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I recently argued with a friend about veganism. My position was basically that everyone who can allow a dietery change in their lives ought to be vegan. I argued that these days there are sufficient replacements for the nutrition provided by meat, and that there is no difference in the worth of an animal's/human's life. However, when they said that one justification might be that humans are at the top of the food chain and that they are the most advanced, I couldn't think of an argument for why that logic is flawed. They also aknowledged that in a perfect society where the killing of animals is completely unnecessary, it would still be okay.

What am I missing? Thank you in advance.

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    The person you argued about veganism is appealing to authority. Basically whatever the people in charge say must be the ultimate rule whether you like it or not! Clearly you should come up with counter examples where this is blatantly wrong such as Hitler & the Nazi regime. Since Nazism was in authority at that time they get to pick which humans were valued & which ones were not. They were at the top of the food chain in Germany at that time. Rome was at the top of the food chain at one point & so was the Persian empire. The same reasoning is used in racial biases. So this is bad reasoning
    – Logikal
    Apr 12 at 12:41
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    I don't follow your friend's reasoning. First off, what does "being on top of the food chain" mean exactly? And why would being on top of the food chain mean that eating animals is morally permissible? Apr 12 at 13:22
  • "there is no difference in the worth of an animal's/human's life" You better stop using mosquito spray, or risking earthworm lives through supporting agriculture. Peter Singer leading philosopher of animal rights & veganism advocate, uses a capacities argument. Pigs are very intelligent, & should not be mistreated & killed. Insects less so etc. He describes using this, moral progress as expanding the circle of our moral concern - we no longer place any human ethnicity outside of it, and apes & dolphins have been granted additional rights, and ecocide is being proposed as a new type of crime
    – CriglCragl
    Apr 12 at 15:48
  • @CriglCragl Would euthanasia of newborns and people in a permenantly vegetative state be allowed by Singer's definition?
    – SDZ
    Apr 12 at 16:04
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    There is no biologically grounded notion of "advancement" in evolution, the conceptions of orthogenesis, progressing towards some absolute goal like complexity, are rejected by biologists. Evolutionary adaptations are more or less successful relative to the environment, so they can not be the basis for some ethical prioritizing of one species over others. Humans are not at the top of every food chain either, nor does species at the top need to be more "advanced", as the covid virus amply demonstrated.
    – Conifold
    Apr 12 at 20:00
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Welcome, SDZ

It is not clear, as Ameet Sharma points out, what your friend means by 'being on top of the food chain'. But between (1) any plausible meaning it might have and (2) the claim that one species (ours) has a right to exploit others (say, sheep or cattle) by killing and eating them there is a logical gap. (2) does not follow from (1) unless (1) is interpreted as 'Our species is on top of the food chain' is another way of saying that 'Our species has a right to exploit others by killing and eating them'. This is a clear example not only of speciesism but of begging the question, however. Question: 'Why (on what grounds) do we have a right to exploit others (say, sheep or cattle) by killing and eating them?' Answer: 'Because our species has a right to exploit others by killing and eating them'.

There are religious views on which humankind has a stewardship over nature, which carries the right to exploit - to use for our own survival - other species. But such views need to be argued for. And - in parenthesis - so far as I can see, even if we grant such views, survival does not license the degree of exploitation (the killing and eating of the range of species) that currrently prevails.

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There's a lot of fallacies on the dialog. Here, with names:

I recently argued with a friend about veganism. My position was basically that everyone who can allow a dietery change in their lives ought to be vegan.

Bad argument. Fallacy: appeal to possibility, meaning that if something is possible, it is mandatory. The possibility to change diet is not an argument to do it, like the possibility of voting Hitler is not an argument to do it.

I argued that these days there are sufficient replacements for the nutrition provided by meat, and that there is no difference in the worth of an animal's/human's life.

Irrelevant. Fallacy: ignoratio elenchi. The argument is not related to the problem. Using your right hand or left hand to vote Hitler is irrelevant to the decision of voting him. One or the other forms of nutrition would be good, but that does not justify the decision.

However, when they said that one justification might be that humans are at the top of the food chain and that they are the most advanced

Fallacy: questionable cause. It is not because Hitler is the head of the government that he must kill his people. It is not because your friend is at the top of the food chain that should kill a specific kind of animal.

They also aknowledged that in a perfect society where the killing of animals is completely unnecessary, it would still be okay.

This is a pure rhetoric fallacy: it does not provide an argument. The form of the proposition is "in society X, killing animals is ok". Why? If we assume that a previous argument is true (e.g. killing animals is Ok because we can), this is called an stacked fallacy.


Following, a discussion of possible arguments.

  • Killing animals is not good or bad per se. Good or bad depend on the purpose. If meat is tasty, it is good. If meat is expensive, it is bad. etc. But any interpretation of a final good or bad truth is subjective.
  • The argument that animals suffer is a humanization of the problem. I'm not with or against animal suffering, but such is an inconclusive and long philosophical debate.
  • If we assume that the planet has environmental issues (which is an idea that a lot of people reject), then you might have an argument. Google for "environmental impact of meat production" for formal data on the matter.
  • If you know that eating meat has a negative impact on health, you might have an argument. But this is also a debatable idea.
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Do we have the right to kill animals, plants, etc? I don't think we have the right because we are at the top of the food chain. However, most humans are required to kill plants and animals in order to survive. I believe every living organism should do whatever is needed to survive, even if it means killing other living organisms. Life is all about survival, whether it be obtaining food/water/shelter or reproduction. There are no rights and wrong, good and evil in nature, you do whatever is needed to survive, and the strongest/smartest will live and hopefully reproduce strong, intelligent offspring. In my opinion it would be desirable to be able to survive with exploiting plants and animals, however we are not to that point yet, and there are many reasons for that. But I believe that killing of any kind is justified if it is needed for survival.

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