“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” –Arthur Schopenhauer
Sharpen blade. Slice pepper straight through. Rip out reproductive organs. Throw away mangled innards – thereby destroying the only chance this sweet, ripe, living system ever had to fulfil its ‘Wille zum Leben’. Another life sacrificed for one glorious, throbbingly vibrant… snack.
It’s one of the raw immutable truths of our existence: something has to die for us to live. While Schopenhauer should be applauded for trying to make this transition as humane as possible, his philosophical drift into humanism is a bastardization of his adopted Hindu principle of ‘universal compassion’. “Hindus believe that consciousness is present in all life forms, even fish and plants. However, though the soul is present in all species, its potential is exhibited to different degrees.” For him to exclude from moral embrace all life that does not share our five, exquisitely limited, senses, is only an extension of the hypocrisy against which he rages.
If morality, evolutionarily and sociologically speaking, is concerned with the preservation of life and reduction of suffering, ‘universal compassion’ necessitates extending our morality beyond the selfishness of its inherently humanist coding. Babies call forth our ultimate moral care, but yet are stationary expressions of life that reach out for the warmth of a mother’s arms the same way young green shoots stretch out searching for the sun. A baby’s face and irresistible scent elicit an advantageous response from its environment the same way the rosy pink and perfume of petals help ensure the world comes in close to help it achieve its goals. Empirically speaking, a baby can easily be found to have far more in common with a plant than an enemy soldier has observable differences from his mortal moral foe. Who are we to disrespect all life that uses means outside our five senses to calibrate its reality, when our own perception is so often metered by other less measurable, yet equally informative forces?
History has proven that morality is an extension of ourselves at one moment, in one life. Schopenhauer demands that morality be rooted in ‘universal compassion’, then uses an essentially Western, humanist definition of ‘universal’ that contradicts his Hindu sources. His moment, his morality. Our own moment in time culturally frees us to extend our personal moralities beyond our five senses, and out into an ever expanding world of complexities.
The moral of this story? Next time you eat a salad… show those veggies some f-ing respect!
2 thoughts on “Schopenhauer’s morality argument crippled by vegetarian violence”
we are of course ever blind to the cultural influences that shape our understanding…it is only by stepping outside, and engaging in the lives of others, that we might have a glimpse of difference, possibility, and, as you so wisely note, the complexities of our existence in the presence of others, in our own presence.
… and in the presence of…er… vegetables?~wink With the freedom of globalization, we have such a wonderful opportunity to create our own value assignment systems that honour our deepest coding and aspirations for the future. But you’re so right, it’s only when we invite others into these systems, thereby engaging in new possibilities and complexities, that we can negotiate a healthy shared reality.
Note: although Schopenhauer’s arguments for animal rights have been quoted by vegetarians for years, the grumbly ol’ philosopher was a stanch meat eater. But if it takes more than a little light irony to get your blood boiling, check out his views on women: