PETA, Fallacies, and a Controversial Ad Campaign
By Matt Abbott
The radical animal rights organization known as PETA - which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - is no stranger to controversy. Indeed, for several years, the organization's numerous ad campaigns, all of which implicitly or explicitly advocate veganism and vegetarianism, have offended more than a few persons. One particularly offensive and fallacious PETA ad campaign featured photos of World War II Holocaust victims side by side with photos of dead or sickly animals. The ads explicitly demonstrate the fallacies of "arguing by analogy" and "appealing to pity." Other arguments made by PETA utilize the "mob appeal" and "red herring" fallacies.
An analogy is a comparison that works on more than one level, and it is possible to use analogy effectively when reasoning inductively. 1 Oftentimes, however, the analogy used is far-fetched at best. Such is the case with PETA's Holocaust analogy. Religious persons - at least most of them - believe we humans are created in God's image and likeness; that we have dominion over plants and animals; and that animals have no rights per se. Even many non-religious persons recognize the important distinction between animal life and human life. Hence, they do not object to eating meat or wearing clothes made from animal skins.
Also, besides being offensive to certain Jewish groups - Ed Morgan, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress said that comparing Holocaust victims to animals "sinks to such sordid depths that one has trouble comprehending the depraved thinking behind it"2 - equating the suffering and death of humans with the suffering and death of animals is contrary to the natural order, thereby making it a false analogy.
Writers are often justified in appealing to the pity of their readers when the need to inspire this emotion is closely related to whatever they are arguing for, and when the entire argument does not rest on this appeal alone. 3 The PETA Holocaust ad wants the viewer to feel sorrow and disgust at the fact that animals are seemingly being treated as Holocaust victims were treated during World War II. However, the extermination of animals for the purpose of providing food and clothing cannot be placed in the same moral category as the extermination of human beings for the purpose of creating a "master race."
The "mob appeal" fallacy encourages the viewer to join the proverbial throngs of people who allegedly are doing a particular act, lest he or she is left out in the cold. Such a fallacy can be found in the following PETA statement: "Every time you choose to buy a leather jacket or leather shoes, you sentence an animal to a lifetime of suffering. Join the millions of consumers who are realizing that 'hairless fur' is something we can do without...." 4
Finally, PETA throws in a red herring - that is, an argument that has little if anything to do with the issue at hand - in the following assertion: "Many researchers believe that vegetarianism is the only way to feed a growing human population. 5 A Population Reference Bureau report stated, "If everyone adopted a vegetarian diet and no food were wasted, current [food] production would theoretically feed 10 billion people, more than the projected population for the year 2050." 6 The reasoning in that assertion, however, doesn't prove that vegetarianism is the only way to feed a growing human population. 7 No evidence is given to show that a growing human population cannot be fed in a non-vegetarian way. 8
In conclusion, PETA's Holocaust ad campaign is problematic primarily because of the fallacies involved: a false analogy and appealing to pity, without regard for the natural order. Additionally, PETA has put forth other dubious arguments involving the "mob appeal" fallacy and the "red herring" fallacy.
Oh, and do you know that PETA can also stand for People who Eat Tasty Animals?
1. Robert K. Miller, The Informed Argument (Texas: Harcourt, 1998) 41.
2. Canadian Jewish Congress (2004). "CJC condemns 'outrageous' exhibit by PETA." Retrieved Oct. 22, 2004 from http://www.cjc.ca/template.php?action=news&story=667
3. Robert K. Miller, The Informed Argument (Texas: Harcourt, 1998) 40.
4. Christian Logic.com. "Logic Loop Twenty Six." Retrieved Oct. 5, 2004 from http://www.christianlogic.com/loop/logic_loop_26.htm
5. Christian Logic.com. "Logic Loop Forty Three." Retrieved Oct. 5, 2004 from http://www.christianlogic/loop/logic_loop_43.htm
Matt Abbott - Author,
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