NameTheTrait

From Philosophical Vegan Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Ask Yourself claims NTT is an argument for veganism that requires only logical consistency and a personal belief in human moral value.

The Name The Trait argument has been officially updated/revised, and is now formally valid. See NameTheTrait 2.0 (official) for details and discussion on its uses and limitations. This article will remain online for reference and academic interest.

To jump to the proof of logical invalidity see Proof of Invalidity in First Order Logic

Name The Trait, or #NameTheTrait is an argument for veganism formulated by vegan Youtuber Ask Yourself in 2015, and popularized during a series of Youtube debates in 2017 by Ask Yourself and Vegan Gains, a vegan bodybuilder and Youtuber. Loosely speaking, NTT seeks to establish veganism from a personal belief in human moral value, similar to the well known argument from marginal cases. Some street activists claim to have found the argument effective, when presented informally. However as we will see in this article, it is logically invalid, and Ask Yourself's attempts to make it valid have led to an alternative version of the argument that is question-begging or that achieves possible validity only by the Principle of Explosion due to Internal-Contradiction. Furthermore, it is often combined with false claims such as "animal rights follow logically from human rights" which are defended with the use of invalid generalizations. These drawbacks can make the argument confusing and unconvincing. However the argument can be corrected by modifying its first premise to require human moral value to be based on a trait and by adding a premise that rejects double standards (or by framing things more directly around the challenge to name a good justification for according important moral status to all sentient humans but virtually no moral status to non-human animals), preserving the original intention of the argument.

The formal, premise-conclusion presentation of #NameTheTrait is as follows:

Argument for animal moral value:
P1 - Humans are of moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless.
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals, we contradict ourselves by deeming animals valueless
Argument for veganism from animal moral value:
P1 - Animals are of moral value.
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to consider anything short of non-exploitation to be an adequate expression of respect for human moral value.
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals, we contradict ourselves by considering anything short of non-exploitation(veganism) to be an adequate expression of respect for animal moral value.

This article discusses the three primary issues with NTT. Firstly, it discusses its logical invalidity, and how its invalidity can create problems. Secondly, it discusses problems with the justifications used by Ask Yourself to defend the premises of the first, "for animal moral value" argument validity of the argument. And thirdly, the article discusses various problems with the second, less widely discussed "for veganism from animal moral value" argument, which suggests a potentially dubious, unclear, and rigid commitment to non-exploitation.


NTT's Invalidity

The Importance of logical validity

The main reason it helps to know whether an argument is logically valid is that it helps us to clarify if we have identified all of the substantive assumptions behind its conclusion. If we can see that an argument is valid, then we know that its conclusion follows from its premises simply because of their form, so we have identified and listed all of its substantive assumptions in its premises. If we can see that an argument is invalid, this helps us to know that it must be making further assumptions in order to be a good, rationally compelling argument. Knowing that an argument is making such assumptions, and determining what they are, can help us to understand why certain individuals may not find it compelling, and can spare us the confusion of failing to understand this. It can also put us in a better position to defend those assumptions forthrightly to those who might be inclined to challenge or fail initially to accept them.

As we will see below, NTT is invalid. Seeing why it is helps us to see how certain very plausible substantive assumptions can be added to its premises to make it valid. The making of these tacit assumptions by the presenter of NTT and the audience very likely explains why it is often a compelling argument. But as we will see below, the failure to acknowledge these assumptions can cause confusion, and inhibit a persuasive defense of its premises. As we will also see, the fact that to be compelling the argument must make such assumptions may help to dash certain hopes about the minimality of the argument’s assumptions (e.g. about the nature of value and ethics). Seeing that NTT is invalid will thus help us to appreciate the argument’s limits, and how other approaches may be helpful in defending the substantive ethical views that stand behind arguments like NTT.

Logical Validity

What it is for arguments to be logically valid and invalid is the following:

  • Valid: It is impossible for all of the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false, due simply to the structure of the premises and the conclusion
  • Invalid: The structure of the premises and the conclusion leave open the possibility that the premises are true but the conclusion is false

(This is not to be confused with sound which means an argument is both valid and its premises are true)

In other words, for an argument to be logically valid is for the truth of its conclusion to be guaranteed by the truth of its premises due to their logical form (that is, the validity of an argument depends on the syntactic form of the argument, not the semantic meaning of the argument [1]). For instance, an argument of the form

(P1) If consuming animal products causes unnecessary suffering, then we should not consume animal products,
(P2) Consuming animal products causes unnecessary suffering,
Therefore, (C) we should not consume animal products

is logically valid. This is because it has the logical form:

(P1) If U then V
(P2) U
Therefore (C) V

Here, C follows from P1 and P2 simply due to their logical form, whatever the content of U and V may be (this particular way of a conclusion following from its logical form and that of the premises is known as "modus ponens" [2]).

This means that for NTT to be valid, we must be able to replace its premises and conclusion with sentences that mean different things but have the same logical form, and so long as we preserve this logical form, it must remain valid (note: it would not have to remain sound). Hence the following must be valid if NTT is valid:

P1 - Humans are of moral value
P2 - There is no eye colour absent in cows which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless.
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such an eye colour in cows, we contradict ourselves by deeming cows valueless

Which is clearly invalid as there is no premise to say moral value must be based on eye colour. But likewise, in NTT there is no premise to say moral value must be based on a trait. Moreover, there is no special logical significance to the notion of a trait that allows a valid argument to omit stating such a premise (unless perhaps if "trait" is interpreted as referring in an all-encompassing way to any predicate, but this results in contradiction in P2).

The standard way to show an argument is invalid is to show a case where the logical form of the premises and conclusion allow the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false. Such a case is referred to as a counterexample.

To learn how to formally prove that an argument is valid, see Paul Teller's A Modern Formal Logic Primer[3].

Semantic Issues

The argument as presented by Ask Yourself contains a number of semantic issues that make it hard to evaluate. That is, the words used and their meanings don't obviously line up, and what is being said may not be coherent.

This isn't a trivial nitpick: while the problems may be able to be fixed pretty easily, without doing so the argument may not make any sense. Semantic problems can cause serious issues, such as fallacies of ambiguity which create the illusion of a valid logical form without really being valid. For example:

P1. Really exciting novels are rare.
P2. But rare books are expensive.
C. Therefore, Really exciting novels are expensive.[4]

Or:

P1. Nothing is better than a good lesson.
P2. A poor lesson is better than nothing.
C. A poor lesson is better than a good lesson.[5]

It's obvious here that despite being the same words, in natural language the instances of "rare" and "nothing" in the first and second premises of these arguments have different meanings.

When we fail to scrutinize the wording and meanings of words in arguments like Name The Trait these subtle differences may ignored, but just because it feels convincing it does not make the argument valid. Semantic messes like these can hide fallacies that not only make the argument fail the test of being valid, but may compromise the underlying reasoning at its core.

Deeming vs Being

Deem.PNG

The first premise (P1) suggests a state of being, while the second premise (P2) talks about what would be "deemed"

P1 - Humans are of moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless.

The reasoning attempted by the argument seems to be trying to draw from an existential claim of fact (are) and an apparently subjective evaluation ("deem" which refers to judgement of opinion[6]) as if they were categorically the same type of statement.
The hidden premise here appears to be that "deeming" and being are the same thing: if something is then you deem it, or perhaps if you deem something it is so. This hidden premise is either a very substantial claim of Factual Relativism, or a rejection of moral realism/moral objectivism. The latter interpretation might make sense given the author's identification as an "ontological moral subjectivist" and his views about objective morality. But whatever the reasoning such substantial assumptions must be stated as a premise. It is not enough just to expect that whoever you are talking to will implicitly agree that being and deeming are the same thing. As such, the argument in its current form is invalid.

This might work to resolve the difference:

P1 - Humans are of moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless.
P3- Being of (or lacking) moral value and being deemed to have (or lack) moral value are the same thing (respectively).

However, this would also weaken the argument in terms of practical application. Most people are not moral subjectivists of this radical sort and do not agree that having an opinion about something having or lacking moral value is that same thing as that thing actually having or lacking moral value. Most people believe that there IS a fact of the matter about which moral views are correct, and in cases of disagreement one party is just mistaken about that fact (much as virtually nobody considers any two views about the shape of the Earth to be equally correct, justified, or "just a matter of opinion, man").

While it would be an option for making the argument more comprehensible, baking radical moral subjectivism into the argument as a requirement to be convinced by it is a bad idea that severely limits its persuasive force. It's probably a better idea to just change some of the words: either changing "are" to "Are deemed to be" or change "deem ourselves" to "be". We can talk about deeming in all premises and conclusion, or we can talk about being in all premises and conclusion. Which we choose has its own implications, though.

Deeming Only

Changing all terms to "Deem" means modifying the first premise. For example:

P1 - We Deem Humans to have moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless.
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals, we contradict ourselves by deeming animals valueless

However, this creates another problem: why are different deemings in different contexts or at different times considered logical contradictions if made without justification? This seems to be confusing the notion of a double standard (which is NOT a logical contradiction) with legitimate logical contradictions.

Unlike matters of fact in objective physical reality, the matter of deeming is a subjective issue like with taste: one where we accept that people can deem Tacos or Burritos delicious or not at a whim from situation to situation, or day to day, with no reason other than they feel like it. There's no reason presented in the argument to believe that personal moral feelings or preferences, if that's what morality is based on, should be subject to any more scrutiny (or accusation of contradiction) than personal taste preferences which can vary at a whim.

In order to establish shifting moral whims without trait justification as a contradiction (rather than the logically permissible unjustified double standards they are) we would would need to establish yet another premise which demands that morality be based on a consistent value system requiring justification based on traits.

P1 - We Deem Humans to have moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless.
P3 - Moral deeming must be based on a consistent system of moral evaluation, which requires naming trait differences to justify different treatment.
C - Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals, we contradict ourselves by deeming animals valueless

This important premise must be stated, and can not be hidden or merely assumed. Without it, the argument fails (although changing this alone is probably not sufficient to make the argument valid since there are still questions of the meaning of "trait", it's one step closer).

Adding such a premise resolves the issues with deeming, but of course also makes apparent a point of potential disagreement in P3; while the majority may agree, not all people believe morality works that way. Overall, this P3 is a useful addition which strengthens the argument substantially. Of course there are other options:

Being Only

Converting the rest of the argument from deeming to being requires more substantial change of P2 and the conclusion:

P1 - Humans are of moral value
P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would make us valueless.
C - Therefore*, animals are not valueless.

*The "without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals" part was superfluous; you can leave it in, but it doesn't mean anything anymore

Even this one change simplifies the argument greatly and brings it closer to validity, but not quite there; there are still serious issues about what "trait" means, and potential contradictions it generates:

Meaning of "Trait"

Broadly speaking, there are two ways "trait" can be interpreted"

1. An all-encompassing interpretation which includes essential properties as traits
2. A limited version, which excludes essential properties (or other properties that would yield contradiction).

When "trait" is all encompassing (and this is what Ask Yourself has claimed in response to criticism), then P2 has self-contradictory implications.

P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would make us valueless.

While it is coherent to speak of certain traits (like "intelligence") being absent in humans, it is not coherent to speak of all important traits being absent in humans. Most importantly, consider the trait of being human itself - which actually is commonly thought to be a relevant factor in these discussions. Consider what happens when we try to evaluate what P2 says about this trait:

The trait of "being or having ever been human" is a trait absent in animals. But a human who lacked the trait "being or having ever been human" would not be valueless.

This doesn't make any sense, because being human or at least having been human at some point (so we can identify former humans) is an essential property of the subject being discussed.

Speaking of a human who is not human and never has been human is a contradiction; it's logically incoherent, and it makes the whole argument an appeal to a nonsensical premise. (That said, in light of the logical principle of explosion[7], according to which literally anything follows from a logically inconsistent set of premises, there is a technical sense in which the conclusion of NTT could be said to follow from its premises and it could thus be valid if P2 is interpreted so as to be logically inconsistent. But this would not be a sense of validity in which NTT would be a good or rationally compelling argument).

Because the semantic structure of the argument makes it impossible to coherently consider essential traits, or traits that beings cannot lack and remain the self-same entities, these traits must be excluded from the definition of "trait" in order for the argument to be coherent.

By changing the wording of the argument to talk about Counterparts to Humans rather than humans themselves, this resolves the contradiction and allows an all-encompassing definition to be used. However, as explained here this alternative version of NTT begs the question.

The limited version of the definition of "trait" (which at the very least excludes essential properties like being or having been human that would create an internal contradiction in P2) makes more sense, but yields an invalid argument without additional premises that rule out investing the forbidden properties with crucial moral significance. Without an additional premise, the argument can be easily shown to be invalid by considering the coherence of value narcissism, which some individuals are initially tempted to embrace, as explained here.

Steel-manning NTT

Before proceeding we will rephrase the argument in the following way, to capture its essential reasoning

Part 1

(P1) All sentient humans have moral value
(P2) If an individual is a sentient nonhuman animal, then there is no trait absent the individual, which is such that, if the trait were absent in a sentient human, then the human would not have moral value
Therefore, (C) All sentient non-human animals have moral value

Part 2

(P1) All sentient non-human animals have moral value
(P2) If an individual is a sentient non-human animal, then there is no trait absent the individual, which is such that, if the trait were absent in a sentient human who has moral value, then we would not be morally required to not exploit the human
Therefore, (C) We are morally required to not exploit sentient non-human animals who have moral value

Summary of Issues

As we will see below, the reason NTT is logically invalid because its logical form allows for a counterexample in which sentient humans have moral value, sentient non-human animals that lacks moral value, and for all traits that sentient non-human animals lack, humans possess moral value with the traits removed. The reason we can pose such a counterexample is because there is nothing in the logical form of the argument that says moral value must be based on a trait (as is the case for the NTT2.0 correction) nor is there anything to say humans lacking certain traits are animals (as is the case for the alternative interpretation).

Ask Yourself has argued that if one were to lose all of the traits that distinguish one from a non-human animal, then the resulting entity would be identical to that non-human animal, so P1 and P2 so interpreted [logically] entail C. The problem with this claim is that it presupposes something like the identity of indiscernibles: that if two entities have all of the same properties, then they must be the self-same object. This is a substantive metaphysical thesis, to which certain philosophers have objected (for discussion see [8]), so it must be added as an additional premise for the argument to be logically valid.

But as we will see below, the much greater problem with the argument so interpreted is that it has essentially no rational force. P2 so interpreted is essentially just asserting that beings with all and only the traits of sentient non-human animals have moral value. The argument thus offers little if any reason to change the mind of someone who does not already find this view plausible, and the defense of its premises offers no guidance on how to persuade such an individual, see how this version of the argument begs the question.

Proof of Invalidity in First Order Logic

In order to show the logical form of NTT, we will use what is known as first order logic or predicate logic. The sort of logic used to display the logical form of the argument above '(P1) If U then V; (P2) U; therefore, (C) V' is known as propositional logic or sentence logic, since it replaces full propositions or sentences flanking logical connectives like 'if...then', 'and' and 'or' with abstract symbols. First order logic goes inside the logical structure of propositions, and replaces predicates like 'is a sentient human' and 'is a sentient non-human animal' with abstract symbols. First order logic also considers variables for things to which those predicates are ascribed, and quantification over them (e.g. 'for all x, if x is a sentient human, then x has moral value'). For more on propositional logic and first order logic, see Paul Teller's A Modern Formal Logic Primer[9].


Displaying the Logical Form of NTT in FOL

Symbols

  • ∀ (for all)
  • ⇒ (if, then; e.g. A ⇒ B means 'if A then B')
  • ⇔ (if and only if; e.g. A ⇔ B means 'if A then B and if B then A')
  • ¬ (negation i.e. not)
  • ∃ (there exists)
  • ∧ (and)
  • ∨ (or)

Definitions

H(x) means 'x is a sentient human'
A(x) means 'x is a sentient non-human animal'
M(x) means 'x has moral value'
T(x) means 'x is a trait'
P(x,y) means 'x has y; e.g. if x is a sentient human and t is a trait, P(x,t) means 'human x has trait t', or 'a property of x is t'
RNE(x) means 'we a morally required to not exploit x'

Note we will also use the shorthand Hx to represent H(x), Px,y or Pxy to represent P(x,y) etc.

The Logical Form of Part 1 of NTT

(P1) ∀x ( Hx ⇒ Mx )
(P2) ∀x ( Ax ⇒ ¬∃t ( Tt ∧ ¬Pxt ∧ ∀y ( Hy ⇒ ( ¬Pyt ⇒ ¬My ) ) ) )
Therefore, (C) ∀x ( Ax ⇒ Mx )

In English

(P1) for all x, if x is a sentient human, then x has moral value
(P2) for all x, if x is a sentient nonhuman animal, then there does not exist t, such that t is a trait, and x lacks t, and for all y, if y is a human, then if y lacks t, then y does not have moral value.
Therefore, (C) For all x, if x is a sentient non-human animal, then x has moral value

The Logical Form of Part 2 of NTT

(P1) ∀x ( Ax ⇒ Mx )
(P2) ∀x ( Ax ⇒ ¬∃t ( Tt ∧ ¬Pxt ∧ ∀y ( Hy ∧ My ⇒ ( ¬Pyt ⇒ ¬RNEy ) ) ) )
Therefore, (C) ∀x ( (Ax ∧ Mx) ⇒ RNEx )

In English:

(P1) For all x, if x is a sentient nonhuman animal, then x has moral value.
(P2) For all x, if x is a sentient nonhuman animal, then there does not exist t, such that t is a trait, and x lacks t, and for all y, if y is a human, and y has moral value, then if y lacks t, then we are not morally required to not exploit y.
Therefore (C) for all x, if x is a sentient non-human animal, and x has moral value, then we are morally required not to exploit x.

Showing NTT is Logically Invalid

The standard way of showing that an argument is invalid is to construct a counterexample, or a model, which is allowed by the logical form of the premises and the conclusion, in which the premises are true and the conclusion is false.Since Part 1 and Part 2 follow the same basic structure, we will only show a counterexample for Part 1.

Part 1 Counterexample

In the following counterexample, we will imagine a case in which, sentient humans have moral value, sentient non-human animals do not have moral value, and for all traits that sentient nonhuman animals lack, humans retain moral value with the trait removed.

In FOL
(E1) ∃x ( Hx ) ∧ ∀x ( Hx ⇒ ( Mx ∧ ¬Ax ∧ ¬Tx) )
(E2) ∃x ( Ax ) ∧ ∀x ( Ax ⇒ ( ¬Mx ∧ ¬Hx ∧ ¬Tx ∧ ( ∃y ( Hy ∧ ∀t (Tt ∧ ( ¬Pxt ⇒ ¬Pyt ) ) ) ) )
(E3) ∀x ( Tx ⇒ ( ¬Ax ∧ ¬Hx ∧ ¬ Mx) )

In English

(E1) there is a sentient human, and all sentient humans have moral value, are not sentient non-human animals, are not traits
(E2) there is a sentient non-human animal, and all sentient non-human animals do not have moral value, are not sentient humans, are not traits, and are such that there exists a human that lacks all the same traits as the non-human animal
(E3) all traits are not sentient non-human animals, are not sentient humans, and do not have moral value
Proving the Counterexample renders NTT invalid

If NTT is invalid, then the formula

( E1 ∧ E2 ∧ E3 ) ⇒ ( P1 ∧ P2 ∧ ¬C )

should be valid. That is to say, if NTT is invalid, and we have chosen our counterexample correctly, then if the counterexample is true, then the premises of NTT should be true and its conclusion false. We can check this using a logical proof generator, with the input

(\existsx (Hx) \land \forallx (Hx \to ( \negAx \land \negTx \landMx))) \land (\existsx (Ax) \land \forallx(Ax\to (\negHx \land \negTx \land \negMx\land( \existsy (Hy\land \forallt (\negPxt \to \negPyt)))))) \land (Tx\to( \negAx \land\negHx\land\negMx))\to(\forallx ( Hx \to Mx ) \land \forallx ( Ax \to \neg \existst ( Tt \land \neg Pxt \land ( \forally (Hy \to ( \neg Pyt \to \neg My ) ) ) ) ) \to\neg\forallx (Ax \to Mx))

which gives us valid. Hence we have demonstrated that NTT is invalid.

Checking the Validity Directly

We can also use the logical proof generator to directly show the argument is invalid by checking the formula

P1 ∧ P2 ⇒ C

We can do this with the input (for part 1)

(P1) \forallx (Hx \to Mx)
(P2) \forallx ( Ax \to \neg \exists t (Tt \land \neg Pxt \land ( \forally (Hy \to ( \neg Pyt \to \neg My ) ) ) ) )
(C) \forallx ( Ax \to Mx )

Or all together (P1 ∧ P2 ⇒ C)

\forallx ( Hx \to Mx ) \land \forallx ( Ax \to \neg \existst ( Tt \land \neg Pxt \land ( \forally (Hy \to ( \neg Pyt \to \neg My ) ) ) ) ) \to\forallx (Ax \to Mx)

which yields invalid. This is unlike the NTT2.0 correction which gives valid.

The Alternative Interpretation of NTT

Ask Yourself explains his interpretation of P2 with an animation

In the video to the right Ask Yourself explains his interpretation of NTT and why he believes it to be valid. The claim made is that, paraphrasing, all objects are constellations of traits, and that if the traits of the two objects are equalized, then the objects become the same object, and furthermore, to resist this is to deny the very first law of logic, which is the law of identity.

The basic idea of this alternative interpretation of NTT seems to be this. The conclusion

(C) All sentient non-human animals have moral value

follows simply from the premises

(P1) All sentient humans have moral value, and
(P2) There is no trait absent in sentient non-human animals which if absent in sentient humans would result in sentient humans not having moral value

because if a given sentient human were to lose (or never have) any of the traits that distinguish her from any given sentient non-human animal, she would become (or have been) literally identical to that non-human animal. If she is literally identical to that non-human animal and she retained her moral value in the course of losing (or never having) any of the traits that distinguish her from the non-human animal, then, because P1 says that she has moral value as she actually is, P1 would entail that the non-human animal has moral value. Moreover, P2 says that she would not lose (or fail to have had) her moral value no matter which traits she lost (or never had) which distinguish her from any sentient non-human animal. So P1 and P2 together suffice to ensure that humans have moral value when they become (or in the event that they had been) identical to non-human animals, and thus, that non-human animals have moral value.

This reasoning seems extremely strange and difficult to follow. One small reason is that one might think that simply losing the traits that distinguish one from a given non-human animal (including originating in a body with human DNA from the gametes of one’s human biological parents) would not make one that non-human animal, since non-human animals have many traits that one does not have (such as originating in a body with bovine DNA from the gametes of her biological bovine parents). But we can charitably understand this line of reasoning as using ‘traits’ extremely broadly to include ‘negative traits’ such as lacking the positive trait of originating form bovine parents, which, when lost, involve one gaining the positive trait of originating from bovine parents. Another small reason is that talk of humans ‘losing’, ‘changing’, or ‘switching’ their traits might suggest an adjustment that takes place in time, but we must be able to think about what would have happened had historical traits (such as originating from human vs. bovine gametes) been different. Charitable interpretation entails that these are not problems for the reasoning as intended, but these are hardly the sorts of things that one wants to have to explain to an interlocutor in the course of trying to convince her of the strength of the moral case for being vegan.

The real conceptual problem with this line of reasoning concerns how to make sense of its talk about what would happen if individual humans were to lose (or never have had) their essential properties, or the properties which they must have in order to count as the self-same individuals. It seems difficult to make sense of scenarios in which humans lose or never had such properties and thus are not or were not themselves, which arguably include the property of originating from human DNA or the gametes of a given set of human parents (and the negative trait of not originating from bovine DNA or the gametes of a given set of bovine parents). But this alternative version of NTT’s P2 requires that we must make sense of such scenarios, since, for the conclusion to follow simply from it and P1, P2 must be talking about humans not losing (or not having not had) their moral value as they lose (or are imagined never to have had) their essential traits, gain (or are imagined to instead have had) the essential traits of given non-human animals, and become (or are imagined to have instead been) those given non-human animals.

In talking about humans in scenarios in which they are not themselves but are rather non-human animals, we cannot really refer to them as the humans they are. We must instead somehow imagine them as themselves in an alternate scenario but not really themselves. Whether or not this makes any conceptual sense, the idea can be formalized using a philosophical device for talking about what is true of an entity in an alternative scenario by talking about what is true of the "counterpart" of the entity in that scenario.[10]. So understood, what the second premise is claiming on the alternative interpretation of NTT is that there is no trait absent in sentient non-human animals but present in sentient humans that, if absent in a counterpart of a sentient human would not result in that counterpart lacking moral value. What is supposed to make this argument valid is that ‘traits’ are being understood broadly to include negative traits, so this entails that for each sentient non-human animal there is a counterpart of a sentient human with all of the same traits as the non-human animal that has moral value.

With this we can get an inkling of why Ask Yourself believes that this Alternative version of NTT is valid. Unfortunately, as we have seen it involves reasoning that is difficult to follow, requires charitable clarification, and makes obscure and dubiously coherent reference to humans who lack their essential properties but have the essential properties of other individuals and are identical to these other individuals rather than themselves. It also makes an additional substantive metaphysical assumption, namely that of

Bundle Theory

The first claim, that objects are constellations of traits is not built into logic, it is a form of bundle theory which states :

Substances are in fact no more than bundles of properties conceived of as universals.[11]

This is a substantive metaphysical premise that needs to be stated if it's to be used as part of an argument. It's worth noting that the identity of indiscernibles would follow from such a premise, as correctly identified by Ask Yourself. This is one of the reasons why many philosophers have raised objections to such a premise.

Identity of Indescernibles

The claim that two objects with the same traits are the same object is a principle similar to the the identity of indiscernibles, which says: if for every property P, object x has P if and only if object y has P, then x is identical to y. Or in the notation of symbolic logic:

(∀P)(Px ⇔ Py) ⇒ x=y.

In the notation we have been using, this could be expressed as

∀x ∀y ∀t ( Px,t ⇔ Py,t ) ⇒ x = y)

(for all things x, y, and t, if x has t if and only if y has t, then x and y are the self-same thing. )

Or in that case that we are only considering traits, that may or may not refer to all properties, the principle would be expressed as

∀x ∀y ∀t ( Tt ∧ ( Px,t ⇔ Py,t ) ) ⇒ x = y)

i.e. for all things x, y, and t, if t is a trait, and x has t if and only if y has t, then x and y are the self-same thing.

The identity of indiscernibles is not simply a fact about the logical form of propositions or their components - it is instead a metaphysical thesis about the conditions under which entities are identical. Thus, an argument the conclusion of which follows only from its premises together with the identity of identity of indiscernibles in virtue of their logical form is not logically valid. To be logically valid, such an argument must include the statement of the identity of indiscernibles among its premises. In contrast, the law of identity, understood simply as 'x is identical to x for each x' or ∀x (x = x), is a fact about the logical form of the identity relation (so it does not need to be stated among the premises of an argument that involves propositions that employ the identity relation).

Alternative Version in FOL

With the addition of the identity of indiscernibles we can present a logically valid alternative version of NTT, as shown below:

(P1) ∀x ( Hx ⇒ Mx )
(P2) ∀x ( Ax ⇒ ( ∃y ( CPy ∧ My ∧ ∀t ( Tt ⇒ ( Px,t ⇔ Py,t ) ) ) ) )
(P3) ∀x ∀y ∀t ( ( Tt ∧ ( Px,t ⇔ Py,t ) ) ⇒ x = y)
Therefore (C) ∀x ( Ax ⇒ Mx )

In English

(P1) sentient humans are of moral value
(P2) for all sentient nonhuman animals there exists a counterpart to a sentient human that has moral value and has all the same traits as a sentient nonhuman animal
(P3) All things with the same traits are the same thing.
Therefore (C) Animals are of moral value

Here we have introduced the notion of a counterpart to a human, to mean a being that can take on all the traits of a non-human animal, and can become a sentient non-human animal.

This Alternative Version of NTT Begs the Question

With the addition of the identity of indiscernibles as P3, this alternative version of NTT becomes logically valid. However, the validity of this version of the argument comes at a very high price. The "counterparts" to sentient humans spoken of P2 are allowed to lack the essential properties of humans - like originating from human gametes - and to have the essential properties of non-human animals - like originating from bovine gametes. Hence, these "counterparts" need not be human, or us, at all. The only requirement of these entities is that they (i) have moral value, and (ii) have all and only the properties of sentient non-human animals. So in asserting that, for each sentient non-human animal, there is a "counterpart" that has moral value and has all and only the properties of the non-human animal, P2 is essentially just asserting that sentient beings with the properties of non-human animals have moral value. In doing so P2 assumes the substance of what the argument is supposed to prove, namely that sentient beings like non-human animals have moral value, thus rendering the argument question-begging.

To see how unconvincing this version of NTT really is, note that P1, about human moral value, really plays no role at all in deriving the conclusion of this version of NTT. The conclusion follows from simply P2, which asserts that for each sentient non-human animal, there is a being that has moral value and has all and only the same traits as the non-human animal, and P3, which entails that if the being with moral value has all and only the same traits as the non-human animal, then the being is identical to the non-human animal. But clearly, the argument that:

(P2) For each non-human animal, there is an entity with all and only the same traits that has moral value
(P3) If two entities have all and only the same traits, then they are the self-same entity
Therefore, (C) All non-human animals have moral value

is not a very compelling argument for the moral value of non-human animals at all. Anyone not inclined to accept the conclusion will have no more inclination at all to accept P2. Moreover, the structure of this version of the argument offers no guidance as to how to convince someone not inclined to accept the conclusion of the truth of the argument's premises, since it seems just as difficult to convince someone of the truth of P2 as to convince them of the truth of C directly.

Excluding Essential Properties

Based on the written version, P2 seems clearly to speak of traits that do not include essential properties and include only accidental properties. The distinction is that

An essential property of an object is a property that it must have [in order to count as the same object], while an accidental property of an object is one that it happens to have but that it could lack [and still count as the same object]. [12]

If the traits spoken of in P2 include only accidental properties, we are envisioning humans like oneself losing accidental properties that one has and non-human animals lack (like abstract reasoning ability, moral agency, etc.) and still retaining one’s status as oneself. The original written version of NTT seems to require this interpretation, since it says

"there are no traits absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to deem ourselves valueless,"

so the entities losing the traits are clearly supposed still to be us after losing them.

This interpretation of P2 as speaking only of accidental traits is not question begging. But it is is clearly invalid, as one could hold the view that we might call

Value Narcissism: one’s essential properties (or the essential properties of being human) are what give one moral value – or are such that, if one lost them, one would lose moral value.

A value narcissist could hold that although humans like oneself (or just oneself) have moral value, and one would retain this value if one lost the accidental properties that one has and sentient non-humans lack, non-human animals still lack moral value. They could thus accept P1 and P2 but reject C.

Some individuals faced with arguments for veganism like NTT may well be tempted to embrace something like value narcissism. For instance, in Ask Yourself's debates / discussions with the Warskis, Friend Ed, and Patty Politics, Ask Yourself's conversants seemed tempted to the view that being human (i.e. possessing the essential properties of a human) is necessary to have moral value - at least independent of other considerations like membership in a human community (the trait named by FriendEd). It is certainly true that Ask Yourself argued substantively against this view, although in doing so he unfortunately seemed to make invalid generalizations about the ways in which species membership might matter morally. But it seems quite possible that addition confusion in debates may stem from the fact that, on the natural interpretation of P2 as restricted to accidental traits, the argument simply invalidly overlooks the option of value narcissism, and makes it unclear how a substantive attack on the plausibility of value narcissism is needed for the argument to establish its conclusion.

Related Problems

False Claims

Ask Yourself proposes "veganism follows logically from universal human rights"

Proponents of NTT such as Ask Yourself claim that "veganism follows logically from universal (sentient) human rights" or that "(sentient nonhuman) animal rights follow logically from (sentient) human rights", which is false. For such a claim to be true human rights must logically entail animal rights, meaning the following must be true;

(P1) Sentient humans deserve rights
Therefore (C) Sentient nonhuman animals deserve rights.

Or in the notation we have been using.

∀x ( Hx ⇒ Rx ) ⊢ ∀x (Ax ⇒ Rx)

where ⊢ denotes logically entails and R(x) denotes x deserves rights.

Which is clearly invalid, since the following statements are not contradictory.

(i) Sentient humans deserve rights
(ii) Sentient nonhuman animals do not deserve rights

It's possible this is an ill-thought-out claim, not meant in a strict logical sense, used to promote the idea that veganism follows from logical consistency and a personal belief in human moral value. However such claims are likely to be taken in the strict logical sense, in which case, they are false and reflect poorly on veganism as a whole, particularly in the long-term.

Invalid Generalizations

Ask Yourself makes an invalid generalisation regarding the trait 'my group' given by FriendEd.

In defending P2 proponents of NTT often use invalid generalisations that take the form

If you reject being discriminated against for a certain reason then you contradict yourself by accepting it for someone else

i.e. the claim is that the following is a contradiction

  1. It is wrong to discriminate against me for X reason
  2. It is not wrong to discriminate against others for X reason

Such claims indicate double standards, not logical contradictions. For such statements to produce a logical contradiction, one statement would have do be the direct negation of the other (i.e. p ∧ ¬p). An example of this was during a series of debates with FriendEd, in which Ask Yourself claims the that FriendEd is contradicting himself by holding the following three statements.

  1. It is wrong to kill humans because they are part of my group
  2. It is not wrong to kill animals because they are not part of my group
  3. It is wrong for someone to murder me because I am not part of their group

His reasoning is that by rejecting (3) you reject the justification group membership justifies killing/murder, in all cases, and as such you cannot deploy it in (1). This is incorrect, by rejecting (3), you only reject the statement

  • It is wrong for someone to murder me because I am not part of their group

which does not logically entail rejecting the statement

  • group membership justifies killing/murder

in all cases. Someone can reject the justification in one context (e.g. when applied to themselves) and deploy it in another context (e.g. when applied to animals), without contradicting themselves.

(1) & (2) would only create a contradiction if combined with either of the following two statements

  • It is not wrong to kill humans because they are part of my group
  • It is wrong to kill animals because they are not part of my group

In the notation of FOL the generalization being made takes the form

∀x ( Hx ⇒ ¬ Kx ) ⊢ ∀x ( ¬Kx )

where:
H(x) means x is human
K(x) means ok to kill x based on X justification
⊢ means logically entails

That is to say, for all x, if x is human then it is not okay to kill x based on some justification, entails for all x it is not okay to kill x based on the same justification. Which is incorrect, the statement cannot be generalized because it has been constrained to only apply to humans.

Problems with Part 2 of NTT

Commitment to Non-exploitation

Vegan Gains defends his use of supposedly exploitative products

Part 2 of the NTT argument requires a deontological commitment to non-exploitation as P2 states:

P2 - There is no trait absent in animals which if absent in humans would cause us to consider anything short of non-exploitation to be an adequate expression of respect for human moral value.

That is to say, to agree with P2 is to agree that exploitation of humans is always wrong. This is not an issue with the validity of the argument, but an issue with the soundness, as most people will be unwilling to agree with the premise, including Ask Yourself and Vegan Gains.

These issues have actually been problematic for Vegan Gains in debates (who has claimed to agree with NTT), when posed with questions such as

"Was exploitation involved in the production of your phone, if yes, why do you not boycott such products?",

his answer usually takes the form;

yes exploitation was involved, but I need them for my activism, income and youtube videos, and is not immoral for me to do so.

All of these are good reasons, however it shows that he does not consider the absolute of nothing short of non-exploitation to be an adequate expression for human moral value, as pragmatic considerations take precedence. And if pragmatic considerations take precedence, then it's an empirical cost-benefit analysis, and not an absolutist argument like this that is useful.

An example of this was during the Warski debate, in which, on the subject of technology Vegan Gains stated

"you can justify some amount of exploitation in that sort of area of your life"

Ask Yourself was Vegan Gains's partner in this debate and it's fair to say that he agreed. A similar issue arises when posed with questions such as "Do you avoid all things produced using animal products, or products that may contain trace animal products e.g. glues etc.?". Again the answer is no, and it that it is not immoral for me to do so. Which, similarly, means that he does not consider the absolute of 'non-exploitation' to be an adequate expression for animal moral value.

It's worth noting the definition of veganism used by most vegans, including Vegan Gains, is

'A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.'

which is not absolutist in nature.

Fans of Ask Yourself may think you can resolve such issues using the golden-rule, by answering yes to the question "would you accept the exploitation if you were the victim in these cases?". However this would not be relevant, as the argument as framed requires the absolute of non-exploitation.

Corrections

It is possible to correct the NTT argument and preserve its persuasive force by adding a premise that rejects double standards and changing the first premise to require human moral value (or some other moral consideration) to be based on a trait. This makes NTT valid, and allows it to be presented in the same way as it was intended. We can call this NameTheTrait 2.0. It is also possible to more clearly and directly frame the argument around the core idea that, on reflection, there does not seem to be a good justification for thinking that all sentient humans have an important moral status while sentient non-human animals lack moral status so entirely that it is morally fine to treat them in the ways that consuming animal products treats them. We can call this NameTheJustification.

In the following 'x has non-trivial moral status' means at least that we are morally required not to treat x in the ways that consuming animal products treats non-human animals - for instance, x is such that we are morally required not to inflict enormous suffering upon and / or kill x for relatively trivial reasons (like taste-pleasure).

Having such non-trivial moral status could be one way of understanding what it is to have "moral value" or what is minimally required by "an adequate expression of respect for our value" so long as we are sentient. More ambitious arguments could replace 'non-trivial moral status' in what follows by something stronger, such as having the right to the equal consideration of one's interests, etc. But because the argument for veganism requires only that sentient non-human animals have non-trivial moral status, for arguments to be as convincing as possible to as many interlocutors as possible they should, like that below, focus only the grounds for non-trivial moral status. The argument below and its conclusion are entirely consistent with humans having greater moral status than sentient non-human animals, beyond the mere non-trivial moral status that it seeks to show sentient non-human animals to share with humans.

NameTheTrait 2.0

For more on this, see NameTheTrait 2.0.

(P1) Humans have non-trivial moral status just in case and because they have a certain trait.

Where "a certain trait" is interpreted broadly so as to include sets of more particular traits, some of which may be sufficient but not necessary for non-trivial moral status.

(P2) If humans have non-trivial moral status just in case and because they have a certain trait, then all beings have non-trivial moral status just in case and because they have that trait.

(P3) There is no trait absent in non-human animals, which, if absent in a human, would cause the human to fail to have non-trivial moral status.

or equivalently

(P3) Sentient non-human animals have the trait that gives non-trivial moral status to humans.

Therefore

(C) Sentient non-human animals have non-trivial moral status

which, given what non-trivial moral status amounts to, entails that we are morally required to go vegan.

In First Order Logic

Definitions

H(x) means 'x is a human'
SNA(x) means 'x is a sentient non-human animal'
R(x) means 'we are moral required not to treat x in the ways that consuming animal products treats non-human animals; or x has non-trivial moral status'
T(x) means 'x is a trait'
P(x,y) means 'x has y'

In First Order Logic

(P1) ∃t ( Tt ∧ ∀x ( Hx ⇒ ( Rx ⇔ Pxt ) ) )
(P2) ∀t ( Tt ∧ ( ∀x ( Hx ⇒ ( Rx ⇔ Pxt ) ) ⇒ ∀x ( Rx ⇔ Pxt ) ) )
(P3) ∀x( SNAx ⇒ ¬∃t ( Tt ∧ ¬Pxt ∧ ∀y ( Hy ⇒ ( ¬Pyt ⇒ ¬Ry ) ) ) )

or equivalently (without the negatives)

(P3) ∀x( SNAx ⇒ ∀t ( Tt ∧ ∀y ( Hy ⇒ ( Ry ⇒ Pyt ) ) ⇒ Pxt ) )
Therefore (C) ∀x ( SNAx ⇒ Rx )

Proof of Validity

For a natural deduction proof of this argument's validity, see NameTheTrait_2.0#Natural_Deduction. We quickly check that this argument is validby using a logical proof generator, to prove the formula

P1 ∧ P2 ∧ P3 ⇒ C

with the input

(P1) \existst ( Tt \land \forallx (Hx \to ( Rx \leftrightarrow Pxt ) ) )
(P2) \forallt (Tt \land ( \forallx (Hx \to ( Rx \leftrightarrow Pxt ) ) \to \forallx ( Rx \leftrightarrow Pxt ) ) )
(P3) \forallx ( Ax \to \neg \existst ( Tt \land \negPxt \land( \forally (Hy \to ( \negPyt \to \negRy ) ) ) ) )

or equivalently

(P3) \forallx( Ax \to \forallt ( Tt \land \forally ( Hy \to ( Ry \to Pyt ) ) \to Pxt ) )
(C) \forallx ( Ax \to Rx )

Or all together (P1 ∧ P2 ∧ P3 ⇒ C)

\existst ( Tt \land \forallx (Hx \to (Rx \leftrightarrow Pxt ) ) ) \land \forallt ( Tt \land ( \forallx (Hx \to ( Rx \leftrightarrow Pxt)) \to \forallx (Rx \leftrightarrow Pxt))) \land \forallx (Ax \to \neg \existst (Tt \land \negPxt \land (\forally (Hy \to ( \negPyt \to \negRy))))) \to \forallx ( Ax \to Rx )

which yields valid

NameTheJustification

For more on this, see NameTheJustification.

(P1) All sentient humans have non-trivial moral status.

(P2) If all sentient humans have non-trivial moral status but sentient farmed (and wild) animals lack this status, then there must be some morally relevant difference between all sentient humans and sentient farmed (and wild) animals that is important enough to justify this radical difference in moral status.

(P3) There is no morally relevant difference between all sentient humans and sentient farmed (and wild) animals that is important enough to justify this radical difference in moral status.

Therefore

(C) Sentient farmed (and wild) animals have non-trivial moral status.

In Propositional Logic

One nice thing about this argument is that its logical form and validity can be very simply and easily explained using only sentential or propositional logic (one does not have to get into predicate or first order logic). The logical form is:

(P1) A
(P2) (A ∧ ¬B) ⇒ C
(P3) ¬C
Therefore, (C) B

Where:

A = "All Sentient humans have non-trivial moral status"
B = "Sentient farmed (and wild) animals have non-trivial moral status"
C = "There is some morally relevant difference between all sentient humans and sentient farmed (and wild) animals that is important enough to justify this radical difference in moral status"

The validity of the argument can be easily shown as follows:

1. A; premise
2. (A ∧ ¬B) ⇒ C; premise
3. ¬C; premise
4. ¬(A ∧ ¬B); 2,3, modus tollens [i.e. X ⇒ Y, ¬Y Ⱶ ¬X]
5. ¬A V B; 4, De Morgan's law [i.e. ¬(X ∧ Y) if and only if ¬X V ¬Y], double negation elimination [i.e. if ¬¬X then X]
6. B; 1, 5, disjunctive syllogism [i.e. X or Y, ¬X Ⱶ Y] (and double negation introduction [i.e. if X then ¬¬X], since in our case the inference is ¬A or B, A Ⱶ B)

Conclusion

As we have shown, there are numerous issues with the NTT argument, which can make it unconvincing and can cause it to reflect poorly on veganism as a whole, particularly when it is combined with false claims such as "veganism follows logically from human rights". Its merits can be summed up in the following question, one which activists who like NTT use;

Can you point to a difference between animals and humans that would justify treating humans the same way if we were in their hooves?

Which is in essence, the golden rule. And if framing a question in this way makes people who otherwise wouldn't consider applying the golden rule to non-human animals do so, then that is all for the better. However when posed formally it should be posed in a way that is valid and convincing, like the NTT2.0 correction or NameTheJustification.

Demonstrating the issues of arguments such as NTT helps to ensure vegans are using good arguments that will stand the test of time and reduce recidivism, as well as buys good will from carnists who may be encouraged to reconsider their beliefs that vegans are dishonest and take into consideration the good arguments for veganism and may move them to reducetarian practices.