Since my American friends are enjoying their Thanksgiving turkey this evening, I thought it a good time to raise Gary Francione’s argument for vegetarianism (veganism actually). Francione is a well known animal rights activist, though something of a pariah in some circles because he disagrees sharply with other leading theorists in the movement like Tom Regan and especially Peter Singer. Singer, as you may know, is a utilitarian. Francione, the Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers, is what he calls an abolitionist regarding the use (and abuse) of animals. He begins with this basic premiss (or one close to it):
(1) It is wrong to inflict suffering on animals and or kill them because it gives us pleasure.
Francione notes that virtually all people accept this proposition. (Note the enormous public outcry against Michael Vick’s dog fighting a few years ago.)
(2) People eat animals because it gives them pleasure.
(3) Therefore, people ought not eat animals. (1,2)
This seems to summarize Francione’s basic argument. So long as there is no physiological need to eat meat — and there isn’t any as Francione will be more than happy to point out — we ought not eat it, for the mere fact that we like the taste is an inadequate justification.
It seems to me that the best way to challenge the argument is to argue that there are personal and social goods which somehow outweigh the value we place upon the life of the animal. In other words, we need to find a reason to reject (1).
Francione’s argument hasn’t made me give up my omnivorous ways quite yet, but at the very least it is worth a second thought.