Saturday, May 21, 2011

Analogy Argument: On "Puppies, Pigs, and People"

If puppies were treated to factory farm conditions, hopefully people would erupt with outrage. Alastair Norcross makes an argument along these lines in his paper “Puppies, Pigs, and People”. In it he outlines a scenario in which an unfortunate chocolate lover, Fred, can now no longer enjoy chocolate due to a traumatic brain injury. Luckily Fred discovers that puppy’s brains contain cocoamone, a chemical which he needs in order to experience the joy of chocolate once more. However puppies brains only excrete this chemical while under sever stress and suffering. So Fred promptly mutilates the puppies and places them in stress-inducing cages for about 26 weeks. After those 26 weeks they are slaughtered. In Norcross’s scenario, Fred is caught and goes to court. He explains that his life “would be unacceptably impoverished without chocolate.”

Clearly Fred’s justification is not convincing or at all morally satisfying. Human pleasure does not make the suffering of puppies morally acceptable. Yet as Norcross says, “No decent person would even contemplate returning puppies merely to enhance gustatory pleasure. However, billions of animals endure intense suffering every year for precisely this end. Most of the chicken, veal, beef, and pork consumed in the US comes from intensive confinement facilities, in which the animals live cramped, stress-filled lives and endure unanaesthetized mutilations.” The majority of meat eaters who support this system would be healthy, if not healthier by adopting a different diet. He continues, “If we are prepared to condemn Fred for torturing puppies merely to enhance his gustatory experiences, shouldn’t we similarly condemn the millions who purchase and consume factory raised meat?”

This then is Norcross argument modus ponens:
   1. If it’s wrong to torture puppies for gustatory pleasure, it’s wrong to support factory farming.
   2. It is wrong to torture puppies for gustatory pleasure.
   3. Therefore it’s wrong to support factory farming.

However as he notes this argument can also be treated modus tollens:
   1. If it’s wrong to torture puppies for gustatory pleasure, it’s wrong to support factory farming.
   2. It’s not wrong to support factory farming.
   3. Therefore it’s not wrong to torture puppies for gustatory pleasure.

To avoid this consequence Norcross then argues from the problem of marginal cases. This, well known argument attempts to show that animals have a moral relevant status as moral patients in a similar way that certain humans are moral patients but not moral agents. Some people believe that because animals are not rational they are not morally relevant. Since they cannot engage in moral activities therefore (?) it follows that they have no moral status. But human animals do not apply the same standards to infants or the mentally handicapped. Norcross puts the point nicely, “That animals can’t be moral agents does not seem relevant to their status as moral patients.” I think he is fundamentally correct in this, thus the modus ponens argument succeeds and eating factory farmed meat is morally wrong. Of course there are other objections against this argument, but as far as I know none are slightly convincing.

Perhaps we can make a similar argument against eating meat in general. Picture the same scenario, except imagine that the puppies are treated decently well. They live fairly good, short lives, after a period of a few years they are slaughtered for the rich cocoamone in their brains. I think this scenario would make most people feel quite uncomfortable. Thus we have the argument:

1a. If it’s wrong to raise and slaughter puppies as “free-range” and slaughter them, it is wrong to support      other “free-range” enterprises.
2a. It’s wrong to raise and slaughter puppies as “free-range.”
3a. Thus it is wrong to support other “free-range” enterprises.

I do not think that this argument is as successful as the previous one against factory farming. I think most people agree with premise 1 of the previous argument, but 1a is more controversial. The immediate retort is that people do raise and eat dogs in this manner in different parts of the world. If premise 1a is denied the discussion will either fall back on other arguments against eating meat or spark debate on whether objective moral values exist or not. For these reasons this second argument is probably only useful in an instrumental or introductory sense only. What are your intuitions about this case?


  1. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your interest. I would very much like to do another series of posts on nonhuman animal ethics, however I don't know when I will get around to it.