There is a strong utilitarian case for a pragmatic type of vegetarianism, based on the idea that eating meat usually causes suffering and that it is wrong to needlessly make something suffer. See this article (Singer, Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism, 1980) for a discussion.

The argument is based on a type of pragmatic consequentialism: we are interested in concrete decision making (should I eat meat or vegetables for dinner?) and choose among different possible actions based on their consequences.

What are good critiques of this moral justification of vegetarianism that stays in the framework of pragmatic consequentialism?

Some starting points:

  1. This critique asks many interesting questions such as "what does the vegetarian feeds his/her dog?" and "Is being vegetarian really the most effective way to reduce animal suffering?"

  2. This university blog article sparked my question and is, in my opinion, not a good critique.

  • I agree, that blog article is supposing that the issue of eating animals is the actual ingestion of animals, rather than the cases argued by the likes of Singer and Regan which have more to do with our lack of a right to utilise animals.
    – Matt-T
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 19:42
  • Typically the question is not what to have for dinner, but what to have forever. It is supposed to be a global, permanent change. For everyone. Sounds like other moral issues...
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 20:58

2 Answers 2


I'm a vegetarian, but I guess these are the main reasons I think people who eat meat justify it:

  1. It tastes really good. I can't deny that. A lot of people get so much enjoyment out of it, it's hard for them to imagine a life without it. They feel they'd be giving up too much enjoyment to stop.

  2. People think animals are not worthy of protection - ie they either do not have interests, or they pale in comparison to a human's interest in eating meat. Some people doubt animal minds even exist, or deny that they can legitimately suffer.

  3. People might decide to get free range meat, "ethically sourced", as they believe that that means the chicken/pig etc had a great life before being killed in an instant without suffering. They might feel that the deal an animal gets is fair - without the farmer, those animals would live a terrible life in the wild with predators preying on them all the time. The farmer can offer them guaranteed safety for a certain length of time, and then, when the time comes, stun them and kill them without them even realizing.

I'm not saying any of these arguments are true - they obviously don't convince me - but it's the kind of thing you hear. Most people also bring up some version of " it's natural, therefore there's nothing wrong with it" which is obviously fallacious.


One argument could plausibly be based around the fact that a single person's decision to not eat meat has almost no measurable consequences on the animals.

The animal whose meat you buy in the supermarket is already dead, and the suffering has already occurred. From that point on, whether you eat the meat or not, the animal (from a materialists' point of view) can't possibly be affected by it.

Further, you, as a single person, has no effect on animal meat production. Just because you decide to become a vegetarian doesn't mean that any company is going to change how much meat (and thus how much animal suffering) they want to produce, so again, your decision has no real consequence.

This is an argument based purely on consequentalism, but of course vegetarianism is very hard to argue against from certain deontological perspectives.

  • If the state of the world wouldn't change unless everybody made a positive action, then consequentialism would be deficient. This is not how the world works, thankfully. Individual actions, through spendings, are picked up to the decimal place by companies in order to make informed decisions. The formula used by supermarkets to calculate how much meat to buy will pick up the difference made by a single individual.
    – Olivier
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 12:28
  • Yet I agree that the simplifications in the consequentialist argument are exaggerated. Your argument is also developped in this opinion piece.
    – Olivier
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 12:35
  • 1
    Another counter-argument to my post could be that people who choose to become vegetarians often inspire others to do the same (indeed, outside-influences are the primary reason people become vegans and vegetarians, according to most polls), and thus, while the direct effect of a single individual on animal suffering may be minimal, there's a snowball effect to consider here.
    – Imean H
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 15:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .