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Charles's avatar

Are vegetarians morally superior?

Asked by Charles (4791 points ) January 31st, 2012

Is vegetarianism a form of perceived moral superiority?
Do you think most vegetarians think they have higher morals than the average meat-eater?

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40 Answers

DrBill's avatar

They are not superior or inferior, just of a different opinion.

King_Pariah's avatar

Is vegetarianism a form of perceived moral superiority?
No, it’s merely a diet choice

Do you think most vegetarians think they have higher morals than the average meat-eater?
No, but for those who do, that’s pretty arrogant.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Another great question here.

No. You are talking about diet.

Kardamom's avatar

I’m a vegetarian and I don’t think I’m morally superior to anyone. I’m just doing the best I can (trying to do the least harm) for what seems right for me and for the animals.

I know that this subject is not black and white and I never try to convert meat eaters. Pretty much everyone around me (except for my best friend and one other close friend and a couple of co-workers) eat meat. I try to keep my opinions and my reasons for being a vegetarian quiet and private, although I will discuss it with people if they ask and seem genuine and polite. In some circumstances, I just say, “I just have a different outlook on life and my diet reflects that.” And leave it alone.

For me it was the right choice, I know that for most people they probably don’t give it much thought, because most people, at least in this country, grew up eating meat (as did I) and it simply isn’t something that is in the front of their mind every day (as it is for me). And that’s OK.

jonsblond's avatar

I do know a few who like to tell meat-eaters how wrong they are for eating meat. I wouldn’t say most feel morally superior, but definitely some do.

mangeons's avatar

They’re not “morally superior”, they just have a different mindset and different values. I don’t think most vegetarians think they are superior, but those who do need to adjust their thinking.

nikipedia's avatar

This one sure is.

Keep_on_running's avatar

I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t think so. People are vegetarians for all different reasons.

DominicX's avatar

I don’t know about most vegetarians, but I certainly have met vegetarians who believe they have taken the morally superior path and would like to see everyone do so. (Gee, how often do we come across something like that in society?)

Keep_on_running's avatar

@DominicX Exactly, you could say that about anyone with a belief of any kind.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Of course not. In fact they are somewhat intellectually dumber, in that the human body was optimized for the intake of meat (and its mineral and vitamins) and by depriving themselves of those vitamins, vegetarians are actually contributing to weakness and an early demise.

But if they want to think they are morally superior, let them. It’s harmless.

Soupy's avatar

This will be an unpopular opinion judging by the answers already here, but I feel that a person has to be pretty morally bankrupt to knowingly pay for animal cruelty. I don’t think that I am a more morally upstanding person than a non-vegetarian, as I make immoral choices in other areas. However I feel that in this area I am making the morally sound choice by choosing not to cause unnecessary animal suffering.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Soupy I don’t pay for animal cruelty. I buy meat (and eggs, and dairy) from cruelty-free farms. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be humane, and plenty of vegetarians overlook the cruelty involved in the cheap eggs and dairy they consume.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Obviously I’m superior to all you lowly folk, but it has nothing to do with my being a vegetarian.~

SavoirFaire's avatar

@KatawaGrey Well, we already knew that.

@nikipedia The contrast class is important, though. I take it as obvious that a vegetarian diet will be healthier than the average American diet. Raw sewage is better for you than some of the things that Americans eat. That said, reading the statistics from the ischemic heart disease study suggest that reducing one’s meat consumption confers almost the same level of benefit as vegetarianism (20% reduction in risk, as opposed to 24%), and that eating fish confers a still greater benefit (34% reduction in risk, as opposed to 24%). I’m not saying that vegetarianism is bad—indeed, I am happy to agree that @elbanditoroso‘s comment is far too hasty—but the reality appears to be more complex than “vegetarianism good, eating meat bad.”

Soupy's avatar

@SavoirFaire “Cruelty free” is often not cruelty free at all, most cruelty free egg farms I know still result in the premature deaths of thousands of chickens. Cruelty free dairy often still means that calves will be deprived and/or slaughtered. I don’t really think there is any such thing as cruelty free meat. You can’t kill a healthy cow without cruelty any more than you can kill a healthy human without cruelty.

And yes, vegetarians usually contribute to cruelty in other ways, usually by purchasing eggs, milk, and products with sneaky animal ingredients. They’re also probably just as likely to buy products which exploit marginalised groups of people. This is why I don’t think it’s accurate to say that vegetarians are morally superior. The decision not to pay for animal cruelty is the more moral decision, however making this decision does not exempt a person from all the other morally dubious things they most likely do all the time.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Soupy How do you define “premature death” with regard to a creature that wouldn’t even exist were it not for farming? Regardless, premature death is not cruelty. Cruelty—by definition—requires callous disregard for suffering. The mere fact of death and/or pain is insufficient to call something “cruel.” Moreover, it is perfectly possible to kill a healthy human without cruelty. A pill that puts you to sleep and then stops your heart such that your death is painless, for instance, would do exactly that.

King_Pariah's avatar

Amusing thing is though if everyone went vegetarian, we’d have to kill a ton of livestock to maintain balance in the ecosystem. And I consider that a terrible waste of beef, bacon, lamb, and eggs.

AstroChuck's avatar

Yes, we are.

Soupy's avatar

@SavoirFaire I used the phrase “premature death” because people tend to get angry when confronted with the details of how these animals die. I was trying to be polite. I could have instead said that cruelty-free egg farms result in the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of male chickens by gassing, being forced into a grinder while still alive, electrocution or neck-breaking. I don’t think we you can justify that by saying that chickens wouldn’t exist without farming. The fact that we created these animals in their present form doesn’t give you the right to have them mistreated so you can have eggs. If that isn’t callous disregard for suffering I don’t know what is.

Try as we might, we can’t ignore the fact that current practices for obtaining meat, eggs and dairy are ethically unsound. If choosing between eating and not eating these products, the latter is the morally superior choice.

augustlan's avatar

I’m not a vegetarian, but I do think they have made a more moral choice of diet than I have. That doesn’t mean they are morally superior all together, though. But in that one area, I think they are. If I were a stronger person who could walk away from the tasty bacon, I’d be a vegan.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Which Q are you asking? The original one or the one in the details? They are quite different. The original (in bold) one answer is: no.
The detail one: sometimes, yes.

jazmina88's avatar

I think if you feel better about a healthier lifestyle, you would seem giddy with morality.

thorninmud's avatar

To be moral is to make choices that minimize the amount of “collateral damage” one inflicts on the world as one goes about the business of living. This requires, of course, that you first care about the effects of your choices on others. It then requires that you inform yourself about the relevant facts. It then requires that you bring your behavior in line with your understanding, even if that understanding conflicts with your preferences.

I think that it’s possible to fill all of the above mandates and still eat meat. The world is cmoplicated. I can’t assume that someone who eats meat hasn’t done due moral diligence. My moral process led me to a different conclusion, and so that’s the one that I’m morally obliged to observe.

Leanne1986's avatar

I know people that act like they are superior because they have chosen to be vegetarian or vegan but I tend to take it with a pinch of salt. I don’t think they are superior. I do agree with @augustlan though, I have tried to cut meat out of my diet completely but my will power is not strong enough. I don’t buy or eat much meat at all but I can’t resist a good steak and chips every so often!

Qingu's avatar

All other things being equal, yes. This one is a no-brainer to me. A vegetarian diet almost invariably causes significantly less suffering than a meat-eating diet.

I’m not a vegetarian, by the way. I do wish society afforded vegetarians and vegans more respect, and I think it’s creepy and pathetic how defensive many meat-eaters get when confronted with variants of this question.

Qingu's avatar

Wow, some of these responses.

“Vegetarians aren’t morally superior because they still cause some suffering”? Yes, everyone causes some suffering by virtue of being alive. However, it’s pretty indisputable that vegetarians cause less suffering than meat-eaters. Similarly, vegans cause less suffering than vegetarians (milk and eggs do contribute). People who buy organic milk and eggs cause less suffering than people who don’t.

You may not be able to exactly quantify the degree of suffering your actions cause, but I think it’s pretty obvious that repeatedly purchasing meat from animals who are tortured their entire lives in factory farms probably rounds up to less suffering than, you know, not doing that.

I find this line of reasoning similar to arguing that we might as well use nuclear bombs in warfare because smart bombs still kill civilians anyway.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Soupy If you alter your wording in such a way as to make your argument nonsensical, in what way will that help you defend your position? I recommend not saying anything other than what you mean. I also recommend noting which points relate to which conclusions. I never said that we can justify cruelty by way of noting that an animal would not exist were it not for farming. What I said is that the term “premature death” is nonsensical in the context of something raised to die at a certain age. These are different points, and the difference is important.

Back on topic, though, I am well aware of the different ways in which animals may be killed. My grandfather was a farmer and one of the pioneers of ethical farming. I am very careful in which eggs I buy. I do not just accept that something is cruelty-free because the packaging says so. I have even gone so far as to visit the places from which my food is delivered to make sure that they conform to my definition of humane treatment. I often buy from people I know personally for this very reason. I know their practices, and I am comfortable with them. They don’t do anything I couldn’t do with my own hands.

Perhaps you do not have these options, or perhaps you are simply ignorant of them. Your circumstances are not mine, however, and thus it would behoove you to understand where I’m at before making unwarranted judgments.

@Qingu Suffering may be morally relevant, but that does not make it the only morally relevant thing. Indeed, this is a rather sweeping and controversial moral assumption to which many people seem to think they can just help themselves.

Soupy's avatar

@SavoirFaire The wording didn’t make my argument nonsensical. I’d say premature death is still unacceptable for farm animals. The fact that we created them doesn’t give us the right to end their lives. That’s like saying a parent has the right to decide when their child dies. Farm animals being “raised to die at a certain age” doesn’t make premature death acceptable. If my dog’s natural lifespan is 8–10 years, but I raise dogs to die at 5 years, does that justify giving my dog a life so physically demanding that he dies when he’s 5?

“Ethical farming” is an oxymoron. Exploiting an animal life for money and non-essential products can never be ethical. It’s great that you visit farms to make sure the products are to your standard, and that nothing is done that you couldn’t do yourself. However this doesn’t change the fact that animals suffer for your lifestyle. They suffer pain and are killed for your non-essential items. You can justify this in your own mind however you choose, but regardless, the decision to cause less death and less suffering will always be the more ethical choice.

Leanne1986's avatar

@Qingu You reminded me of something my boyfriend said recently about a woman I know who spends a lot of time on Facebook posting about how everyone should be vegan because it is cruelty free etc etc. He said that the mere fact that she is using a computer to spread her beliefs around probably means that she has contributed to cruelty somewhere in the world. I’m not saying that she isn’t right in her beliefs about her diet but it proves your point that by being alive we cause some kind of suffering somewhere.

I also should note that neither my boyfriend or I know where she got her computer from or where it was made, it may have been a completely cruelty free purchase but his point was more about the fact that we can’t always avoid doing/buying things that contribute to cruelty whether it is child labour or animal products from unethical farms.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Leanne1986 : I have a facebook friend that does that as well. She is young, and very sweet, but has not educated herself about the big picture and it makes me nuts. She has no awareness of the concept of sustainable food production, the damage that extensive mono-crop farming can do, etc etc. I know she drives, uses a computer, and I’m pretty damned sure she doesn’t realize that food and cosmetics are not the only products that might involve animal cruelty.

Qingu's avatar

@Leanne1986, I think I’ve answered that argument.

First of all, in my first comment, I said “all other things being equal.” That’s important. Being a vegetarian doesn’t automatically make you a better person than a meat-eater. For example, Hitler was said to be a vegetarian. That may have won him a few moral points to be sure, but multiple genocides and warmongering put him well into the negative territory on that scale. All I’ve argued is that if two people lived the exact same lifestyles—same social views and actions, same computers and other products—but one of them didn’t eat meat, that one would be the better person.

Secondly, I think it’s extremely disingenuous, when confronted with the fact that your actions cause suffering, to point to some other actions that also cause suffering. So? Computers are manufactured under extremely bad conditions. What on earth does this have to do with whether or not it’s moral to eat meat, particularly factory-farm raised meat? Does the fact that I’m using a computer assembled by Foxconn laborers working long hours in often dangerous conditions somehow mean that it’s okay to torture animals for their whole lives?

@SavoirFaire, I agree that suffering is not the only morally relevant thing, but in the case of livestock I think it’s the elephant in the room. We can quibble on the margins, but I think it’s hard to contest that factory-farmed meat directly causes an almost unimaginable degree of suffering to sentient beings.

Qingu's avatar

I guess I should say this, too. I agree that we all contribute to some degree of suffering, inevitably. That’s part of being alive. But we don’t all contribute to an equal degree of suffering. And many people really do try to minimize the suffering caused by their actions, often at significant sacrifice to themselves and their desires.

Vegetarians and vegans are examples of this. There are certainly other examples in other areas of consumption. But this question is about vegetarians. And I hate how so many people try to rationalize their efforts away and pretend that it’s all a moral wash. It’s not.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Soupy You need to get your story straight. I asked you a question about your terminology, whereupon you dodged the question by claiming that you purposefully used incorrect terminology to avoid angering anybody. I then noted that this kind of tactic is argumentatively unsound (not mentioning that it is also disrespectful), and you responded by retroactively endorsing the wording you had previously repudiated without answering the original question I had asked. You then followed this up by repeating claims to which I had already responded without adding any new argumentation. You’ll have to excuse me for not being impressed.

So here is the question again: how are we to define “premature death” with regard to a creature that wouldn’t even exist were it not for farming? If the only real options are “don’t exist” or “exist for three years,” it seems rather infelicitous to call death after three years “premature.” I’m not saying there is no way of solving the problem, but it is one that needs to be addressed before that part of your claim can be properly assessed.

Note, however, that none of what I’ve said entails that creating an animal gives us a right to end its life. While I appreciate that you have a rhetorical reason to keep flogging this slogan, it does not connect to anything I’ve argued. As such, I recommend dropping it if you’d like your argument to be taken seriously by anyone other than those gullible to rhetoric. Now, maybe it’s not your intent to put forth a serious argument. Maybe you mean to be saying illogical things that sound good in the hopes of suckering fools. I choose to assume otherwise, however, thus I ask that you give rational arguments instead.

As for “ethical farming” being an oxymoron, your case is far too short. First of all, ethical farming need not involve any animals whatsoever. We can reinterpret your claim, however, as saying that there can be no ethical farming where animals are involved. Unfortunately, you have not really supported this claim. All you’ve given are assertions without evidence. Animals suffer for my non-essential needs? Perhaps. But do you wear clothes? Humans suffer for those. Even if they have decent work conditions, I don’t know anyone sewing shirts together who would do it if they weren’t being paid. Suffering is part of life. Is it bad? Perhaps. Does that make it morally wrong? No. You assert that less death and less suffering are bad, but I disagree. Defend your premises or abandon them.

@Qingu None of my meat comes from factory farms, nor am I defending factory farms. I am making rather specific claims. I disagree with the contention that being a vegetarian gets us a few moral points, however, for two reasons. First, I do not think that morality is quantifiable in this way. Second, I believe that juridical notions of morality in general seem to quite miss the point. Morality is not about constraints on behavior except derivatively. At its most fundamental, ethics is about how to live a good life.

Qingu's avatar

@SavoirFaire, you don’t think causing suffering to other beings has anything to do with how to live a good life?

If you wanted to argue that eating pasture-raised meat does not contribute to suffering, that would be one thing. I think there is a case to be made there, but I agree with the vegetarian sentiment that there is still a risk involved. But this doesn’t seem to be your argument.

How would you quantify morality?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Qingu I do think that not causing suffering to other beings is relevant to living a good life. I don’t believe it can be cashed out in terms of “morality points.” This is because I would not quantify morality. I don’t think it’s a quantitative affair.

As for eating pasture-raised meat, I would say that it diminishes suffering. I would not say that it does not contribute to suffering, however, as merely being alive contributes to suffering. Moreover: if there can be an end to suffering, I doubt it can be done from the outside. Thus life involves some ineliminable amount of suffering for all with the possible exception of a small number of creatures who may be able to alter themselves from the inside in such a way as to overcome it thanks to their cognitive capacities. Eliminating all suffering, then, would mean eliminating all life in the universe (which I do not support). Moreover, I am not convinced that suffering is necessarily so bad as to make it always unjustifiable (it may even be good for humans in some cases, and a humane death is better for most animals than what they could have expected in the wild).

None of this is to suggest that humans are not capable of making things much worse for animals than they might otherwise have been. I think our capacities for causing destruction and harm are well established. What I do not accept is any “one drop” theory of ethics wherein the slightest imperfection makes something wrong. Indeed, right/wrong and good/bad may be outmoded concepts that only make sense under a juridical notion of ethics. As Elizabeth Anscombe once suggested, things would be a lot more straightforward if we focused on saying exactly what is supposed to be “wrong” or “bad” in any given case (is the problem dishonesty? injustice? cruelty? these things may be addressed more directly than vague accusations of wrongness or badness).

Leanne1986's avatar

@Qingu my post was not meant to be read into so deeply. Your post just reminded me of a conversation and how you can’t please everyone. That’s all.

AstroChuck's avatar

@Qingu- Adolf Hitler was not a vegetarian. Truth is Hitler suffered from severe flatulence and his doctors advised him to adopt a vegetarian diet on a part time basis to calm his attacks of gas. This has led to the urban legend of Hitler’s vegetarianism. Truth is not only did Hitler often talk about his love for Bavarian sausages and stuffed pigeon, he was regularly given injections of a protein serum which was made from bull testicles.

Shinimegami's avatar

PeTA try tell everyone vegans morally superior, gullible people believe these swindlers. Proper diet not moral concern, humans omnivores, immoral tell lies of that. Bernard Goldberg say PeTA boss Ingrid Newkirk is “moral monstrosity”, is quite true.

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