The host of the Munk debate was terrible. Verbose, with silly sallies into “agency” and other trivia.
The farmer, Salatin, was neither intelligent, nor well-informed, nor consistent; he was selling something (non-factory farming), and he justified what he was doing by appeals to superficial, under-informed environmentalism and religion, so he did not do a very convincing job on his end of the debate.
Singer is far more intelligent, has given it all a lot more and deeper thought, yet in the end I think he could have done a better job. He is very phlegmatic, and seemed to be basing his many valid points on a vague ethical premise that “we can and should do better” — that instrumentalism is somehow intrinsically wrong.
It’s not really a debating matter, but an ethical matter. Singer’s analogies with slavery and the subjugation of women are all valid. Supernatural justifications from religion are obviously nonsense (regardless of how many cling to them).
What’s needed is a coherent moral criterion, but one that is grounded on what most of us feel is morally right (without appeal to the supernatural).
And I think what most of us feel is right is that it is wrong to cause suffering unnecessarily. For if that’s not true, then nothing is wrong, and psychopathy rules.
Of course the devil is in the details about what is “necessary”.
A Darwinian would say that what an animal has to do so it and its young can survive is a biological necessity. A carnivorous predator like a lion has to kill its prey (and much the same is true for its prey, in their vital conflict of life-or-death necessity).
So the point is that in the human evolutionary past the killing and eating of animals may have been biologically necessary for our species. But in much of the world today (except the few remaining hunting/fishing subsistence-cultures) it is no longer necessary (entirely apart from the fact that it is also detrimental to the environment and to human health).
Singer pointed out, again correctly, that the only living organisms that can suffer are the ones that can feel (i.e., the sentient species) and that plants are, on all evidence, not sentient. So Salatin’s point that all life feeds on life is irrelevant (and in fact false in the case of most plants!)
So Singer made all the pertinent points except the all-important one that integrates them: the one about biological necessity.