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PHIL 213: Communicating Moral Issues

Dr. Brissey
Norcross: The Essentials

1. What is Norcross’ Thought Experiment?


Fred has a car accident where he has a head injury that damages his godiva gland. He can no
longer produce the hormone cocoamone, which is necessary for him to taste chocolate. Fred
learns from a doctor that puppies produce cocoamone when tortured. For this reason, he begins
to torture puppies, but does not enjoy it. Rather, it is necessary to obtain this gustatory pleasure.
Fred is later discovered by the police and is charged with animal cruelty. At his trial, Fred uses
the defense that he is innocent because he is doing exactly the same thing we do in society and
that if factory farming is acceptable then so must his behavior.

2. What is Factory Farming?


3. What is Norcross’ Argument?
(1) If it’s wrong to torture puppies for gustatory pleasure, it’s wrong to support factory
farming.
(2) It is wrong to torture puppies for gustatory pleasure.
(3) Therefore, it’s wrong to support factory farming.

To successfully defeat this argument, one needs to give a morally relevant explanation as to why
it is permissible to torture animals.

4. Objections: Which premise of Norcross’ argument is false?


a. The Knowledge Objection: The argument is sound, but I was not aware of it.
(1) It is seriously morally wrong for S to knowingly buy meat from factory farms because
animals are tortured.
(2) S did not know that animals were tortured on factory farms.
(3) Therefore, S’s behavior is morally permissible.
Q: Why is it permissible to TORTURE ANIMALS?
A: What? I did not know that!

*Norcross’ Response:
True, the knowledge objection is sound (valid with true premises). The problem is that
this argument does not provide a good reason for buying factory-farmed meats. S now
knows that her behavior is morally impermissible, and thus eating meat is morally
wrong.

b. The Indirect Harm Objection: The problem is with the first premise of Norcross’
argument.
(1) Fred directly tortures, while meat eaters purchase products that have been
tortured by others.
(2) It is wrong to (directly) torture animals.
(4) Therefore, it is morally permissible to eat meat.
Q: Why is it permissible to TORTURE ANIMALS?
A: I don’t torture animals! I pay others to torture them.

*Norcross’ Response:
The qualification in (2) is false; that is, Norcross argues that it is wrong to directly and
indirectly torture animals. For instance, most of us would hold that it is wrong
for Fred to pay another person to torture his puppies. One is an accessory to the torture.

**Food for Thought: On the present formulation of Norcross’ argument, he holds that we
ought not to buy most meat (i.e. factory-farmed meat). Maybe, the implications of his
premises are a bit more extreme. Consider the following argument:
(1) It is wrong to torture animals.
(2) It is wrong to support those that torture animals.
(3) It is wrong to support those that support those that torture animals.
(4) Most grocery stores buy and sell factory-farmed meats; thus, most grocery stores
support those that torture animals.
(5) When we buy products from grocery stores, we support those that support those that
torture animals.
(6) Therefore, we should not shop at grocery stores.

Is the argument 1-6 a reductio ad absurdum or a duty?

Q: Why is it permissible to support those that support those that TORTURE


ANIMALS?
A: Food!

c. The Causal Impotence Objection: The problem, again, is with the first premise (The point
is to stop the torture of animals.)
(P1) I can either stop eating meat or not.
(P2) If I stop eating meat, there will be animal torture.
(P3) If I don’t stop eating meat, there will be animal torture.
(C1) Therefore, there will be animal torture regardless of what I do.
(C2) Thus, I should not change my habits.

Q: Why is it permissible to TORTURE ANIMALS?


A: There is nothing I can do to stop it!

*Norcross’ Responses:
(One) The claim is that we cannot make a difference. This, however, is a mistake. It
takes one vote to make a majority; that is the collection of the individual votes
makes a change. Thus, every vote makes a difference, and every chicken not eaten
promotes change. If we can get enough people to refrain from purchasing animal
products, we can make a difference. Each American eats, on average, 25 chickens
per year. Suppose that 10,000 people stop eating chickens. This means that
250,000 fewer chickens will be slaughtered. This would make such businesses
reconsider and lessen their practices.
(Two) Animal torture is wrong in principle. Consider Norcross’ Chocolate Mousse
Thought Experiment. In this case, we are causally impotent to the torture of the
puppy, but it is still wrong to eat the mousse.

d. The Puppy Moral Status Objection: The problem is with the first premise.
(One) Puppies are more rational than other animals that humans eat.
(1) Puppies have more moral value or deserve more moral consideration because
they are more rational than other animals people eat (e.g. chickens, pigs, and
cows).
(2) Therefore, it is wrong to torture puppies, but not wrong to torture chickens,
pigs, and cows.

Q: Why is it permissible to TORTURE ANIMALS?


A: People and puppies have more moral value than other animals.

*Norcross’ response:
The first premise is false because pigs, an animal that people commonly eat, are smarter
than puppies (see Norcross, p. 235). If we apply this argument to humans, some are not
as rational as other animals that we commonly eat. It seems impermissible to torture
these human beings. But, some animals are more rational than they. For this reason,
rationality is not a viable morally relevant reason to torture animals.

(Two) Another reason that some hold that puppies have more moral consideration than
pigs and cows is that Western societies have more sympathy for puppies than other
animals.

*Norcross’ Reply: A society’s sympathy for animals is relativistic. Norcross tells us that
South Koreans abuse dogs and cats for gustatory pleasure. The U.S., in general, holds
that this is morally wrong. Norcross inquiries into which party has the correct
sensibilities; more specifically, one needs to provide a morally relevant property
explaining why one sensibility is correct and the other is not.

e. The Rationality Gambit (Warren’s formulation):


(1) Human beings have a higher moral status than other animals due to being rational
animals.
(2) Whatever has higher moral status should be given more moral consideration than
beings with less moral status.
(3) Therefore, human beings should be given more moral status than other animals. (Note:
this conclusion does not rule out giving some consideration to animals.)

*Norcross’ Response:
(One) The problem of marginal cases: It is not the case that all human beings are more
rational than other species. For instance, take the property of moral consciousness.
Infants, the severely senile, the irreversibly comatose, and the cognitively disabled will
not count as rational or persons on this standard. Further, chimpanzees, apes, and pigs are
more rational, that is, on some broad definition of rationality, than some of these. But,
animals do not have a right to life, so marginal humans should not likewise. Should we
torture, experiment with, or eat marginal humans? As you can see, this definition leaves
this a possibility. Nevertheless, few hold that we should torture marginal human
beings. Thus, we likewise should not torture animals for similar reasons; they can feel
pain.

Also, consider this argument:

(1) It is permissible to kill and eat farm animals only if it is permissible to kill and eat
humans with the same cognitive capacities.
(2) It is not permissible to kill and eat humans who have the same cognitive capacities as
farm animals.
(3) Therefore, it is not permissible to kill and eat farm animals.

(Two) The irrelevance of rationality: It may be the case that humans, in general, are
more rational than animals. This is, not, however, a morally relevant distinction.
Although humans are agents and animals are patients, this does not diminish the fact that
animals have moral consideration as patients. In short, the argument that one is more
rational than another does not entail that one can torture the other.