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Open AccessArticle

The Meat Paradox, Omnivore’s Akrasia, and Animal Ethics

Department of Philosophy, Contemporary History and Political Science, University of Turku, 20014 Turku, Finland
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1125;
Received: 20 September 2019 / Revised: 28 October 2019 / Accepted: 9 December 2019 / Published: 12 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Ethics: Questioning the Orthodoxy)
Psychologists have used the term “meat paradox” to explain why people may emphasize their concern for animal welfare and yet eat meat, the production of which has caused suffering to nonhuman creatures. This paper explores the meat paradox through the philosophical concept “akrasia”. Akrasia refers to a situation, where one believes in a fact or value x, and yet acts against that fact or value. The paper uses the term “omnivore’s akrasia” to denote a state where one believes in the value of animal wellbeing and nonetheless consumes products which have caused animal suffering. The claim of the paper is that understanding of the meat paradox can be significantly broadened with the use of philosophical takes on akrasia, which underline notions such as moral reason and virtue. Another claim is that it is through enhancing one’s moral ability that both the meat paradox and omnivore’s akrasia may be reduced. Specific factors included in such enhancement are introduced and compared with “nudging”. In the conflicting era when the meat industry is rapidly growing on a global scale whilst attitudes toward other animals are becoming increasingly positive, exploring the phenomenon of both eating and caring for animals is of clear societal, political, and moral significance.
Western cultures have witnessed an intriguing phenomenon in recent years: People are both more concerned for animal wellbeing and consume more animal products than ever before. This contradiction has been explored in psychology under the term “meat paradox”. However, what has been omitted from the explorations is the age-old philosophical notion of “akrasia”, within which one both knows “the good” and acts against it. The paper seeks to address this omission by comparing psychological research on the meat paradox with philosophy of akrasia. Applying Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Spinoza, I investigate the underlying factors of and solutions to what is here called “omnivore’s akrasia”. Whilst contemporary research on the meat paradox focuses on various descriptive cognitive errors (such as cognitive dissonance), philosophy of akrasia has tended to focus more prescriptively on moral reason and virtue. After discussing “nudging” as an implication of the descriptive approach, the paper supports the prescriptive perspective and “the cultivation argument”. The claim is that contemporary research on the contradictions concerning attitudes toward other animals would greatly benefit from paying more attention to the value-laden mental factors underlying moral agency. View Full-Text
Keywords: the meat paradox; animal ethics; akrasia; attitudes toward animals the meat paradox; animal ethics; akrasia; attitudes toward animals
MDPI and ACS Style

Aaltola, E. The Meat Paradox, Omnivore’s Akrasia, and Animal Ethics. Animals 2019, 9, 1125.

AMA Style

Aaltola E. The Meat Paradox, Omnivore’s Akrasia, and Animal Ethics. Animals. 2019; 9(12):1125.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Aaltola, Elisa. 2019. "The Meat Paradox, Omnivore’s Akrasia, and Animal Ethics" Animals 9, no. 12: 1125.

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