An academic from Britain’s prestigious Oxford University has argued that it is “ethical” to leave a dying stranger to die if you know they eat meat.
Dr. Michael Plant, a philosopher focusing on happiness, says that letting meat eaters drown is ethical because of the suffering they cause to animals.
Plant, who does eat meat himself, cites some moral philosophies in his arguments that it can be justifiable to let people like himself die.
His argument stems from a conflict between what he says are two commonly held beliefs.
The first is that humans should ignore trivial costs when fulfilling a duty to rescue each other.
For example, jumping into a lake to save a drowning child but ruining your clothes in the process.
Dr. Plant claims that the second belief is it is wrong to eat meat because of the suffering animals can experience from being kept in cramped, dirty conditions before they are slaughtered.
He says this conflict leaves people who subscribe to the second belief in a morally interesting position if they encounter someone who eats meat drowning in a pond, and that allowing them to die might, in fact, be the lesser evil.
“It seems universally accepted that doing or allowing a harm is permissible — and may even be required — when it is the lesser evil,” he wrote in the Journal of Controversial Ideas.
“I argue that, if meat eating is wrong on animal suffering grounds then, once we consider how much suffering might occur, it starts to seem plausible that saving strangers would be the greater evil than not rescuing them and is, therefore, not required after all.”
Plant compares this to a drowning-in-a-lake scenario where, instead of a child, a person sees a cruel dictator known for torturing their populace drowning.
To save the dictator would allow them to continue inflicting suffering.
So, similar to a meat eater, Plant argues that allowing them to drown might be the lesser evil.
He contends that a year of a person eating meat is roughly equivalent to five years of chickens suffering in abominable conditions, insisting that the total “negative well-being” created by that person over time is quite large.
Dr. Plant also acknowledges some might argue that saving the meat eater’s life is permissible if you convert them to being a vegetarian upon rescuing them.
But, the moral merits of this could vary on if the person is successfully converted, he warns.
“It seems most likely they would assume your request was mad and ignore it.
“’You won’t believe what happened to me today. I fell in the pond and would have drowned if someone hadn’t pulled me out. But that wasn’t the weird thing. The person who pulled me out then asked if I ate a lot of chicken and demanded I stop.’,” he said, giving an example.
“The reason we seriously countenance not saving the Drowning Dictator is that, while the best outcome would be if you saved him and then successfully convinced him to stop doing bad things, we recognize this outcome is not at all likely.”
Dr. Plant concludes his argument by saying there is a “deep and underappreciated tension” between the beliefs of saving lives and not eating from factory farms.
“While we would not normally consider these beliefs to be relevant to each other, I pressed the straightforward problem that, if we have those animal welfare concerns then, when we account for them, it reduces, and may remove, the obligation to rescue others. I consider this surprising and disturbing,” he said.
Plant himself has previously described himself as a “welfatarian” which is a “woke” term used to describe someone who only eats animals if the creature in question has experienced a happy life prior to their death.
However, Plant does not specifically address whether “welfatarians” should be saved in life-or-death situations.