x is similar to y, where the similarity depends for its strength upon some assumption which begs the question.
x is P.
Therefore, y is P.
Do animals deserve the same respect as black people? That's the question posed in an online exhibit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The exhibit pairs a slave auction with a cattle auction, two hanging black men with a hanging steer, herded Native Americans with herded cattle, a burning black man with a burning chicken, a shackled black ankle with a chained elephant hoof, and a pygmy in a zoo with a monkey in a dress.2
An analogical argument is an argument with an analogical premiss, which is a premiss that draws an analogy, that is, claims that one thing is like another. Such an analogy begs the question when its strength depends upon some controversial point at issue, especially the conclusion of the argument. When an analogical argument is weak because its analogical premiss begs the question, then the argument commits the fallacy of Question-Begging Analogy, which is a type of Weak Analogy3.
The PETA exhibit described in the Example begs the question by assuming that black people are morally similar to steers, chickens, elephants, and monkeys; and that native Americans are like cattle. Such an analogy, if used to argue that blacks should be treated like animals, would be clearly racist. What about when the exact same analogy is used to argue that animals should be treated like black people?
PETA and other animal rights supporters have also drawn an analogy between the treatment of nonhuman animals in contemporary America and the Holocaust of World War II4. Slaughterhouses are compared to Nazi extermination camps, both of which involve large-scale killing through an efficient, assembly-line process. The conclusion is that the treatment of animals is morally similar to the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.
This type of argument begs an important question concerning the moral status of nonhuman animals. Of course, some advocates of animal rights and ethical vegetarianism consider all animals to be morally equal, so for them this is not a disanalogy. For many in the audience at whom such arguments are directed, however, there is a moral difference between human beings and other animals. In fact, much of the moral outrage at the Nazi atrocities comes from the treatment of Jews "like animals", as we say, violating their human dignity. Thus, without the underlying assumption of the moral equality of humans and other animals, the analogy between the Holocaust and so-called "factory farming" is superficial. If it is not wrong to kill animals for food, then it is not wrong to do so efficiently and in large numbers.
This is not to deny that there is inhumane treatment of animals; rather, that there is a moral equivalence between such inhumanity and the inhuman treatment of persons, such as blacks and Jews. Furthermore, if all animals are morally equal, then killing animals for food is equivalent to murder. However, this claim must be shown by a separate argument, and cannot be established by the analogies with the Holocaust or slavery, which logically depend upon it.
- The Taxonomy shows that Question-Begging Analogy is a subfallacy of both Begging the Question and Weak Analogy.
- William Saletan, "KKK vs. KFC", Slate, 8/17/2005
- See the Taxonomy, above.
- "Jewish Groups Decry PETA's Holocaust Ads", The Associated Press, 3/1/2003