In a recent debate we came to blows about whether or not it was immoral to eat meat. (I’m vegan so I’m surrounded by people who say it is).

But I made the case that eating meat isn’t immoral. The act of purchasing meat was the immoral act. The purchase of a product through which death must have come about unnecessarily. Because even you got home and didn’t eat and the meat stayed in the fridge...the immoral act remains. My friends believe it’s just as bad to take meat home and not eat it as it is to take it home and eat it. I concluded that what you eat if it’s purchased is irrelevant when it comes to morality.

The issue vegans really have is that animals are dying unnecessarily, and that actually the fact people eat them isn’t the root cause. I’m not sure if I’ve backed myself into the wrong corner with this one haha. Any help guys...

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    "I concluded that what you eat if it’s purchased is irrelevant when it comes to morality". Consider a similar claim that highlights the problem: using stolen goods is fine, as long as you are not the one who stole them. Using stolen goods (bought meat) creates the incentive for stealing (buying), so, taking the utilitarian ethical position here, it is independently immoral. The implicit presupposition of your conclusion, that subsequent actions on the outcomes of a bad act morally decouple from it, is faulty. – Conifold Apr 25 '19 at 17:07
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    I'm not sure what the title has got to do with the body of the post. Can you change it to reflect better what you're asking? – Eliran Apr 25 '19 at 17:53

But I made the case that eating meat isn’t immoral. The act of purchasing meat was the immoral act.

If I understand the argument here, you are observing that slaughterhouses will continue to operate as long as people buy meat. What consumers do with the meat they buy---eat it, throw it directly in the trash, wear it on their heads---is morally irrelevant because it has no impact on whether animals will continue to be killed in the future. If I have that right, when you assert that the purchase matters more that the eating, you seem to be advocating for consequentialism. Ethicist Peter Singer, famous for his formulation of animal rights, happens to take a consequentialist position, and more specifically, a utilitarian one.

Here are two opposing perspectives to consider.

1) Wasting edible meat is immoral: One may argue that if you eat that meat, then you are preventing animals from "dying unnecessarily". You need to eat, and if meat is going to be part of your diet, then purchasing meat is ethical. So there is a debate to be had here over what is and is not necessary. But if meat is good food, then wasting meat that you have purchased may be a problem. One variation on this would be John Locke's argument that picking a bunch of apples and letting them rot in your barn is immoral, because you are depriving other people from eating them.

2) Eating meat is immoral regardless of how it is obtained: You do not elaborate very much on why eating meat is immoral, but the specifics of this argument matter. In the Jainist religion, for example, eating meat itself would be seen as a violent and unethical act in violation of basic principles. It would be worse, from such a perspective, to eat the meat oneself than to dispose of it in some appropriate way.


I should say, assuming a vegan position for the sake of argument, that you are defining a false antithesis. Is it the purchase of the meat that's wrong or its consumption that's wrong ? Both are wrong. It would be wrong if, say as a guest in a restaurant, you ate the meat without having purchased it (eating would be sufficient for wrongness); and it would be wrong if you purchased the meat without eating it (purchasing would be sufficient for wrongness). Morally these are independent variables. In neither does the 'real' wrongness reside.

In any case we can always redescribe the two actions as one : 'It is wrong to eat purchased meat' or 'It is wrong to purchase meat whether one eats it or not'. Neither ethical sentence identifies purchase or consumption as the key moral factor.

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