AFFIRMATIVE: I'm a Vegetarian and You Should Be, Too
WORLDWIDE EACH YEAR, human beings torture and kill approximately 56 billion animals for our gastronomic pleasure. Two years of factory farming slaughters more animals than the total number of human beings who have ever existed on the earth.
I believe meat consumption is, in almost all actual cases, morally wrong. My basic reasoning is simple and obvious: (1) pain and suffering in itself is generally bad; (2) it is wrong to cause an enormous amount of bad for the sake of relatively minor benefits for oneself; (3) human meat consumption causes enormous pain and suffering for the sake of relatively minor benefits for us; therefore, (4) human meat consumption is, on the face of it, wrong. This strikes me as about as difficult as the case against torturing babies.
Why do I say only that it's wrong in "almost" all cases? Well, there are exceptions. If you must eat meat to survive, that will typically outweigh the prima facie wrongness of eating meat. I will not try to catalog all the possible reasons sufficient to justify meat consumption. In the overwhelming majority of actual cases, meat eaters do not have any reasons that could plausibly be claimed to justify the pain and suffering caused by their practice.
The moral premises of the argument are (1) and (2) above. I believe them for the same reason that I believe it is wrong to attack people, wrong to steal, right to keep promises, and so on: These things seem obvious on their face. Usually, a reasonable starting point is simple propositions that seem obvious on their face, provided we have no specific grounds for doubting them. If we can't assume (1) and (2), then I don't know why we should assume any moral proposition is true. I'm not asking you to accept some grand philosophical theory. I'm just asking you to agree that we shouldn't cause enormous pain and suffering for trivial reasons.
The most common objection meat eaters give when confronted with this sort of argument is that because animals lack intelligence (or the faculty of reason, or moral agency, or something similar), they also lack rights, or their interests do not matter.
I don't know what the basis for rights is, and--almost certainly--neither do you. There are many theories of rights in the ethics literature that have about the same level of vague plausibility but have different implications for who has and doesn't have rights. I accept rights because the idea seems to...