Journal of agricultural ethics

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 172–186 | Cite as

So animal a human ..., or the moral relevance of being an omnivore

  • Kathryn Paxton George


It is argued that the question of whether or not one is required to be or become a strict vegetarian depends, not upon a rule or ideal that endorses vegetarianism on moral grounds, but rather upon whether one's own physical, biological nature is adapted to maintaining health and well-being on a vegetarian diet. Even if we accept the view that animals have rights, we still have no duty to make ourselves substantially worse off for the sake of other rights-holders. Moreover, duties to others, such as fetuses and infants, may require one to consume meat or animal products. Seven classes of individuals who are not required to be or become vegetarians are identified and their examption is related to nutritional facts; these classes comprise most of the earth's population. The rule of vegetarianism defines a special or provisional duty rather than any general or universal rule, since its observance it based upon the biological capacities of individual humans whose genetic constitution and environment makes them suitably herbivorous. It is also argued that generalizing the vegetarian ideal as a social goal for all would be wrongful because it fails to consider the individual nutritional needs of humans at various stages of life, according to biological differences between the sexes, and because it would have the eugenic effect of limiting the adaptability of the human species. The appeal to the natural interests of omnivores will not justify any claim that humans may eat amounts of meat or animal products in excess of a reasonable safety margin since animals have rights-claims against us.


ethics rights animals vegetarianism omnivore genetic diversity eugenics naturalism human nature cannibalism 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Agricultural Ethics 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Paxton George
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of IdahoMoscow

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