Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

The Philosopher and the Pig

The Vegetarian, Vol. IX No. 49, December 5th, 1896

“Of all the arguments for Vegetarianism, none is so weak as the argument from humanity. The pig has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for bacon. If all the world were Jewish, there would be no pigs at all.”—Leslie Stephen, in “Social Rights and Duties.” (Library of Ethics)

“If all the world were Jews, it has been well said, there would be no pigs in existence; and if all the world were Vegetarians, would there be any sheep or cattle, well cared for, and guarded against starvation?”—Prof. D. G. Ritchie, in “Natural Rights.” (Library of Philosophy)

The praise of Philosophy is ever in men’s mouths, and so at this Christmas season of peace and good-will, is the flesh of the pig. I therefore consider the juncture opportune for reverting to a question which I have already asked more than once in criticisms of Mr. Leslie Stephen’s “Social Rights and Duties,” and Mr. Ritchie’s “Natural Rights.” Do these distinguished authorities on ethics and philosophy seriously mean what they say in the above-quoted passages, and what is further implied therein—that the fact of animals being specifically bred for the table is a moral justification of flesh-eating, and an assurance of benefit to the animals themselves? Really it is not quite fair, on the part of our Philosophers, that they should make an “ex-cathedrâ” utterance of this kind, and then, when challenged, ensconce themselves in profound philosophical retirement, or, if I may express it, sub cathedra. I wish to state, with all respect for the Philosophers, but with the candour that the truth demands, that, in my humble opinion, their comfortable contention is delusive, and that it is not creditable to the “Library of Ethics” and the “Library of Philosophy” that crass fallacies should thus be sent forth to an unthinking public by men who claim a recognized position as leaders of thought.

But now to our Pig. Is it not adding insult to injury that this much-massacred animal should not only be eaten by the Philosopher, but should also be made the subject of a far from disinterested Beatification? “Blessed is the Pig, for the Philosopher is fond of Bacon.” We can imagine how Mr. Stephen, when he passes a butcher’s shop, which, according to his own showing, is a very shrine and centre of humaneness, since without it there “would be no pigs at all,” must pause in serene ethical self-satisfaction to felicitate the pallid carcase laid out there, with the mockery of an ornamental orange in its mouth. “I have been a benefactor to this Pig,” he must say, “inasmuch as I ate a portion of his predecessor; and now I will be a benefactor to some yet unborn Pig, by eating a portion of this one.” This, then, is the benign attitude of the Philosopher towards the Pig; and what shall be the reply of the Pig to the Philosopher? “Reverend moralist,” he might plead, “it were unseemly for such as me, who am to-day a Pig, and to-morrow but ham and sausages, to dispute with a master of the Ethical Society and author of ‘Social Rights and Duties,’ yet to my porcine intellect it appeareth that in thy vaunted philosophy the wish is father to the thought, since having first determined to kill and devour me, thou hast afterwards bestirred thee to find a moral reason. For mark, I pray thee, that in my entry into the world my own predilection was in no wise considered, nor did I purchase life on condition of my own butchery. If then thou art firm set on pork, so be it, for pork I am; but though thou hast not spared my life, at least spar me thy sophistry. It is not for his sake but for thine, most genial of Philosophers, that in his life the Pig is filthily housed and fed, and at the end barbarously butchered.”

Such in brief, is the case of the Pig against the Philosophy—a case which I am quite prepared, if necessary, to support more fully in discussion. For herein lies the fallacy in the Philosopher’s argument, that like the Inquisitors who tortured men’s bodies in the present world in order to save their souls in a future world, he imparts a reference to another existence into a question which is solely concerned with this existence. It cannot be shown to be an advantage to the Pig to be born; nor can the bacon-eating Philosopher drive a bargain with him on that account. It were more honest and more philosophical to throw Ethics to the wind and talk of Rashers only. I repeat therefore, with all the compliments of this pig-killing season, that whatever wisdom may otherwise be found in the “Library of Ethics” and the “Library of Philosophy” (and I doubt not there is much), the statement that “the Pig has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for bacon,” is not to be taken seriously, and I invite Mr. Leslie Stephen and Mr. D. G. Ritchie either to substantiate or to withdraw what is not the less a very hollow fallacy because it is a very common one.

H. S. Salt