In the context of eating meat, the argument against seems quite compelling from the viewpoint of the individual's action. I.e, would you kill a cow?

If I state, that if nobody ate cows, the cow species would be worse off (huge factory farms aside*), since they would be left to nature, where predators and deceases will end most of them before their time. I don't know where to look for stats, but I take the premise (which might be wrong) that there exists many more cows today, than before human civilization.

I theorize, that in general, being consumed by humans is the best evolutionary step a species can make.

So is it valid to conclude that, while I would not kill a cow, I can morally justify my diet, for the greater good of cows, or is if nobody did it (in this case) a false argument?

I want to distinguish between killing and bad treatment

  • You theorise on the basis of the assumption that more of a species will survive if it is produced for human consumption than if it is 'left to nature' ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 14:50
  • Correct. Is that not viable? Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 14:56
  • Not challenging, just trying to get things clear to myself. Do you also theorise that a species preserved for human consumption is, absent factory farms, better off while it is alive than if it is 'left to nature' ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 15:36
  • Not necessarily, no. I find it plausible, but not necessary. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


The premise 'If nobody did it' or 'If everybody did it' is not questionable at all, it is often a staple in Kantian arguments, where broad universal rules are the main goal of many arguments. It is always a good thing to consider, because it clears away a lot of details in which we might otherwise be excessively invested.

But your specific deductions are not necessarily valid. (Daniel Dennett agrees with you, but I find this less than compelling.)

How do you decide that the greatest number of beings is really part of the goal of a species? Humans, from the Anglo world to Japan, and most notoriously China, are deciding that quality trumps quantity and under-reproducing themselves in large numbers, following what seems to be the forward direction for their species. How can you know that cows would not somehow be happier if they were less numerous but free? How do you know that we have not kept them from pursuing a greater evolutionary destiny by including them into ours?

At the same time, what obliges us to imagine we know anything about the well-being of cows in the first place? We can only apply human standards, not understanding the essential psychology of a cow, and those are most surely just wrong.

Both sides of this argument, as you present them, seem to be about psychological projection, and not logic. To the degree that human empathy automatically creates psychological projection, we should think this through, because what we think of ourselves matters. But we should not lose track of the fact that empathy is about the psychology of the one empathizing, and does not really reflect the autonomy of the one empathized with.

  • It is true, that I make assumptions about what cows want. I based pretty much all of it on the sum of happiness of cows. This is to say, 5 cows with a happiness factor of 2, is better as a whole, than 3 cows with a happiness factor of 3. I invite you to argue against this point. Though you are correct, I cannot know what makes a cow's happiness factor increase, though wouldn't that same constraint apply to all vegans? They argue a moral and ethical justification, though that requires them to know what cows want? Thank you for your answer. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 7:26
  • i'm not sure "if everybody did it" is quite as authoritative as you imply. if everybody on earth lived in my flat, it would be a nightmare
    – user29495
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:18
  • I agree that the problem lies on both sides. The perspective is just impossible. We are only safe talking about the utility of things we can comprehend. So this entire argument needs to take place on a different standard of evidence, that we can actually interpret correctly.
    – user9166
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 19:04
  • @user3293056 First of all, it would be dumb, yes. But would it be immoral? No. The problem is not with the premise per se, it is just that every combination of axioms has limitations. The limitation Kant proposes for this one is that you can't combine this style of argument with specific facts or personal sentiments..
    – user9166
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 19:13
  • hm maybe i'm worse at deontology than i thought, thanks @jobermark fwiw i never signed up to anything like that
    – user29495
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 10:04

Your becoming a vegan won’t make it the case that nobody eats beef anymore. Thus, even if it’s true that cows become more miserable if nobody eats beef, you can’t really use this conditional to derive that you shouldn’t become a vegan. You might try to establish (I don't know how) that cows become more miserable if not enough people eat beef. If this is true and if it turns out that we drop below the critical point if you become a vegan, then you may be able to defend your carnivorous actions. I say ‘may’ because there could be other considerations as well. E.g., can you justify killing some cows to improve life for the remaining cows?

Another, very tricky issue concerns future generations (of cows). Do we have any moral obligations toward them; and if so, what are these obligations? Are we obliged to ensure they come into existence – in which case we shouldn’t decrease the beef industry, because that’ll mean that fewer cows will be born (let’s assume). Or are we obliged to ensure they don’t suffer – in which case, our best choice may be to make sure they are never born, since they’ll otherwise lead a miserable life that ends in the slaughterhouse. Finally, can we justify hurting current cows if that means improving the lives of future cows; or do current cows take precedence because they already exist?


In this question you have presented men as helpers or saviors. Here I am not trying to answer this question directly; but some clues for thought.

Who have more right to kill a cow, to men or to carnivorous animals?

If I state, that if nobody ate cows, the cow species would be worse off

Happiness is personal. In this world there are many millions of people living in serious conditions. Do we need to kill them all?

If you kill a cow, are you a savior or terminator? If you are doing the job of a terminator, would it be a good act?

I theorize, that in general, being consumed by humans is the best evolutionary step a species can make.

Are the human beings the saviors of all other creatures of this earth? What is special about the cow? Haven't you seen animals that depend on cows? Then what are you actually doing to those animals? If so, how could you regard it as the best evolutionary step?

Since the cow is a big domestic animal, we see its sufferings and give more importance to them only. Are we aware of the sufferings of wild animals? What would be the reason for the invasion (even though I don't wish to call so) of some wild animals (to populated areas)? If your arguments are rational you should eat them also.

If agents of pollination like bees, beetles, butterflies became extinct what would happen to these saviors (human beings)? Is this impossible? Don't we get its warnings every now and then? What would happen to the cow population consequently? Then, without being eaten by any man/animal who would control the cow population?

We know only very few relations between animals and other living things.

All the natural processes are happening even in its micro level. So "If nobody did it" is not a question for discussion. Nature can reduce the cattle population if it needs that.

So "If nobody did it" (in this case) is a fallacy.

I want to distinguish between killing and bad treatment

Some bad treatments are worse than killing. By bad treatment you are allowing the victim to suffer pain for a (comparatively) long period.

In case of bad treatment, you can apologize to the victim. Or if it is a creature, you can do remedies for that. But this cannot be done in the case of killing.

One 'can' treat another badly many times. But killing; one can do it once only.

[I think this would be enough for this question]

You must log in to answer this question.

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