Tag Archives: Applied Ethics

Peter Singer at BU

For those of you who missed Peter Singer’s presentation. Enjoy!

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Catholicism and the Vegetarian Life

Catholicism and vegetarianism. Not two words that many believe can be connected and until I became both more involved my faith and more aware of the issues surrounding vegetarianism, I also thought that the two ideologies had no connection. I hope in this blog post to show you why I believe Catholics in particular, should consider switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. For the sake of this post I will use the words vegetarian/vegetarianism to refer to both vegetarian and vegan diets.

After researching vegetarianism, it is clear that it is a better diet for the environment, it is arguably the most ethical diet, and it is a diet that can promote better health. When examining each of these areas, it is easy to see how a vegetarian diet is a way to live out Catholic values.

Environment: The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) names as one of the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching “Care for God’s Creation”. Also, in Genesis, God gives humanity the responsibility of caring for the Earth and all of its creatures. So, even in our modern world, we are called to protect the planet, and take steps to ensure that our lifestyle respects God’s creation. Vegetarianism is one of the ways that Catholics can ensure they are acting as stewards of creation.

Ethics: God told Adam “I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat” (Genesis 1: 29). God has provided humans with plant-based foods for humans to consume and thrive on. While the Catechism does say we are permitted to eat meat, it also says that animals must be treated humanely to the furthest extent possible. The current abusive factory farming system in place for meat production is a misuse of the responsibility God gave us to care for animals, so Catholics can avoid contributing to this inhumane system by not consuming meat.

Health: In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul says “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Because of this, we must care for our bodies with exercise and a clean diet. With vegetarianism, I know that I am providing my body with pure food, given to me by God, that will help me to thrive to the fullest of my potential.

Social Justice: In a broader sense, vegetarianism can also promote social justice to humans in addition to the kindness it shows animals. Much of the land used to grow feed (grain or soy) for the animals in the factory farming system could instead be used to grow food for the poor and hungry in our world. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus calls his followers to care for those in our society who are unable to provide for themselves. By switching to a vegetarian diet, we can help promote fair use of land to grow crops for those living in poverty, rather than to feed the billions of animals part of the factory farming system.

Especially in this Lenten season, when we are called to live in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable and sacrifice our own desires, adopting a vegetarian diet can be a stepping stone to a more compassionate lifestyle. The small sacrifice of giving up meat makes a tremendous difference and can give us the strength we need to live Christ-centered lives.

In closing, I highly recommend that everyone consider a vegetarian lifestyle, regardless of faith background, but especially for Catholics and Christians as a way to help live out the teachings of the Gospel. I will be praying for everyone who reads this post and if you want to chat more about Catholicism or vegetarianism, feel free to email me at spiersa@bu.edu! God Bless!

Susan is a sophomore in the Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences program at Sargent College. She has been a vegetarian for almost four years.

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Sikhism: A Life of Truth and Compassion

On Wednesday the 29th, the Sikh Association at BU put on an event in remembrance of the 1984 genocide against the Sikhs. It was an emotional night for me. Sikhism has played a huge role in my life – both the absence of it and the presence of it in my daily life have equally shaped me. I was particularly reflective that night because of the continued mentioning of the value of the Sikh turban throughout the event. Sikhs (mostly men, but also some women) wear turbans as a physical signature of their identity – it is a way for us not to shirk away from our duties, to be proud of who we are and to show that to the entire world. It is a way for people to recognize us, so if someone is ever in need, they can decipher a Sikh and know they will go out of their way to help.

When I was in high school, my hair was shoulder length and all the colors of the rainbow. Eventually I started growing my hair out, and now it’s back to its full length and I wear my kara – a bracelet on my dominant arm, which reminds me to act with righteousness and to do good deeds. Last night reiterated to me the value in standing for something, but not just doing so privately. I will always maintain it is better to exude with pride what it is you stand for than to keep your convictions living inward, where it cannot radiate outward and inspire others.

Arguably, my more visibly punk exterior from the past was a way of displaying my convictions, and should not be seen as being of lesser value than my current manner of presentation, but I take pride in the way I look these days because I have evolved to see how my faith has shaped my current ideologies and practices in ways I once did not realize.

Immediately following 9/11, my mother and I put pamphlets about Sikhism in our neighbors’ mailboxes, wrote articles for the local newspaper, gave public service announcements and talks at schools and on the radio, and overall worked tirelessly to prevent the hate and discrimination that was being targeted toward my community. Sikhs were being murdered – innocent family men who happened to wear a turban as an article of faith were being beaten, taunted, and even killed. I remember when I was nine and helping my mom distribute literature at the supermarket, my mother asked a woman “Do you know about the Sikhs?” The lady responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I just moved here from Pennsylvania.”

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Ignorance is a disease in which we all have our own ways to quell its spread, and there is still much to be done.

My mom’s work is still ongoing, and it’s proven necessary in light of the Oak Creek shootings in August. A large portion of my fuel to fight my fight, is drawn from the brutality I see against beautiful animals whose chances to live a fulfilling life are cut terribly short; but, the underlying motivation to be aware of the fight to begin with comes largely from my faith.

https://i2.wp.com/i50.tinypic.com/2hp639y.jpgAll Sikh temples, called gurudwaras, offer a free meal which all people of all walks of life are encouraged to enjoy. The meal, called langar (meaning “anchor,” for we all sit on the floor to eat it as equals), is always vegetarian. Two of Sikhism’s biggest truths are to share what you have with others and to live a life of truth (the third is to meditate) – and in my case, I try to share the privilege of a good quality of life to animals who are denied sunlight, safety, food, water, comfort, company of family, and the right to deliberately secure what they want as a product of their impressive volitional capacities.

I think all Sikhs should be vegetarian or vegan for a number of reasons. Sikhism’s gurus– or teachers – are the only religious leaders to fight and die for the protection of otherfaiths; Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs, was martyred for Hinduism as well as Sikhism during a time when India’s Mughal rule was attempting to impose Islam on all people. Therefore, inherent in Sikhism is the necessity of dismissing the all too prevalent concept of “otherness.” During a time when women would be burned alive upon the death of their husbands, Sikhs spoke out against the disgusting notion that a woman was nothing without a man in her life, showing the revolutionary focus on 100% equality more than 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, our first guru, was born into a Hindu family but rejected the caste system practiced by the predominant religion of the time. His fundamental appreciation for the equality of all was resounding, eventually leading to the Sikh way of life. Living a life of truth, a staple of Sikhism, involves introspecting upon the role we play in society, our relationship with ourself and our world, and evaluating whether our deeds are as pure and positive as thy can be. Our relationship to animals is a paramount issue worth reflecting upon, as many neglect this aspect of our lives despite the magnitude of its consequences.

Sikhism’s progressive nature, fiercely egalitarian platform, and rejection of hierarchy – when extended to their logical conclusion – ideally would lead to the realization by self-identified Sikhs that non-human animals should not be seen by us as commodities with instrumental value, but as companions, placed here by God, to be respected for having inherent value.

By Gunita Singh

Gunita Singh is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. She can be reached via email at breakfastclubsandwich@gmail.com.

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An Introduction to Speciesism and Why it is Wrong

The vast majority of people within a commercial and consumer food economy don’t think about the source of their food. In industrial society, food is experienced as a product: a few flashy images, a commercial jingle, and the flavor in their mouths. In this system, we see certain kinds of nonhuman animals exclusively as food. In America we kill and eat 10 billion “food” animals a year. The majority of these animals spend their lives in massive industrial operations called factory farms, where they are raised in grisly conditions. Some are purposefully kept hungry, none are given sufficient nutrition, and all babies are separated from their mothers. Through our system of food production and consumption, we are collectively oppressing nonhuman animals. How is it that we see this happening around us and allow it to continue… yet when humans are subjected to similar conditions, we are horrified beyond measure? If we are to follow a consistent system of ethics, there would seem to be no reason to inflict vast suffering simply because those who suffer are not human. This disparity in the valuation of human and nonhuman animal life is known as speciesism. In his book Animal Liberation, Peter Singer makes a strong case against this long-standing and institutionalized oppression ofnonhuman animals by humans. His argument can be summarized as follows: Suffering is bad, and thus inflicting suffering with no outweighing benefit is immoral. Humans inflict suffering on nonhuman animals with no outweighing moral benefit in the vast majority of cases. Therefore, the human treatment of nonhuman animals in the vast majority of cases is immoral.

Some argue that because animals are raised in factory farms, they don’t know any other life and therefore don’t suffer. We know from our own experience that this is not true. Many humans have only known suffering, and we recognize and grieve their suffering. Just because someone doesn’t know anything else doesn’t make his or her experience less real. The only animal for which we have detailed knowledge of suffering–ourselves–makes it clear that suffering is not purely relative. If we look closely at the living conditions and behavior of “food” animals, a strong case can be made for their suffering. For example, hens are shoved into overcrowded cages, usually in complete darkness, with no room to stretch their wings, let alone sit comfortably. After visiting an egg farmTexas naturalist Roy Bedicheck said, “To me they seem unhappy.” One might object that calling them “unhappy” is simply a projection of human emotions. We don’t know what their experiences are like, and so we don’t actually know they are unhappy. However, we can observe their behavior and make inferences. For example, in the cramped cages, it is impossible for hens to build a nest and lay eggs in private. This creates much distress for the hen, who “tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow-cage mates, to search there in vain for cover.” Hens’ instinct to lay eggs in privacy has been indicated by a study in which the hens worked just as hard to reach a nesting box as they did to reach food. In another study, they were released from their cages into a yard with straw, and they immediately started to build nests– “even after more than a year spent in a bare metal cage” (115). Furthermore, in their natural state, hens don’t turn to cannibalism; in the overcrowded cages, cannibalism is common. By seeing these behavioral differences, we know something is wrong. To say they are in pain is not a projection of human emotion. Rather, we’re looking at behaviors, and their behaviors are clearly suggestive of stress and pain.

In egg farms, around 6 to 7 chickens are crammed together inside a cage.

As a solution to factory farming, Singer advocates vegetarianism, or a meatless diet. At the time he wrote Animal Liberation, vegetarianism was largely unheard of. It is much more widely practiced today, even though the majority of people maintain that eating meat is natural. But how does one define natural? Trying to make sense of what is natural is almost impossible. Some say that if we’ve done something for centuries, then it’s natural. This, however, is a naturalistic fallacy, meaning that they are taking a descriptive claim about how things are and making a normative claim about how things should be. The same argument could be made for any atrocity that we practiced for centuries yet condemn today, such as slavery. Humans have owned slaves for centuries, yet at no point has this been “natural.” Even if we could prove that meat eating is natural, it does not follow that factory farms are natural. My earlier examples of the hens show just how unnatural the conditions for food animals are. They are taken out of their state in nature and shoved into a system that thwarts their natural instincts. Even if meat-eating itself is “natural,” the conditions that produce meat in a factory farm are not.

By now the majority of mainstream society is aware of the atrocities of factory farming. Yet most of us don’t do anything about it. We tend to find a way to justify it, usually with faulty logic, or we ignore it completely. Many of us continue to eat meat “without pausing for an instant to think that they are eating the dead body of a once living creature, or to ask what was done to that creature in order to enable them to buy and eat its body” (105). This is largely due to the fact that in consumer society, when something, or someone, is turned into a commodity, we become separated from its value, whether that is the labor time of the worker or the moral status of the living being. Through the system of exchange, living beings lose their moral status as they are turned into commodities whose value is based solely on the benefits we receive from them. Singer writes, “The unchallenged assumption is that humans may use animals for their own purposes” (145). This is how speciesism becomes institutionalized. We are socialized to view species as consumable, which blinds us to the possibility that they are sentient beings with their own interests. Our food system warps us into speciesists.

Some have justified the subordination of nonhuman animals by arguing that our capacity for reasoning makes us more intelligent than nonhuman animals, and thus nonhuman animals are not deserving of equal moral status. Yet the same kind of justification pops up when structural prejudices give rise to widespread oppression. White colonists believed Native Americans were less intelligent and so exploited and killed them for their land. American capitalism was built on the backs of enslaved Africans who were considered “private property” and also believed to be intellectually inferior. Women, too, have been oppressed by the belief that they are intellectually inferior to men. Today most of us agree that these prejudices are both immoral and groundless. So Singer asks us, “If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purposes” (6)? Some might be offended by the comparison of the suffering of animals to that of indigenous people, Blacks, and women (or any oppressed group). However, In The Dreaded Comparison, Spiegel notes that this “is offensive only to the speciesist… To deny our similarity to animals is to continue struggling to prove to our masters… that we are similar to those who have abused us, rather than to our fellow victims, those whom our masters have also victimized” (15). He is not implying that the oppressions of humans and that of nonhuman animals are identical, but rather that they share the same basic relationship– that between oppressor and oppressed. Whether it is sexism, racism, classism, transphobia, or speciesism– all forms of prejudice seem to stem from a worldview that leaves out the interests of some other beings.

In the Elements of Moral Philosophy, James Rachels asserts that the minimum conception of morality is an effort to follow reason while treating each being equally. Thus morality requires impartial consideration of each individual’s interests (6). With this view, our moral sphere must include any individual with interests. Most people, as speciesists, do not believe nonhuman animals have interests. But what does “having interests” entail? At the very least, if an individual has the capacity to suffer, then that individual has an interest in not suffering. Singer writes, “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration” (8). If a nonhuman animal can suffer, which we have shown that it can, then its species membership is morally irrelevant. And if we don’t want to base our discriminations on morally irrelevant categories, then we shouldn’t discriminate based on species. Therefore we need to give equal consideration to the similar interests of human and nonhuman animals. It is important to note that equal consideration does not necessarily mean equal treatment. For instance, although all humans should have the right to freedom of religion, this wouldn’t make much sense for groups of other species. However, it is imperative that we stop viewing animals as consumable commodities, and start viewing them as sentient beings with whom we share the planet, and who have their own purpose. We are collectively witnessing a massacre in our own backyards, and we have a moral obligation to put a stop to it.  

By KC Mackey

K.C. Mackey is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying philosophy and religion. She can be reached via email at kcm2188@gmail.com.

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