About Eat Meat... Or Don't

Roughly 95% of Americans don’t appear to have an ethical problem with animals being killed for food, yet all of us would have a serious problem with humans being killed for food. What does an animal lack that a human has that justifies killing the animal for food but not the human?

As you start to list properties that the animal lacks to justify eating them, you begin to realize that some humans also lack those properties, yet we don’t eat those humans. Is this logical proof that killing and eating animals for food is immoral? Don’t put away your steak knife just yet.

In Eat Meat… Or Don’t, we examine the moral arguments for and against eating meat with both philosophical and scientific rigor. This book is not about pushing some ideological agenda; it’s ultimately a book about critical thinking. But moral facts shouldn’t be confused with ideology. When it comes to moral choices, there are better ones and there are worse ones. If you act rationally and ethically and have adopted a good moral framework, you might come to the justified conclusion that eating meat is unethical… or you might not. Regardless of your conclusion, you will almost certainly realize that eating less meat is a fantastic idea for your health, the environment, and especially animals, and it’s an easily achievable goal that will change your life for the better.

ISBN: 978-1-4566-3334-9 (ebook) / ISBN: 978-1-4566-3333-2 (paperback) / ISBN: 978-1-4566-3335-6 (hardcover) / Published by: Archieboy Holdings, LLC. / Published Date: 2019-07-01

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About Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo is neither a vegan nor a vegetarian although he hasn’t eaten beef or pork products in over two decades, and he currently limits his poultry and fish consumption to about two to three meals per week. He can best be described as a flexitarian, or someone who mostly eats a vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat and fish.

Bo's PhD is in the field of social psychology with much of his work in the area of cognitive psychology, argumentation, critical thinking, and reasoning. It is in these areas where we find the answers to the philosophical dilemmas often presented as arguments for not eating meat. Moral psychology is an area of social psychology that is necessarily interdisciplinary. The empirical resources of the science of psychology combined with the conceptual resources of philosophical ethics allows Bo to have a much better understanding of morality than with just one or the other. In Eat Meat... Or Don't, Bo draw on both disciplines.

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Frequently Asked Questions


Based on my research, I am in agreement with the writer of the article “The surprisingly complicated math of how many wild animals are killed in agriculture” who concludes that the number of animals killed (rodents, reptiles, bugs, etc.) in plant farming is extremely difficult to pin down, especially when considering the long-term effects of pesticides used.

My position is that eating plants still (generally) results in fewer animal deaths. My reasons follow:
  1. The body existing research does not support the claim that vegetarians or vegans are responsible for more animal deaths than meat-eaters. If you think about it, this general claim is borderline absurd. Anyone claiming that this is the case has the burden of proof to provide the research to back up the claim (the research doesn’t exist).
  2. Currently, the vast majority of animals raised for food require crops to eat, so eating animals doesn’t solve the problem. I do, however, think a good argument can be made that the best animal farming practices could be better than the worst plant-farming practices as it relates to animal deaths.
What about the fact that killing animals is deliberate in animal farming and “collateral damage” in plant farming? I write in greater detail about this in the book. I don’t see a moral difference since we (consumers) are not doing any of the actual killing in either case; we are just choosing an option where we know animals have been killed in both cases. The rational choice, if we are concerned strictly with the number of animal deaths, is to choose the option with the least number of animal deaths. If we add suffering into the moral mix, we need to consider how the animals live and die.

The bottom line is that we all live at the expense of other animals—vegan or not. But there are choices that result in fewer animal deaths. Most of the time, this is eating plants, but it makes sense that certain animal farming practices could be better than certain plant-farming practices.
Those who are not psychopaths would generally agree that it is considered cruel to kick a cow in the face (unless in self-defense). I don’t know how many people would agree that it is “considered humane to slice a knife against her throat.” There are more and less humane ways to slaughter a cow; simply slicing the throat of a conscious cow is not very humane, in my opinion.

Can we ever kill an animal “humanely?” Humane means having or showing compassion or benevolence. In the movie City Slickers, Curly shoots a cow that just gave birth because “she was sufferin’.” He could have let her die naturally and suffer, but he chose to end it quickly for her. I would say that this act was humane. Some would argue that if we are killing an animal for food when we don’t have to (i.e., we can eat plants and survive) then no matter how we do it, we are not “having or showing compassion or benevolence” and therefore, not being humane. Others disagree. I think it is extremely important to reduce animal suffering as much as possible in this process, and this is what “humane” refers to. I am fine with saying that there are more and less humane ways to slaughter an animal for food, and this is what really matters.

Now let’s return to the question. The question does not address the reasons for the behavior, which makes a huge difference. Imagine you are walking in a field with a friend having a pleasant conversation and you come across a cow peacefully grazing. Your friend says, “excuse me for a moment,” walks over to the cow, pulls out a knife, slits the cow’s throat, wipes off the knife and puts it back in his pocket, then says, “you were saying?” If you were to think “that was very humane of him,” then you would be the psychopath. Situations matter. Cows are killed for a purpose: to feed thousands of people and those parts that don’t feed people are not wasted. The question clearly implies that there is no purpose for kicking the cow in the face. Again, if one were being attacked unprovoked by a cow, then kicking the cow in the face might not be cruel. The indiscriminate, purposeless killing of an animal is animal abuse and illegal (in the USA).
There are a few things wrong with this answer, but the question we asked is the real problem (to make a point). Let’s recall the question:

What’s true of the adult that if true of the young child would cause you to be morally okay with having sex with the young child?

First, realize that the point of this question by the way it is worded is to demonstrate that this question (and others like it related to “eating humans”) is a trap designed to make any answer absurd (as in undesirable). To see what I mean, use the “Facebook test”… would you post your answer on Facebook?

I think it is morally okay to have sex with young children as long as they have the capacity to give consent.

You might, but most people certainly wouldn’t. You are forced to say that it is morally okay to have sex with young children if condition X is met. You are forced to say something, making you look really bad. You will give your grandmother a heart attack and possibly have your neighbors register you as a potential sex offender.

Second, “capacity” for consent is something virtually all young children DO have; what they lack is the “ability” to give consent. Minor point but an important one. A subset of philosophical arguments that exist to justify eating animals and not people as to do with a human’s “capacities,” meaning that even children and disabled people who don’t have the abilities that most adults do (e.g., the ability to reason) they do possess the capacity which is good enough (in the book I explain why I don’t think this capacity argument is a good objection). So moving forward with the other problems, let’s assume you meant “ability.”

Third, we know what you mean and can parse your answer to come to the conclusion that by the time the “young child” has the “[ability] to give consent” to sex, they would no longer be a “young child.” But this brings us to our next problem: the answer presents a logical inconsistency where two propositions are asserted (or implied) that cannot both be true. It cannot be the case that a “young child” can have the ability to consent to sex because this would make the young child an adult or at the very least, not a “young” child.

Fourth, “the ability to consent” needs to be unpacked. What are the traits that give someone this ability? This is like claiming that the trait that a human has that an animal doesn’t, which makes it okay to eat animals and not humans, is “humanity.”

Again, the point of this question is to demonstrate that questions serve different purposes. This question, the way it is worded, is not written to solicit information to be used in honest discussion; it is written to simply make the person answering look foolish by being forced to give an absurd answer (that it’s okay to have sex with young children as long as….). You should simply reject the question or reword the question and answer the reworded question.
This is a common question worded in such a way that attempts to ridicule the meat-eater’s position by downplaying the experience of eating. In fairness to some who may ask this question, some people derive very little pleasure from eating, or as it is commonly said, some people eat to live while others live to eat. For many people, eating, especially eating meat, goes far beyond satisfying tastebuds by resulting in an immensely satisfying visceral experience that makes one appreciate being alive. Granted, these same feelings can come from non-meat foods as well, but not for everybody. When meats do provide meat-eaters with this kind life-affirming experience, the moral evaluation can be argued to favor the meat-eater, especially when a single animal can provide these experiences for hundreds or even thousands of people. Regardless…

There is no dispute that the commercial production of plant-based products kills animals. This is a statistical certainty. If anyone (vegan or not) is authentically morally concerned with “taking the life of an animal just to satisfy one’s tastebuds” then one should only eat the minimal necessary foods and amounts to sustain a healthy life. Any excess almost certainly contributes to the unnecessary deaths of animals. If you are one who tells others it is wrong to “take the life of an animal just to satisfy one’s tastebuds,” and you occasionally eat something for the enjoyment rather than the nourishment (including virtually any dessert) or eat more than you need to, then you are being hypocritical. 

If you authentically feel that the enjoyment of food and the feeling of satiation is not worth the lives of animals, and if you are already not eating meat, don’t overeat and especially, don’t waste food. Otherwise, use another argument.
As a general rule, no. Is it ever morally acceptable to kill an animal for pleasure? It depends what we mean by "for pleasure." Clearly, there is a difference between getting drunk with friends then lighting puppies on fire and fishing with friends then frying up the fish for dinner. Both acts could result in "pleasure." In the case of lighting puppies on fire, the act of killing the puppies is how one derives the (psychopathic) pleasure (which I do think is immoral), whereas the pleasure from fishing is mostly derived from the eating of the fish and partially from the thrill of catching the fish, not from the killing of the fish--the fish are killed for food, not pleasure (which I don't think is immoral).

When driving a car to see a movie on a summer night where is a statistical certainty that dozens, if not hundreds, of bugs and other small animals will be killed by the car. We know these animals will die and the movie brings us pleasure, but it would be absurd to claim that we are killing hundreds of animals "for pleasure" by driving to the movies. Likewise, suggesting that one is killing a cow "for pleasure" by eating a hamburger is equally as absurd.

Eating any kind of dessert (even vegan), drinking any drink besides plain water, and eating even a tiny bit over the amount required to sustain one's life brings one pleasure. All of these practices result in animal deaths due to plant-farming practices. So if you agree that it is morally acceptable to eat a vegan cupcake, drink water with a squeeze of lemon, or eat more than about 1000 calories a day, and you think that eating a hamburger is the same as "killing an animal for pleasure," then you also agree that it is morally acceptable to "kill an animal for pleasure." However, unless you are a psychopath, let's just say that virtually no meat-eaters nor vegans think killing animals for pleasure is morally acceptable but we do acknowledge that our pleasure sometimes comes at the expense of animal lives, as in the case of clearing woodlands to make a playground for children. And for the most part, we are all okay with this.
The term “sophistry” used to be a common term in the English language but has unfortunately been relegated to academic philosophy over the last two centuries. The modern definition of sophistry refers to the use of fallacious arguments (both formal and informal), especially with the intention of deceiving. The “Name the Trait” dialogue provides many opportunities for sophistry that can be difficult to detect, especially in a real-time conversation. This is why perhaps the best defense against any potential sophistry by the vegetarian using “Name the Trait” is a good offense. The meat-eater can begin by presenting the vegetarian with this scenario:

You find yourself trapped on a desert island with several children, no edible plant life, but an endless supply of fish. Is it more moral to kill and eat the fish or the children? If you say the fish, where in the “trait-equalization” process does the fish lose moral value?

This question can be asked in numerous ways. Basically, the implication is that if it is less immoral to kill and eat a fish than a human child, the fish must have less moral value than the child or lack/possess some “trait” compared to the child. We want the vegetarian to “name the trait.”

The vegetarian can say that no moral value is lost and, therefore, it is no more immoral to kill and eat one of the children as it is to kill and eat one of the fish. This, of course, points out the absurdity the in the vegetarian’s world view (as in “ridiculous” not logically inconsistent) and the conversation can be over, because clearly no rational conversation can be had with someone who would absent any legal or social consequences, just as readily kill and eat a child than kill and eat a fish.

Of course, the vegetarian can offer up a trait. However, running the reductio on the answer would lead to the same problems that the meat-eater faces. For example, if the vegetarian says that the fish has “less sentience,” we can ask, in their view, if one of the children on the island were cognitively disabled (and experienced the sentience of a fish) would it then be just as morally acceptable to kill and the child? The point of this reductio is not to demonstrate that there is no reasonable difference between eating fish and children; it’s to establish a common set of rules by which both parties can play the game.

The vegetarian could offer rational answers. One would be that that “trait” is biological (or cognitive) complexity. Biological complexity is perhaps the best indicator we have for factors that collectively matter morally such as consciousness, intelligence, self-awareness, the ability to experience well-being, and others. Another “trait” would be social moral value. Humans grant each other a high level of social moral value because the well-being of humans, in general, affects the well-being of any given human. When humans suffer, we suffer. Attempting to run reductios on rational answers such as these would make the reductio absurd; not the answer to the reductio. Regardless, this is about consistency. The same traits, reasons, excuses, reductios, and sophistry can be used in the meat eater’s “Name the Trait” question as in the vegetarian’s.

Ideally, the vegetarian and meat-eater can both agree that moral value is lost when going from a human to a non-human animal, then a productive conversation can be had as to why the meat-eater thinks the moral value lost justifies killing and eating the animal and why the vegetarian thinks that the moral value lost does NOT justify killing and eating the animal.
To be rational is to be consistent with one’s goals. To justify or provide justification for something is to demonstrate rationality, or show how that something is consistent with one’s goals. Justifying moral behavior requires knowledge of one’s moral goals or moral framework. For example, attempting to justify killing another human being requires the explicit declaration of some moral principle such as “doing what is best for humanity.” Then, it must be reasonably demonstrated that killing the other human being is consistent with the goal of doing what is best for humanity. If that case is made successfully, we say that the person justified the behavior, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we now approve of the behavior, it just suggests the action or behavior is rational based on the person’s view of morality or their moral framework.

Sentiocentrism might be the most difficult moral framework to justify eating meat because of its consideration of the well-being of the animals being killed for food. However, if one can make a convincing argument that eating meat adds more to overall well-being than detracts from it, the behavior has been justified. One example might go as follows:

My wife frequently eats meat. When we go out to dinner and she orders a steak, she only eats half of it and she refuses to eat leftovers. So rather than order my own meal, I split the steak with her. If I didn't split it with her, she would order it anyway and throw away the other half. Given that animals are killed in the production of plant-based food as well, by not ordering a plant-based meal and eating what she would otherwise throw away, I am reducing animal suffering and ensuring no food is wasted. Thus, my behavior of eating meat in this situation is justified under my moral framework (sentiocentrism).

In the book, I offer several other arguments that don't include just eating the scraps from someone else's meal.
I think getting people to realize that they really do care about the well-being of animals and do actually subscribe to sentiocentrism, is the best place to start. It makes perfect sense that we should be concerned about the well-being of animals in proportion to their ability to experience well-being. If people are science-minded, their behaviors (eating and otherwise) will be interpreted under this framework and they will begin to make decisions that contribute to animals' well-being. This is what might be considered an "inside out" process where one's core values result in a lifestyle change that is unlikely to change, whereas common "arguments" and tactics such as trying to shock or shame people in eating less meat is an "outside in" process that is unlikely to stick, even if it does work in the short term (data show that 84% of vegans and vegetarians eventually go back to eating meat.)
If the animals we commonly eat were granted far more social moral value, I would not be okay with eating them. This is why it is commonly seen as morally wrong to eat dogs in our culture but not pigs (dogs are granted a high level of social moral value). Humans also are granted a high level of affective moral value. If I felt the same way about about chickens as I do dogs, I would not be okay with eating chickens. These are both sufficient conditions for me to see eating meat as immoral, but not necessary conditions. For example, if farm animals somehow rapidly evolved to have the cognitive complexity of dolphins, elephants, or chimps, I would see it as immoral to eat them. So cognitive complexity would be another sufficient condition.

Follow up question:

Does this mean that if humans had the cognitive complexity of farm animals and were not granted social or affective moral value that you would be okay with eating humans?

In this strange world where human empathy was essentially non-existent (including mine), a baby was born with a deformed brain limiting their experience of well-being to that of a cow, and it would be socially acceptable to kill and eat the baby, then in such a world my non-empathetic self would be fine with eating humans. 
I support the position of eating less meat. If that means cutting back on meat one day a week, only eating meat a few times per week, limiting meat to special occasions, becoming a vegetarian, or even becoming a vegan, all is admirable.

Challenging the Author

My PhD is in the field of social psychology with much of my work in the area of cognitive psychology, argumentation, critical thinking, and reasoning. It is in these areas where we find the answers to the philosophical dilemmas often presented as arguments for not eating meat. Moral psychology is an area of social psychology that is necessarily interdisciplinary. The empirical resources of the science of psychology combined with the conceptual resources of philosophical ethics allows us to have a much better understanding of morality than with just one or the other. In this book I draw on both disciplines.

Some think that one needs to have a PhD specifically in philosophy to intelligently discuss this issue. This is not the case. Having said that, a "PhD" literally means doctorate of philosophy. The sciences are grounded in philosophy and philosophy is a significant part of any decent PhD program.

My educational background should give you the confidence to at least read the book and consider the information I present. The information I present should be evaluated on its own merits, separate from me and my educational background.
When a farm animal is well taken care of while they are being raised, then killed quickly and painlessly, I see nothing “cruel” about this practice given that killing them is for the purpose of feeding others. However, there are some practices on factory farms that I would consider cruel (or even animal abuse) that include:
  • Cages and overcrowding.
  • Physical alterations like teeth-clipping or tail-docking, performed without anesthetic
  • Indoor confinement with poor air quality and unnatural light patterns
  • Inability to engage in important natural behaviors, like laying eggs in nests or roosting at night
  • Breeding for fast growth or high yields of meat, milk and eggs that compromises animal health and welfare
  • Illnesses and injuries left unnoticed or untreated, often due to an unmanageable ratio of animals to workers
  • Reliance on antibiotics to compensate for stressful and unsanitary conditions
  • Rough or abusive handling by workers, often due to a lack of training, frustration at poor working conditions, unreasonable demands by superiors or poor design of facilities
I can choose not to eat animals, but I know that given the history and statistics of veganism, these practices would continue because 1-3% of the population avoiding animal products wouldn’t make these conditions any better. Instead, I donate to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) who works on my behalf to improve these conditions for animals.
Not necessarily. The whole point of paying others to do things for you is because either a) you can’t do it or b) you don’t want to do it. The question implies that if one can’t kill an animal for food that they feel it is wrong. While this may be the case for some people, it is also the case that one can’t kill an animal for food because they have a high level of empathy and they feel too much emotional pain by the thought of killing an animal for any reason. But this is a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical situation.

In this world, where meat is readily available, and we don’t have to kill any animals ourselves, most of us answer this question not knowing what it is like to have been without meat for an extended period. In such a world where if we don’t kill the animal, we don’t eat meat, we will find that our biological drives greatly influence how we feel about killing an animal for food. It’s like getting really horny but for meat (wanting to eat it, not wanting to have sex with it).

Here are a couple of other considerations:

As I discuss in the book, our level of empathy we have for animals tends to be directly correlated to their similarity to us. This means that for most people, it would be a lot easier (emotionally) to kill a fish than it would a pig. The odds are that many people would kill some animals, but not any animal if that is the only way they could get the meat. The kind of animal being killed for food matters.

Since a cow can feed about 3000 people, if you were a member of a village of 3000 people and each member of the village had to be the one to kill the cow once every 3000 days, then this would change many people’s answer to this question. Killing a cow once every eight years or so in exchange for eating meat daily is quite different from killing an animal every time you want to eat meat.

In summary, if the reason that you could not kill an animal for food yourself is that you think it is immoral, then if you wish to consistent, you should not eat animals. However, if the reason you could not kill an animal for food yourself is because of the empathy you have for (or affective moral value you grant) the animal, then it doesn’t matter morally if you eat the animal or not.
Personally, no. My moral foundation can be simplified by saying that I am morally concerned about the well-being of sentient beings in proportion to their ability to experience well-being—the difference matters.

If you really believed that you had a moral duty to minimize unnecessary suffering, then the best possible world would be one with no sentient beings capable of suffering, i.e., a world with no sentient beings. Or, if you had the ability to pull a Thanos and wipe out every being in the universe that was suffering even a little, as long as their deaths did not contribute more to the suffering of those who were still here, this would be the most moral course of action. Suffering is only half of the well-being spectrum (if we use the suffering/flourishing dichotomy) and ignoring flourishing is a major problem. Consider a cow raised on a picturesque grass pasture and treated extremely well by the farmer until the cow’s death when the cow is instantly killed. This cow is unlikely to suffer; therefore, killing and eating the cow would not be immoral if we use the “minimize unnecessary suffering” rule.

There is also a problem with the idea of “minimize unnecessary suffering.” Unnecessary for what? Here is where we all demonstrate our clear “speciesism” and admit that the suffering of animals is okay as long as is benefits us (humans) in some way. At the extreme end, some will say that “necessary” refers to our survival. Therefore, killing animals (rodents, reptiles, birds, insects, etc.) in crop production is morally acceptable because without food, we would die. But it isn’t necessary for us to consume anything over about 1000 calories a day. Anything over this caloric intake is just to “satisfy our taste buds” or alleviate our uncomfortable feeling of hunger. Is optimal health necessary, or is our living a sickly life suffering from malnutrition worth not killing all the animals we otherwise would in crop production? Is our suffering more morally wrong that the animals’? What about clearing lands for cities and neighborhoods? Is this necessary? The fact is, if by “necessary” we mean “necessary to sustain life,” we create an impossible standard always falling short of this moral “duty” that is the secular equivalent of the religious message of how flawed and morally depraved we all are. If by “necessary” we mean “necessary for human well-being,” then virtually any non-human animal suffering can be justified and this “duty to minimize unnecessary suffering” is useless as a guiding moral foundation.
The focus of the book is on the moral arguments of eating meat. However, I do make the claim that eating less meat would be better for the environment, and that is based on many factors besides just greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s start with greenhouse gas emissions. The source I reference in the book is https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions - a very conservative contribution estimate of animal agriculture to climate change (about 4 to 5% in the USA). I used the most conservative report as a reference in the book because that was all I needed… just the warrant the claim that eating less meat would be better for the environment. Honestly, I never anticipated someone would claim that eating meat is good for the environment. There is a lot of confusion on this topic based on cherry-picked data, old data, bad sources, and simply reading the headlines and not the details. I will do my best to sum up how significantly (or insignificantly) eating less meat will help the environment.

First and foremost, I am a scientist. I am intimately familiar with academic publishing, research, meta-analyses, and scientific consensus. When there is an overwhelming global scientific consensus on issues not in my area of expertise (social psychology), I defer to the consensus. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is an organization that I trust completely, more than anyone else, to provide accurate data on climate change (yes, even more than politicians). On August 4th, 2019, the IPCC released their latest report related to eating meat and the environment. The recommendations are summed up in the article appearing in Nature, perhaps the most prestigious and trusted of the scientific journals:

The special report on climate change and land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change ― and includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.

How much good can we really do for the environment by eating less meat? Global greenhouse-gas emissions hit an all-time high of more than 37 billion tonnes (gigatonnes) in 2018. Here is what kind of dent the IPCC says we can make based on our meat reduction:

For example, eating a diet “moderate in meat but rich in fruits and vegetables” would reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by 5 gigatonnes out of a total of 37, or about 13.5%. That’s not bad. Again, this is just a reduction, not giving up meat completely.

Even “BEEF Magazine” does not claim that cattle is overall good for the environment. They debunk some myths and point out how cattle can help the environment, but no claims that eating more meat would be better for the environment.

The best I found on this is a peer-reviewed journal article discussing possible carbon sequestering techniques that, if implanted, can be a greater good for the environment (only as far as greenhouse gasses are concerned). But as of now, this is not being done to the extent where cattle offset their contribution to climate change.

Now, let’s consider the other factors on how eating meat affects the environment:
  • the animals we eat require enormous amounts of plants to eat
  • deforestation
  • commercial fishing - including huge boats burning fossil fuels, disrupting ecosystems, etc.
  • the amount of fresh water it takes to produce 1 pound of meat
  • pollution (runoff from feces getting into lakes and rivers)
Based on all the data, it seems clear that the claim “eating less meat would be better for the environment” is well supported.
Sure. In an ideal world, we would be able to perfect the harvesting of plant-based products to the point where no animals have to die by being chopped up, poisoned to death, or otherwise subjected to gruesome and painful deaths. When we kill animals for food, the animals we kill still have to die even in the best-case scenario. The animals killed in the process of growing and harvesting plants (bugs, mice, chipmunks, rabbits, snakes, turtles, birds, etc.) are also likely, on average, to have a lower level of sentience than the animals we eat (chicken, pigs, cows, etc.), so under sentiocentrism, the animals killed in plant farming take away less from overall well-being than the animals killed for direct consumption.

As far as the "purposeful" act of killing animals for food versus the collateral damage of animals killed in plant farming, as one who is not emotionally involved in either process (i.e., I am not the one having to kill any of the animals), what matters most to me is the death and suffering involved in both processes (stunning and then killing cows and pigs is arguably far more humane then poisoning animals to death with fertilizers), and the most moral choice would be the one that results in the least reduction of overall well-being. A statistical certainty such as the fact that a certain number of animals will die per acre of crops grown is identical in practice to killing on purpose. Meat eaters don't want animals to die any more than vegetarians do, but both groups know that animals will die because we don't want to grow all of our own food in carefully-controlled environments.

There are ways of virtually eliminating animal deaths in plant farming, including indoor hydroponics. However, the types of plants grown are limited, and such methods are not practical to use on large, commercial scales to the extent that they will replace traditional farming methods any time soon. Likewise, there are now ways of "growing" meat that virtually eliminates all animal deaths. However, the types of meat grown in labs are limited, and such methods are not practical to use on large, commercial scales to the extent that they will replace traditional animal farming any time soon. By supporting these new technologies, we can send a message to these industries saying that we really do care about the well-being of animals and we prefer it if they didn't have to die.

I wrote about the "Name the Trait" argument in a section of my book that was created by YouTuber "Ask Yourself". He managed to get his hands on an unedited, pre-release version of my book and created a response video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl-Cxh1SZkc. This is my response to that response.

The Opening Comments

The video begins with a textbook example of poisoning the well, which is essentially a technique where one manipulates the audience to have negative and antagonist feelings toward the opponent before any arguments are made. Ask Yourself tells his audience the following:

  • That he “destroyed me” and “wrecked [me] really badly” in prior debates
  • That I am a “massive sophist”
  • That I am a “weasel”
  • That I am “dishonest”
  • That in his video he will “destroy everything that [I] say”
  • That my book is “cringy, holocaust apologia”

Then, right after saying all that, he asks me to do a public debate with him. His formal invite is “Bo, don’t be a weasel little coward,” which is a little different than how universities invite me to give to lectures. He assumes that if I don't want to debate him, it is because I "cannot defend [my] ridiculous position." The fact is, I already attempted to have a civil conversation with him that resulted in repeated insults on his part. Let's just say that I am not interested in attempting another conversation with him. But I am happy to respond to his criticism here. (I have had several recorded conversations with both vegans and meat-eaters where my positions were challenged; you can find those in the "Media" section.)

It is also clear that Ask Yourself has not read my book. So many of his criticisms and confusion has to do with the fact that he clearly only read the "Name the Trait" section. Therefore, I am only going to focus on the criticisms that are not a result of this problem.

Trait Equalization

In the trait equalization section, I pose some questions such as "[Does] an articulate pig with a human intellect [have moral value]?" and ask if these questions are even valid. I pose the question in this section, then answer it in the following sections. No, asking anything about "pig" with "human" intellect is not valid because not only physically, but logically, a being cannot be both a pig and a human as it is a violation the law of contradiction. I explain this in the later section where I show how a "human" mind is only human because it belongs to a human. If one were to claim that a "human" mind can logically exist in a pig, they would need to explain how, in any sense of the word, the mind would still be "human." This is just like trying to explain that a non-round circle could logically still be considered a circle.

I am then accused of "being an obnoxious pedant” by explaining this problem of identity. The obnoxious part aside, the "pedant" implies that I am harping on a non-trivial point. The fact is, this is a crucial point of the "Name the Trait" line of reasoning that I cover in great detail in the "supplemental arguments" section. People who use these arguments rely on emotional manipulation by using the "human" label even when that label is not justified. Ask Yourself claims that the use of "human" is just for simplicity, and perhaps that is his intent, but this is simply unjustified. Hybrid organisms are not the same as humans.

What is a Human

This section serves an important point already mentioned above. Ask Yourself claimed that this section was “Bo taking cheap shots at the a straw man of the actual argument.” First, this wasn't even a representation of the argument so it can't be a strawman of the argument; it was the result of countless instances on the internet where people using the "Name the Trait" argument as well as Ask Yourself himself, attempts to cling on to the "human" label for manipulation purposes rather than concede that the being in question is an impossible hybrid creature. Taking away moral value from a "human" is far more unpalatable than taking away moral value from some 1/2 pig 1/2 human creature. Even if nobody has ever conflated the label "human" with an organism that is not-human, this wouldn't matter. This section is instructional in that it should be clear to all parties what constitutes a human.

Ask Yourself takes issue with the following:

In light of this species identity problem, the answer to the question “at what point does the human lose its full moral value?” would be “At no point, because the point at which moral value is lost the hypothetical organism is no longer a human.” A valid question would be “at what point does the human lose its humanity?” The difference is subtle but significant. Asking when a human loses moral value begs the question that we can have a human with no moral value, whereas asking when a human loses humanity assumes no such claim. What we are left with is a hybrid organism with no (or little) moral value.

He doesn't see the difference in the two and ridicules me for my ignorance rather than entertaining the possibility that he might just not understand. I do appreciate feedback like this because I do think Ask Yourself knows more about logic than the average reader, and if my point is not clear to him, it is likely not clear to others. So let's look at these questions:

At what point does the human lose its full moral value?

He seems to recognize that this is a fallacy known as begging the question, because the question assumes the a human can lose moral value and still be human. Once the human loses the moral value, it is implied that there is no change to the humanity of the human. What we are left with is a human without moral value. So far so good. I then give an example of a similar question that avoids this problem.

At what point does the human lose its humanity?

Here, if one loses "humanity" then by definition, they are no longer human. We are not begging the question that we can have a human without humanity. Words matter, and people can easily be deceived by calculated wording that have implications. The point is, be aware of the question begging fallacy. The question "At what point does the human lose its full moral value?" assumes a human can lose moral value and implies that humanity remains, or at the very least, makes no claim that humanity is lost whereas my second example makes it very clear that humanity is lost.

Update: Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019 09:47 AM

Updated book to read:

In light of this species identity problem, it should be clear that the question “At what point does the human lose full moral value?” would be “At no point, because the point at which moral value is lost the hypothetical organism is no longer a human.” The human didn’t lose moral value; the hybrid organism did. The human lost their humanity before moral value was lost; the hybrid organism continued to have moral value. A valid question would be “at what point does the human lose its humanity?” The difference is subtle but significant. The label “human” is identical to “humanity,” which means a point exists where both the label “human” and one’s “humanity” are simultaneously lost, and the being that lost the humanity was human at the time of the loss. Beware of question begging and realize that the answer to “at what point” questions could be 'at no point.'

Evaluating the Soundness of the Argument

Ask yourself objects to my claim that the argument implies "if humans have moral value then so must animals." This wasn't me claiming what the conclusion states (I already listed the exact argument and it's formal conclusion); it is my interpretation of what the conclusion implies. This is not relevant beyond my attempt to simplify this for the average, non-logician reader who has no idea what the argument means. This was based on feedback I received from several editors - none of them could make sense of the "Name the Trait" argument. I stand by this implication. I encourage you to read through the argument several times and challenge this implication. Again, it is not substantive in any of my criticisms; it is simply a user-friendly summary of what the conclusion implies.

I wrote:

Rather than considering just the properties of moral status, we can, according to the author of the argument, use “anything true of a given being” as it pertains to moral evaluation.

with the footnote "The 'as it pertains to moral evaluation' was added by me for clarity." I apologize if my attempt at clarity was unsuccessful. There is no reason to consider any trait not related to moral evaluation, and such traits would only make the argument unnecessarily complex. We don't care if humans can knit or juggle--unless this is morally relevant. I don't see how in any way my addition hurts the argument, in fact, it strengthens it.

Objections to Premise #2

I get that if one's view does NOT affirm a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal while retaining moral value, then this argument does not apply to them. I think my use of the word "defeated" struck an emotional note with Ask Yourself. Remember that this books is not written for logicians. This might be "basic" for logicians who are used to formal argumentation, but not the vast majority of people who are asked to respond to this argument on the fly.

I presented the following argument to demonstrate that valid arguments don't have to apply to you, the same point Ask Yourself makes in his "dialog tree." I am not sure why Ask Yourself took this as an attack on the argument; again, it was just basic information demonstrating how arguments don't have to apply to everyone.

Ask Yourself claimed that I was wrong in claiming how to make my example argument valid. I should point out that again, this has nothing to do with the criticism of the name the trait argument in that even if Ask Yourself was right, it would not affect this criticism towards his argument.

1. If in some imaginary world, plants had the same level of sentience as humans, it would be immoral to eat them.
2. In some imaginary world, plants do have the same level of sentience as humans.
3. Therefore, it is immoral to eat plants.

I wrote:

This is a non-sequitur because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The argument is invalid. To make it valid, we would need to change the conclusion to 'Therefore, it is immoral to eat plants in this imaginary world.'

Ask Yourself claimed that I was wrong and we also need to change the consequent in the first premise. So let's look at what I consider to be the valid argument:

1. If in some imaginary world, plants had the same level of sentience as humans (P), it would be immoral to eat them (Q).
2. In some imaginary world, plants do have the same level of sentience as humans (P).
3. Therefore, it is immoral to eat plants in this imaginary world (Q).

This is a perfectly valid argument without changing the consequent as Ask Yourself claims. If P then Q. P. Therefore, Q.


I wrote:

If one is a dualist, they believe that the mind can exist independent of the physical brain (biological or artificial, as in some advanced AI).

Ask Yourself says "He [Bo] claims that the dualist believes the mind can exist without the brain" then Ask Yourself claims this is "false." It is only false if I wrote "every dualist." As expected, Ask Yourself is not attempting to offer a charitable interpretation. I will accept responsibility for not being precise in my language. I have updated this in my book to read:

If one is a dualist, they likely believe that the mind can exist independent of the physical brain (biological or artificial, as in some advanced AI).

Ask any religious person you know if God has a physical brain and they will tell you "no." Ask them if "people in heaven" have physical brains and they will tell you "no." Ask ghost believers if ghosts have physical brains and they will tell you "no." Ask Yourself is confusing "can" with "must." If I were to claim that the dualist "believes that the mind MUST exist independent of the physical brain" then I would have been wrong, but I didn't, so I'm not. Ask Yourself then goes on to say "A dualist must believe that the mind and brain are separate substances. It could still be that one depend on the other.” This doesn't matter if it is true or not. What does matter in this section on "mind games" is that unless one brings magic into the equation, the mind cannot be separated from the brain.

I wrote:

No matter how one tries to sell it, nonhuman animals with human minds cannot exist in this world any more than a non-round circle can exist.

Ask Yourself objected to my use of a logical impossibility (the non-round circle) to compare it to what he calls my physical impossibility example (a human mind in a pig). I maintain that this is a logical impossibility because it is logically impossible to have a "human" mind in a non-human being, because the mind is a product of the biology, the non-human biology would make the mind "non-human." Because something cannot be both human and non-human at the same time, this violates the (logical) law of contradiction.

Summary and Conclusion

Ask Yourself made a handful of claims , only a few of which related directly to "Name the Trait" argument. I have responded to all of them demonstrating that my initial analysis was correct. As a result of his criticism, I did make some clarifications in order to facilitate understanding, but I made no substantial changes in this section.

I hold no ill will against "Ask Yourself" or any person who takes the time to offer feedback to my work, no matter how "undiplomatic." I believe how people give "feedback" says far more about the person giving the feedback then any personal claims made against the recipient in the "feedback." We can't control how others treat us, but we can control how we treat others.

A special note to all the subscribers to "Ask Yourself":

What Ask Yourself didn't tell you is that my book strongly supports eating less meat. My book is full of excellent arguments, far better than "Name the Trait" in favor of not eating meat (I don't go into veganism vs. vegetarianism). I can't stress enough that by adhering to a belligerent "gotcha" type of vegan argument similar to a Christian presuppositionalist you are doing more harm to the cause than good. Beyond the arguments, I go in the psychology of changing behavior and persuasion techniques that will help people see your point of view. Read the book, the whole book, for FREE, on me. I will make the ebook and/or audiobook available for free to you until at least September 1, 2019. Just send me a message using the contact form on this website (https://www.sentiocentrism.com) requesting either the ebook or audiobook, and let me know that you are a susbscriber of "Ask Yourself."

As for all the horrible things said about me personally, I ask that you check out my work on LogicallyFallacious.com and the many books I have written on reason and critical thinking, and my YouTube channel. I have spent over a decade promoting reason and critical thinking and integrating these important topics in my lectures as a college professor. If, after reviewing a decent sample of my work you still think that I am a dishonest weasel, little coward, massive sophist, who writes cringy, holocaust apologia, then at least you came to that conclusion on your own ;)

Health and Fitness

I address health briefly in the book because it is relevant to morality in that a more healthy population is a population with greater well-being. I am not a medical doctor nor a certified nutritionist; my expertise in this area is limited to the ability to conduct academic research and make sense of the available data to reach the most accurate conclusion. The short answer is that it depends on how much and the kinds of meat you eat. For the longer answer, read on.

Diets have been studied for decades and the best data we have is general health statistics of populations. We can look at a population and see their rates of cancer, physical activity, mental health (including well-being), longevity, rates of diseases like heart disease, obesity, and more. We can then look at the population’s diet and see how this correlates to the population’s average health. The healthiest populations seem to have more than just diet in common; they are also highly physically active and socially engaged. But just looking at diet, we see that the general advice from the scientific community to westerners is cut back on meat; eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; and strike a healthy balance between calories in and calories out. Eating some meat, especially fish and lean poultry, appear to have health benefits that outweigh the risks.


This is a really good question, but if I may, let me change “fish” to “animals” in general. This answer will cover fish, chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, and any other animal. Also, I want to point out that you are asking the right question. It is not your duty to justify why you don’t care about the well-being of animals; it is my duty to persuade you why you should… unless you are making the positive claim that people should NOT care about animals, then you have the burden of proof.

Caring about the well-being of anyone besides yourself is the result of empathy, compassion, and other non-rational physiological processes. Virtually all of us care about the well-being of animals to some degree by virtue of evolution, with the exception of sociopaths and psychopaths (those who significantly lack in empathy). Very few people are not emotionally affected by animal suffering. If you agree that a world where fish, chicken, pigs, cows, etc. in a state of perpetual suffering is a worse world than one where these same creatures are in a perpetual state of flourishing, then you already care about the well-being of animals. But this would be the answer to why DO most people care about the well-being of animals, not why SHOULD you care about the well-being of animals. The word “should” indicates a rational process that justifies an action or belief with a moral framework. Caring is a non-rational process—nobody can force you to care; therefore, I wouldn’t claim that you (or anyone) “should” care about animals. But I still have a request.

If you honestly don’t care about the well-being of animals, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are sociopath or psychopath. People can be socialized to lose empathy. We have seen this in virtually every war in history where the enemy is dehumanized, and their deaths and suffering celebrated. If it is so easy for us to lose empathy for humans, it is clear that losing empathy for animals is even easier. I don’t think you SHOULD care for animals if you don’t already, but I do think you SHOULD seriously consider how you might have been conditioned to lose your natural empathy for animals. This may or may not trigger a pattern of thinking that will restore your empathy for animals over time.

Press / Media

You can view the official press release for Eat Meat... Or Don't online.

The No-BullSh!t Vegan Podcast

Eat Meat... Or Don't in the media. Airdate: 2019-12-17

The Holistic Health Masterclass

Eat Meat... Or Don't in the media. Airdate: 2019-12-05

The Keto Savage

Eat Meat... Or Don't in the media. Airdate: 2019-11-15

Vegan Danielle

Eat Meat... Or Don't in the media. Airdate: 2019-10-30

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Other Books by Bo Bennett, PhD