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Ethicists Aren't Ethical: Or, Why Sin is In

Eating meat is likely the most immoral thing any of us do.  Animals are sentient beings.  They feel pain.  They feel fear.  The animals we eat are tortured hourly until slaughtered.  I've never met a person who researched factory farming conditions who would argue that eating meat is moral.  Meet Your Meat.

Yet almost all of us eat meat:

[We] surveyed several hundred philosophers and non-philosophers on their opinions about various moral issues; we also asked survey respondents to describe their own behavior on those same issues. … The biggest divergences in moral opinion concerned our question about “regularly eating the meat of mammals such as beef and pork”. 60% of ethics professor respondents rated mammal-meat consumption as morally bad, compared to 45% of non-ethicist philosophers and just 19% of non-philosophers. Opinion also divided by gender and age. … Fully 81% of female philosophers born in 1960 or later said it was morally bad to regularly eat the meat of mammals. To put this degree of consensus in perspective, … only 82% of philosophers endorsed non-skeptical realism about the existence of an external world. …

38% of [young female philosophers] reported having eaten the meat of a mammal at their previous evening meal — a rate not statistically different from the 39% reported rate among respondents overall. … Similarly, despite the difference in normative view, there was no statistically detectable difference in the mean age of respondents who said they had eaten the meat of a mammal at their previous evening’s meal. … 78% of those who reported that they never eat mammal meat said eating mammal meat is bad, compared to 32% of those who reported sometimes eating meat. However, it seems that among non-vegetarians there is little if any relationship between normative ethical view and actual meat consumption. (more; HT Stefano Bertolo)

This isn't a mystery those who've read their David Hume.  Reason - or rationality - is only valuable to the extent it brings us into an emotional state.  We know eating meat is wrong.  We're still going to eat it, however, because it's delicious.

The best summary of Hume's thinking is Simon Blackburn's article, "Practical Tortoise Raising":

In 1895 Lewis Carroll wrote his famous Mind article "What the Tortoise said to Achilles". The problem he raised can succinctly be put like this: can logic make the mind move? Or, less enigmatically, how do we describe what is wrong with the tortoise's argument that, however many premises Achilles has him accept, he always has space to refrain from drawing the conclusion?

In this paper I am not so much concerned with movements of the mind, as movements of the will. But my question bears a similarity to that of the tortoise. I want to ask whether the will is under the control of fact and reason, combined. I shall try to show that there is always something else, something that is not under the control of fact and reason, which has to be given as a brute extra, if deliberation is ever to end by determining the will. This is, of course, a Humean conclusion, and the only novelty comes in the way I wish to argue for it. I believe that many philosophers think, erroneously, that Hume relies on a naive and outdated conception of facts, or on an even more naive and outdated conception of reason, in order to put passion on their throne. My tortoise defends Hume: what we do with our premises is not itself construed as acceptance of a premise.

[You will enjoy the rest....]

Meat eating is fascinating because it also illustrates the power of culture.  We condemn past societies for their slavery, racism, and sexism.  We would have been soooo different had we been alive back then.

No, we would not have been.  We'd have owned slaves - even if we believed it to be evil, but because we'd have lacked the force of will go rebel against our culture.  We'd have been guards at concentration camps.  We'd have done exactly what our cultural masters commanded us to do.

We know eating meat is wrong, but people don't judge us for eating meat.  We meat eaters are part of the the immoral majority.  As long as we outnumber those enlightened and virtuous enough to be vegetarians, meat eating will remain moral - even though we all know that it's not.

I am not a moral relativist.  Some things are moral and immoral.  I'm reluctant to march up to the moral high ground, however, because this weak I'll be grilling steaks.