), and I'm not asking "what is the commonplace view for your subject?". I'm asking: what is such a thing as a commonplace view? My suggestion is that you can take the view vehiculated by an authority figure (such as a judge or the law) as the definition of the "commonplace view" you address.
    – Olivier
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 20:39
  • I'm not sure you can take the view that values expressed by authority figures through legislation necessarily match the values of the population subjected to that legislation. Though we make an effort to ensure that legislation matches values it often cannot keep up with public opinion. The civil rights movement is a good example of this, also legislation that allows gay marriage, which was driven in many states by public opinion.
    – Matt-T
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 20:48
  • 1
    Your last edit has made me see what you mean :) I agree that statements like "statement X is believed to be true by 80% of the population" should be avoided, which was the reason for me asking the question. Legislation could be a better reflection of commonly held morality than those sorts of statements. However, see my previous comment for why I don't think that it would quite represent what I'm looking to put forward.
    – Matt-T
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 20:51

What is an acceptable way to put forward a commonly held moral view in an academic essay?

Here's an essay on writing a philosophical essay which might help. I particularly like Graziano's comment about not using metaphor to describe a position.

I want to put forward the commonplace view that:
• We have the right to use animals for their meat
• We have a moral obligation to maximise an animal’s welfare
• Eating meat is permissible

Is that two premises and a conclusion?

  1. Analyze the logic and articulate working through the reasoning.
  2. Per Graziano's article, he would suggest using numbers instead of bullet points. That way you have the option of referring to "premise 1" or "premise 2" or simple (1), (2) or (3).

In the latter case of (2), I personally dislike the use of too much short-hand, especially in short papers (acronyms like JTB for justified, true belief or CToT for correspondence Theory of Truth), but it is a good consideration to have the option.

In the former case of (1), explicitly articulate the analysis when warranted. Sometimes in short papers you don't have the space to devote to formally symbolizing an argument, drawing truth tables, stepping through the details of syllogistic inference/deduction and such.

...see what I did there with (1) and (2) and "former"/"latter" ;^)

Is the best way to put this across by using survey data and other empirical means?

Empirical support can certainly focus your argumentation. Facts such as how many wild animals vs livestock exist. How much meat is produced vs consumed annually/globally and such. It is great not only to cite the source of the empirical facts, but it is critically important to not only cite verifiable facts, but to actually verify those facts. In the case of statistics especially, it is more convincing to cite several statistics which concur.

are there any other ways people use to show that a particular view is widely held?

You can always conduct your own research. Take a poll, cite the popularity of things which reference the view (e.g. the popularity of BBQ's or cooking shows which focus on preparing meat, etc...)

I'm not looking to discuss the view above, I'm merely providing it as an example to make my question clearer.

For whichever view you examine - have you accurately described the view? For example, is the "maximizing animal welfare" bit part of the common view? Familiar with the work or biography of Temple Grandin? Seems like "adequacy of husbandry" or "minimal intentional and systematic suffering" is a better description.

Ask yourself if proponents of this view would be sympathetic to your description of it?

If you think your formulation of the view is better and proponents might have a problem with it, explain how your description is informed by the proponents criticism of such a formulation.

  • 1
    Cheers Kennedy, just read through that Graziano essay and its really useful. In terms of the view itself I didn't express it particularly well as it wasn't what I was looking for an answer on. If you are interested, I was looking into animal dis-enhancement for use in the meat industry. Here is a great symposium on the issues I was looking at. (Sorry if you don't have a subscription to read those, but the summary on that page is pretty detailed)
    – Matt-T
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 19:28

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