I have read, as suggested by Animal Ethics, Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat".
This is what it made me think.
Often, when one argues for vegetarianism, one hears a reply by somebody who claims s/he has no duty to be vegetarian because ‘plants feel pain too’. Therefore, so the claim goes, since we must eat something and anything we may eat was alive and sentient, we may as well eat whatever we like.
When we demonstrate to the person who made that claim that s/he is actually causing the death of, on average, 10 times as many plants by eating meat as s/he would if vegetarian, due to the waste of nutrients along the food chain, what happens? Does that person realize that, in virtue of the claim that himself/herself has made, s/he should, if consistent, become vegetarian?
What does all this tell you?
It tells you that the alleged reason for continuing meat-eating (in this case sentience of plants) was not a reason at all, but rather an excuse that that person, albeit misguidedly and naively, found convenient for the purpose.
When I read Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat", I was reminded of that type of occurrence.
As Engels himself at one point admits, philosophers who reject the ethical argument for vegetarianism are relying on excuses, not reasons.
All of which begs the question: what is the point of trying to convince them by re-formulating the argument in a different way?
His argument, with his stress on avoiding unnecessary suffering, on performing calculations balancing pleasure and pain of all involved, and on animals' sentient nature, seems to me a re-formulation of the utilitarian argument.
His quotation from the philosopher Bonnie Steinbock in her Speciesism And The Idea Of Equality is particularly interesting. In that paper she writes:
‘I doubt that anyone will be able to come up with a concrete and morally relevant difference that would justify, say, using a chimpanzee in an experiment rather than a human being with less capacity for reasoning, moral responsibility, etc. Should we then experiment on the severely retarded? Utilitarian considerations aside (the difficulty of comparing intelligence between species, for example), we feel a special obligation to care for the handicapped members of our own species, who cannot survive in this world without such care. Nonhuman animals manage very well, despite their "lower intelligence" and lesser capacities; most of them do not require special care from us. This does not, of course, justify experimenting on them. However, to subject to experimentation those people who depend on us seems even worse than subjecting members of other species to it. In addition, when we consider the severely retarded, we think, "That could be me." It makes sense to think that one might have been born retarded, but not to think that one might have been born a monkey. And so, although one can imagine oneself in the monkey's place, one feels a closer identification with the severely retarded human being. Here we are getting away from such things as "morally relevant differences" and are talking about something much more difficult to articulate, namely, the role of feelings and sentiment in moral thinking.’
Funny. I thought that the role of philosophy, since the time of Socratic dialogue, was to challenge what we feel to be true and analyze if it stands up to the scrutiny of reason and logic, and not to use our feelings as the basis of our theories.