Is Vegetarianism Bad for Animals?

The replaceability argument — strengths and weaknesses

Ed Noble
Thoughts And Ideas

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Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash

Upon the emergence of utilitarianism in philosophy, an intriguing argument arose concerning the ethics of meat-eating, now known as the replaceability argument (or sometimes the ‘logic of the larder’). The argument asserts that consuming non-human animal products is ultimately beneficial for animals because if they were not consumed, fewer animals would be brought into existence.

Utilitarianism does not categorically permit or forbid specific actions. Whether an action is right or wrong depends solely on its consequences in terms of welfare. An action can be said to be morally right if it maximises aggregative welfare. Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher who founded modern utilitarianism, supported a version of the replaceability argument. He claimed that painlessly killing an animal is beneficial overall as the animal does not suffer and consumers of meat are better off.

This is not exactly how the original proponents of the argument laid it out. In 1895 the Scottish philosopher David George Ritchie stated: “If all the world were Jews, it has been well said, there would be no pigs in existence; and if all the world were vegetarians, would there be any sheep or cattle, well cared for and guarded against starvation?” Leslie Stephen also endorsed this…

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Ed Noble
Thoughts And Ideas

I write about philosophy, psychology and ethics. I live and work in London, having previously studied physics. Started writing in lockdown.