Northwestern University Assistant Professor David Killoren will deliver a speech titled “Veganism and Naturalness” at 4 p.m. Friday, January 22, in 132 Stevenson Hall.

Speech description

Ethical vegans believe that we are morally required to refrain from eating meat, dairy, eggs, and all other animal products. Ethical omnivores believe that it is morally permissible for us to eat animal products. In this talk, I’ll be interested in the role of naturalness in the debate between ethical vegans and ethical omnivores.

Consider the following claim:

Naturalness Provides Reasons (NPR): If a given activity is natural (for us) then this gives us a moral reason to engage in that activity; and if a given activity is unnatural (for us) then this gives us a moral reason to refrain from that activity.

Many vegans appeal to NPR in order to criticize omnivores. And many omnivores appeal to NPR in order to criticize vegans. Meanwhile, a lot of philosophers believe that NPR is just obviously false.

My first order of business will be to show that NPR is not obviously false. As it happens, I reject NPR; but my own argument against NPR rests on premises that are (and deserve to be) controversial. I’ll present that argument, and will explain why its premises are controversial. I’ll also explain why I don’t think there are any alternative arguments against NPR that are very much less controversial. I’ll conclude that NPR may well be false, but it isn’t obviously false, and in fact can be reasonably endorsed.

Next, I’ll turn to the following question: If NPR were true, what would follow from it? Would NPR be an advantage for ethical vegans or for ethical omnivores (or neither)? To answer that question, we’ll need to figure out whether eating animal products is natural for us. And in order to do that, we’ll need to figure out what naturalness is. So, I’ll propose and defend a definition of naturalness. And then I’ll identify some of the empirical questions that we’d need to be able to answer in order to determine whether eating animal products is natural for us. In the end, I don’t aim to draw any sure conclusions about the implications of NPR for our eating habits, but I will at least give some suggestions about how to think about these issues.