Name The Trait (NTT) is an argument that aims to show a contradiction in the attribution of moral value requiring only logical consistency and a personal belief in human moral value to be convincing. It is very similar to the argument of marginal cases [5], which may be more well-known. To illustrate the argument, briefly think of the following question: What is true of an animal that if true of a human would justify murdering them for a hamburger?

Introduction

The NTT argument is of the form ‘P1 and P2 implies C’, as P1, P2 and C are presented in the image below. That is to say, if we equalize all traits of a human to all traits of an animal, we should still ascribe moral value to both and not just one of them as that would produce a contradiction.

The central argument of Name The Trait [1]

Using the NTT argument to come to the conclusion that animals have moral value would go as follows:
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 as having no moral value.
C – Therefore without establishing the absence of such a trait in animals, we contradict ourselves by deeming animals as having no moral value.

To then arrive at veganism:
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.

It should be noted here that any number of traits may be mentioned according to the argument, not just standalone traits.

For example, if you were to say that level of intelligence is what causes us to ascribe moral value to a human and not ascribe moral value to a pig, we should equalize the intelligence of a pig to that of a human and see if the human, in that case, still has moral value.
This can either be done by giving a hypothetical or taking a real-life example (which shows the similarity of NTT and the argument of marginal cases [1]). To take a real-life example, it has been shown that pigs are as smart as three-year-old children [2]. Consequently, we should ask the question of whether it is okay to murder three-year-old children. Clearly, it is not. Accordingly, we would show that there is a contradiction in the attribution of moral value.

usefulness and applicability

I personally adopt the NTT argument during outreach conversations. I do this when I feel that the person to whom I am talking does not immediately see the injustice in the way that we treat livestock. The goal of adopting the NTT argument is then to make them think about how they ascribe moral value.
Ultimately, people I speak to during outreach run out of traits that they can mention, causing them to take one of two steps:
1. Find a trait which is present among all humans according to which we ascribe moral value.
2. Go vegan.
Note that in the case of 1, other arguments may still lead these people to adopt veganism, which would warrant a whole other blog post.

An adaptation of the NTT argument that I find works well is equalizing traits of animals that are often kept as pets with livestock. For example, by asking the question: What is true of a cow that if true of a dog would justify murdering them for a hamburger?
By asking this question, a clear distinction is drawn between pets and farm animals. This distinction is helpful as it already forebodes the speciesist nature of the argument*. To illustrate this, most often people mention the difference is being able to have a relationship with the dog. The follow-up question would then be: Is it morally justifiable to kill a dog if it has no relationship with any human being? To which most people would answer that it is not.

* I often append this question, when I feel it is needed, by stating that arguments against slaughtering dogs (which, for instance, is done during the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival [3]) become less convincing when eating meat from other species. More nuanced is the sanctity of cows in Hinduism [4], in which case a similar argument can be presented.


Sources:

Useful links:

Ask Yourself
vegan22.com/

Feel free to ask any questions about NTT or similar arguments!

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