When Jeff McMahan Says He Wants a Vegan World, He Really Means it

A new opinion piece by Rutgers philosopher Jeff McMahan in the New York Times is already provoking a vehement response. McMahan suggests that we should embrace a vegan world, and do this to an extreme that few vegans have contemplated. That is: he argues it would be morally desirable to drive carnivorous species toward extinction, leaving us with a planet free of violence and predation:

It would be good to prevent the vast suffering and countless violent deaths caused by predation.  There is therefore one reason to think that it would be instrumentally good if  predatory animal species were to become extinct and be replaced by new herbivorous species, provided that this could occur without ecological upheaval involving more harm than would be prevented by the end of predation.  The claim that existing animal species are sacred or irreplaceable is subverted by the moral irrelevance of the criteria for individuating animal species.  I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species, and I await the usual fate of heretics when this article is opened to comment.

Seems potentially counterproductive to even raise this idea in a society where better than 95 percent of people eat meat. And I think that even most vegans would respond, “oh my,” to the idea of a world without lions and tigers and bears.

McMahan’s analysis, if examined carefully and closely, may well have merit. But only a few percent of society has the thinking ability to look closely at philosophical questions. For the rest, I could see McMahan’s concept standing alongside PETA’s publicity idiocies as twin bogeyman giving omnivores an excuse to avoid engaging the topic of compassionate eating. Link.

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