The Consequences of Individual Consumption: A Defence of Threshold Arguments for Vegetarianism and Consumer Ethics

Journal of Applied Philosophy 28 (4):396-411 (2011)
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As a moral foundation for vegetarianism and other consumer choices, act consequentialism can be appealing. When we justify our consumer and dietary choices this way, however, we face the problem that our individual actions rarely actually precipitate more just agricultural and economic practices. This threshold or individual impotence problem engaged by consequentialist vegetarians and their critics extends to morally motivated consumer decision-making more generally, anywhere a lag persists between individual moral actions taken and systemic moral progress made. Regan and others press just this point against Singer's utilitarian basis for vegetarianism; recently Chartier criticizes act-consequentialist vegetarianism by identifying many factors weakening the connection between individual meat purchases and changes in animal production. While such factors are relevant to act-consequentialist moral reasoning, I argue, they need not defeat the act-consequentialist case for vegetarianism and consumer ethics. This is shown by offering a probabilistic account of the threshold issue and discussing the positive and negative role-modelling effects of our morally motivated dietary and consumer choices
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