Vegan Ethics

Vegan Ethics: An Overview of Moral Arguments for Veganism

Why be vegan? And specifically, what are the ethical reasons to be vegan? As someone who has been vegan for over 13 years, been a vegan activist, and talked to many people about vegan ethics, I can help lay out the common arguments for you.

Here are the 13 common ethical arguments for veganism I’ll be covering:

  1. Animal welfare.
  2. Animal rights.
  3. Consent.
  4. Exploitation.
  5. Intersectional anti-oppression.
  6. The environment.
  7. World hunger.
  8. Treatment of workers.
  9. The sanctity of life.
  10. Speciesism and anti-speciesism.
  11. Sentience (and why it’s okay to kill plants).
  12. Expanding the circle of moral concern.
  13. Nonviolence.

Many of these are related, and you could expand them out into a much longer list. But covering these should give you a good introduction.

As a disclaimer, let me say: This is not an academic paper. This is a practical overview from someone who has been around the vegan movement for a long time. I’ll mention some philosophers, but I’ll try to put their arguments into clear, simple language.

1. Animal Welfare Arguments for Veganism

This may be the most common type of ethical argument made about going vegan.

The argument is that factory farms are extremely cruel to animals, fur farms treat animals abusively, animal research labs treat animals cruelly, and so forth—and going vegan is the best way to protest this cruelty.

If you’re not familiar with the details of modern industrial animal agriculture, I’ll cover some basics here:

The animals are often kept in extremely small cages. Some of them can’t even physically turn around in the crates that hold them.

Animals raised for meat are fed growth hormones and a caloric surplus, so they grow as fast as possible. This can cause all kinds of suffering because their bodies were not evolutionarily prepared for that kind of growth. Some chickens on factory farms can’t walk because they grow too fast for their legs to support them.

The animals may be kicked, beaten, and abused by workers who are also exploited and abused (more about workers’ rights below). Here is an undercover video of dairy farm workers punching, kicking, and abusing cows.

The animals undergo painful operations like tail docking, dehorning, debeaking, castrating, and branding without any anesthetic.

Farm to Fridge by Mercy for Animals. A moving overview of animal abuse that goes on at modern factory farms.

Due to the capitalist drive to maximize profits, farmers are incentivized to pack more animals into less space. To remain competitive in the marketplace, they need to cut as many costs as possible.

This situation ends in factory farms that cut as many corners as possible when it comes to what is comfortable, healthy, or safe for the animals. And the result is mass suffering for farmed animals.

Veganism as a Solution to Animal Cruelty

This is the most common line of argument pursued by animal welfare organizations such as PETA, Vegan Outreach, and Mercy for Animals. These organizations promote veganism as one of the best ways to reduce suffering for other animals

(Some organizations and activists also focus on cruel practices in animal testing/vivisection, fur farming, leather production, animal abuse in circuses, and elsewhere. But agriculture tends to be the biggest focus because the number of numbers killed for food is much higher.)

The Philosophy Behind Animal Welfare Arguments for Veganism

You don’t really need a philosophical reference to say that hurting animals is bad. But if you want one, the go-to source would be Peter Singer’s classic book Animal Liberation.

Peter Singer’s arguments for animal liberation are based on a type of ethics called utilitarianism. If you’re taking a serious look into animal welfare arguments for veganism, you should start by taking a look at utilitarianism as a theory of ethics.

Understanding Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is the philosophy that says that actions are ethically “good” or “bad” due to the amount of happiness or suffering that they cause.

So, according to utilitarianism, you can sort of calculate whether an action is good or bad by asking if it causes more happiness than suffering.

In practice, these ethical calculations can get pretty sloppy because how can you even quantify happiness or suffering? But the philosophy at least gives you a formula of what to aim toward—more happiness, less suffering.

It’s kind of like the Golden Rule: Assuming what we all want is happiness and what we all don’t want is suffering, something is “good” if it helps individuals experience more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

So at the core, utilitarianism is based on the fact that we all have preferences. We all care what happens. And an event is good if more people prefer that it would happen.

Applying Utilitarianism to Veganism

Peter Singer applied this utilitarian philosophy to our treatment of nonhuman animals. And the reasoning is quite simple: Nonhuman animals seem to have similar preferences as we have. Specifically, animals prefer to avoid pain.

Basically, Singer says, “If it’s wrong to needlessly hurt other people, then why wouldn’t it be wrong to needlessly hurt animals?”

In this way, you can look at animal welfare (and really, most of vegan ethics) as being about “expanding the circle” of our moral concern to other species. We’re taking the kind of moral considerations we already make for other humans, and we apply it to animals.

To only care about human pain would be speciesist, according to many vegans. Shouldn’t we care about the pain experienced by nonhuman animals, too? It’s still pain.

And if we do consider nonhuman animal pain as ethically relevant, then things like the confinement and killing of animals becomes at least questionable.

What’s most definitely wrong from a utilitarian vegan perspective is the cruel treatment of animals on modern-day factory farms. The horrific abuses on factory farms are intolerable from a utilitarian perspective because they cause so much suffering.

But do utilitarian ethics take you all the way to veganism?

Does Utilitarianism Lead to Veganism?

An interesting point is that you can hypothetically kill animals without causing them any pain. And if you achieved that, it would be okay according to a utilitarian ethic.

Utilitarianism doesn’t actually say there’s anything wrong with killing. It just says we shouldn’t cause suffering.

Now, most forms of killing will cause suffering. The animal will be scared and confused before they’re killed. Maybe their family will suffer due to seeing them be killed and not having their family member around anymore, and so on.

But if you somehow killed animals without causing pain, it would be okay according to Peter Singer’s utilitarianism. So not all vegans agree with this position.

Many vegans feel there is a more fundamental ethical reason not to kill animals—and I’ll cover that below. But let’s really get the implications of this point here first.

The Gap Between “Reducing Suffering” and Going Vegan

When you hear arguments about how you need to go vegan to reduce animal suffering… that’s not actually an air-tight argument.

Of course, going vegan is one way to help fight the cruel meat industry. Arguably, it is the best way. But you could also plausibly reduce suffering by raising backyard chickens and killing them “humanely” instead. (Just to give one example.)

So if you really want to make an air-tight argument for veganism, animal welfare arguments are probably not the path to take. They can potentially be resolved by reforms that just create more “humane” treatment in the process of confining and killing animals.

That said, if reducing suffering is genuinely the main reason you’re vegan, then by all means, speak your truth.

2. Vegan Arguments for Animal Rights

Many vegans believe nonhuman animals have a fundamental right to life, autonomy, and freedom. That is, they believe in animal rights.

Some vegans specifically want to abolish the legal property status of nonhuman animals, and to acknowledge them as “nonhuman persons.”

You’ll notice that these views are at least subtly different from Singer’s view (above), which simply argues that animals shouldn’t be made to suffer. These views argue something more fundamental: Animals have rights.

“Animal rights” can mean a lot of things, and I’m not well-read on every philosopher in this field. That said, I’ll outline a few of the main threads and the most influential authors.

Gary Francione and the Abolitionist Approach

Gary Francione is a thought leader among a group of vegans called abolitionists. Francione is a lawyer, and he argues for abolishing the property status of animals.

Gary Francione is actually opposed to any activist campaigns toward more humane treatment of animals being exploited. He argues only for the abolition of these industries.

Why would a vegan activist be opposed to “humane treatment” reforms?

Abolitionists argue that bigger cages would not at all make it okay for those animals to be caged in the first place. Furthermore, some consumers will be comforted to know that their meat and eggs are “humane” now.

So in that way, reforms can lead people to be more okay with the exploitation and confinement that’s still occurring.

Last I checked, Francione seems to spend a lot of time trying to convince animal welfarists to become abolitionist vegans. He posts many critiques of animal welfarists on his website.

Taking Anti-Speciesism Seriously

To Francione’s credit, he seems to take the idea of speciesism (explained more below) very seriously. Take the following example:

Would we be okay with campaigns today asking for bigger cages for human slaves? No. Such a campaign would be offensive because it would simply not be asking enough. Asking for bigger cages for slaves would seem to be condoning the fact that slavery is happening in the first place.

So we shouldn’t be okay with campaigns for bigger cages for animals, according to Francione. The only acceptable change is to abolish the system of animal use by humans.

In alignment with this view, Francione promotes the idea of veganism as a “moral imperative.” It is a moral baseline. It’s not too much to ask of people—it’s the only reasonable thing to ask.

For more on this perspective, check out Francione’s book Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach or check out his website at abolitionistapproach.com.

The Movement to Recognize Nonhuman Persons

There has slowly been growing recognition for the idea that certain species qualify as “nonhuman persons.” Usually, the species is dolphins or other cetaceans.

SeaWorld has struggled in recent years as a business in large part due to this growing recognition that orcas and dolphins deserve more rights and should not be confined.

In late 2015, India actually declared dolphins to be nonhuman persons, outlawing the captivity of dolphins in India for entertainment purposes.

But these steps are not fully vegan wins—because the reasons cited for dolphin personhood are typically based on intelligence, self-awareness, and specific rational capabilities.

Those reasons won’t necessarily apply to all farmed animals equally.

A truly vegan step would be saying that dolphins should be protected because they are sentient or because they have preferences. That would be a characteristic that applies more broadly to more animal species.

But still. The expanding rights for cetaceans may be the first step toward a much broader acknowledgment of nonhuman persons and animal rights for many different species.

Tom Regan on The Case for Animal Rights

Tom Regan is another famous animal rights philosopher who may fall into this broad category of “animal rights” rather than “animal welfare.”

Regan argues that nonhuman animals have moral rights because they, like us, are “subjects-of-a-life.” Their lives therefore have inherent value, they deserve respect, and they should not be used as a means to someone else’s ends.

Regan’s view of moral rights resembles that of famous philosopher Immanuel Kant—but Regan simply applies these rights beyond our own species. (See “Expanding the Circle” below.)

Learn more about this perspective in Regan’s classic book The Case for Animal Rights.

Many vegan arguments are focused on the idea that it’s wrong to use animals without their consent. And due to communication barriers, the quality of consent we can receive from nonhuman animals is never very good. So, vegans argue, we just shouldn’t use them.

Humans can enter into agreements with each other about an exchange they want to make: “If you do this job, I’ll pay you $50.” But we can never get this kind of explicit consent from other animals.

Even in situations where an animal seems grateful and willing to enter into an exchange with us (like pets), there can never be full, informed consent because the higher levels of communication are not possible.

This line of argument has an obvious parallel to sexual consent between humans. So it’s a line of argument that’s often pursued by intersectional vegans (who I’ll cover below).

But this line of argument is also made by libertarian and anarchist vegans.

Libertarians and anarchists oppose how the government uses the threat of physical force to make citizens follow laws and pay taxes. Libertarians value the freedom to choose what relationships and contracts you enter into. They believe in voluntary exchange with consent.

Why would the principle of voluntary exchange and the importance of consent not be carried over to nonhuman animals?

Notice that, even when you take good care of an animal—you’re giving them food and shelter—you’re making decisions on their behalf. The animal is not expressly consenting to anything. You have the control as the owner.

So this line of argument takes us very naturally to veganism: We shouldn’t use animals because it’s impossible to get clear consent from them to use them, and it’s wrong to use any sentient individual without their consent. So just let them be free.

See also: Would “consensual cannibalism” be vegan?

Pet Ownership and Vegan Arguments About Consent

Vegans who focus on the issue of consent will often feel discomfort about pet ownership. You can never actually have clear consent from your dog to be the steward over their life.

It’d be ideal if your pet was able to come and go by their own choice. But if you’re locking them inside your home or in your yard, it’s less clear that they’re really consenting to that situation.

Pretty much all vegans just accept that this is a compromise and that it’s worth rescuing pets from other, worse situations. Many vegans are pet lovers and have multiple cats and dogs.

But there are definitely some vegans out there who say that a true vegan world would not include pet ownership.

I’ve heard it argued that there should be a movement toward more animal sanctuaries, where the animals are guaranteed greater freedom of movement than in most pet situations.

4. Vegan Arguments About Exploitation

Exploitation is a term often used in labor relations. It refers to treating workers unfairly in order to benefit from their labor, and it is made possible by the power imbalance between workers and their bosses.

But many uses of animals can also be viewed as labor.

The term “exploitation” is used by vegans frequently when talking about dairy and eggs. To say that dairy cows are “exploited for their milk” is to say that the cows are treated like machines or resources—things—in order to extract a commodity (milk) from their bodies.

So anti-exploitation arguments are maybe similar to Tom Regan’s view (above) of animals having moral rights because they are “subjects-of-a-life.” Exploitation is wrong because it denies animals that status of being subjects-of-a-life. Instead, it treats them as things.

Vegans also argue that animals are exploited in circuses, as they’re forced to perform labor like sitting up on two legs or balancing a ball on their head.

Animals are exploited in scientific research, as well, because they’re being used as tools to generate knowledge instead of being respected for just existing and given a right to live their life how they would want to.

Exploitation is whenever we treat animals as a resource we can freely extract value from—when we’re not respecting them as individuals with their own lives and right to bodily autonomy.

A Striking Example of Animal Exploitation

I was watching the documentary Dominion, which is uploaded free on Youtube, and I was so moved by the description of what happens to mother sows on pork farms. Even after 13 years of being vegan, it shook me.

After showing several minutes of the gross and cruel conditions that pigs on pork farms live in, the narrator explained the full life cycle of these mother pigs.

Mother sows go through four cycles of pregnancy and nursing over two years. Their bodies are used to create four litters of new pigs. These mothers go through all the mistreatment and abuse of factory farm life for those two years, and then… what happens next?

They’re killed. Then it’s just over.

These pigs are brought into existence to be used as birthing machines. They’re shown no respect, treated like garbage for two years, they produce four litters of piglets to be taken away and grown to become pork—that is, they produce profit for the pork industry—and then they’re killed.

It just really illustrates how useless the animal agriculture industry views these pigs to be outside of producing profit for them.

Because from a profit standpoint, of course, the mother pigs are killed afterward. Of course. When it’s no longer profitable to keep these pigs, why would you keep feeding and housing them?

But they are living, feeling creatures. They have a life. They care about their life. Couldn’t you at least give a decent life to the animals who are creating all this profit for you?

But on modern factory farms, their entire life is horror—and then, even that existence is taken away from them.

Pigs on factory farms live, suffer, and die solely to make a profit for the owners of the pork companies. Their life is reduced to just that. It’s the clearest example of exploitation I can think of.

5. Intersectional Veganism and Anti-Oppression Veganism

Intersectional vegans (or pro-intersectional vegans) focus on veganism as a parallel and partner to social justice movements like feminism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, gay and trans liberation, anti-capitalism, and other anti-oppression efforts.

In a basic sense, most ethical vegans feel that veganism is a parallel to movements like feminism. But intersectional vegans put this fact up front and center.

The ethics of intersectional veganism are informed by intersectional anti-oppression politics in the human sphere. Principles about power, privilege, hierarchy, ideology, exploitation, and consent are applied over to human/nonhuman relationships.

What Is Intersectionality?

The word “intersectional” was originally applied to feminism.

Certain prominent, early feminists focused mainly on the liberation of middle-class housewives. But black feminists like bell hooks pointed out that women of color are already in the workforce in greater numbers, being exploited, and they face a different set of struggles.

Intersectionality demands that you pay attention to the intersections of different systems of oppression. Yes, all women face certain struggles—but black women and white women face very different struggles.

When applied to veganism, intersectionality means paying attention to how class inequality, for example, affects who has access to healthy vegan food. So intersectional vegans will talk more than most vegans about the issue of food deserts and overall food justice.

Intersectional veganism means paying attention to the fact that Latino workers are often horribly exploited as factory farm workers, and not only talking about the animals being abused.

So it’s about trying to respect all the issues and how they come together, interact, and overlap with one another. At its best, intersectionality allows us to take a nuanced view of what is really going wrong in our society.

Comparisons Between Nonhuman Oppression and Human Oppression

Intersectional vegans sometimes make comparisons between the oppression of nonhuman animals and the oppression of specific human groups.

This is the whole basis of the influential book on vegan ethics, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery by Marjorie Spiegel.

Intersectional vegans also sometimes draw comparisons between the exploitation of dairy cows and the exploitation of women. These activists will argue that reproductive justice is important both for human women and nonhuman animals like cows.

But these comparisons can be very contentious.

Although intersectional vegans are dedicated feminists and anti-racists, they still receive pushback from non-vegan feminists and anti-racists at times for comparing the oppression of women or people of color to the oppression of animals.

Indeed, PETA (which is not a particularly “intersectional” group) is often called out for its crude comparisons between human and animal oppression, referring to animal agriculture as slavery, rape, or a holocaust. I remember an old blog called Vegans Against PETA, which was a whole catalog of problematic campaigns from PETA.

Arguably the biggest problem with PETA’s comparisons between factory farms and the holocaust, though, is that PETA isn’t actually fighting antisemitism at all. They’re just using this graphic comparison to antisemitism in order to promote veganism.

That’s the difference between intersectional vegans and PETA when they make these comparisons: Intersectional vegans are dedicated to fighting racism and sexism today, and a good chunk of their focus is actually directly on that. PETA, on the other hand, just uses the comparison to promote veganism.

Fighting Racism and Sexism Within the Vegan Movement

Intersectional vegans also focus a lot on fighting racism, sexism, and other -isms within the vegan movement. Part of their agenda is to make the vegan movement more of a broadly leftist and socially progressive movement.

Intersectional vegans will criticize the “whiteness” of certain vegan spaces in hopes of creating a more diverse vegan movement. And they call attention to capitalism as a root problem behind the abuses in factory farms.

In many cases, it can seem like intersectional vegans—in a similar way as Francione and the abolitionists (above)—spend more time criticizing the rest of the vegan movement than criticizing the animal agriculture industry itself.

To some vegans, this can seem annoying or counter-productive. But hopefully, in making their critiques, intersectional vegans make the movement a better place for all.

For more of the intersectional anti-oppression perspective, check out Sistah Vegan, the Vegan Vanguard podcast, A privileged vegan, and the Vegan Princess Warriors Attack podcast.

6. Environmental Arguments for Veganism

Going vegan is said to help with a whole plethora of environmental problems.

• Deforestation, particularly in the Amazon rainforest, is largely being carried out to make room for cattle ranching and, from what I’ve heard, large-scale planting of soybeans to be used as animal feed.

• Climate Change. Methane gas emissions from cattle farming, i.e. cow farts, are causing the greenhouse effect and accelerating climate change. In fact, methane is 29 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. It’s often said that the #1 action you can take to reduce your carbon footprint is to go vegan.

• Ocean acidification. The methane gas produced by animal agriculture also contributes to the acidification of our oceans.

• Water use. So many gallons of water go into producing a single hamburger. If we just eat plants, it’s much less resource-intensive.

This section could be a lot longer, but it’s not an area that I’ve personally focused on in my vegan journey.

For more of the common environmental arguments for a vegan diet, check out the documentary Cowspiracy.

7. Arguments About How Veganism Can End World Hunger

Claims that veganism can help end world hunger may strike you as simply misinformed or unrealistic. The problem with world hunger isn’t simply a lack of food—it’s a matter of distributing the food to the people who need it.

That said, it’s worth looking at how worldwide veganism (or anything closer to it) could help free up resources to make hunger alleviation easier.

As covered in the previous section, animal agriculture is not very efficient with regard to the use of water and land. When you feed 100 calories of grains to an animal, you don’t get 100 calories of meat. You get much less!

So it’s long been argued by vegans that we should just feed the grain to the humans that need it. Unfortunately, that’s not how capitalism works. Someone needs to be able to pay for the grain in order for anyone to want to grow it in the first place. In capitalism, there’s not much incentive for farmers to grow food for people who don’t have money.

But still, is there an argument here? Could worldwide veganism help?

The following video from Mic the Vegan makes a pretty thorough argument into how a widespread vegan diet could still help alleviate hunger—even without taking us all the way to “ending world hunger.”

8. The Treatment of Farmworkers and Slaughterhouse Employees

Another reason to boycott meat, dairy, and eggs could actually be the treatment of human workers caught up in the system.

Workers are often injured in slaughterhouses due especially to the speed at which animals are killed. The line moves fast to keep production high and labor expenses low.

One slaughterhouse worker had this to say: “The line is so fast, there is no time to sharpen the knife. The knife gets dull and you have to cut harder. That’s when it really starts to hurt, and that’s when you cut yourself” (source).

Slaughterhouse workers also suffer psychological harm and desensitization from repeatedly killing animals and seeing them in states of fear and pain. Here’s a quote from a former kill floor manager:

“The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll… Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them—beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.” (source)

As dramatized in the movies Fast Food Nation, slaughterhouses often employ illegal immigrants, which they can then abuse more freely since the workers have to stay “under the radar” to not be deported.

Some vegan organizations don’t focus much on the abuses of human workers at slaughterhouses, but others do include it as a central argument for why you should oppose the animal agriculture industry. Food Empowerment Project is one of these orgs that fight for human rights along with animal rights.

You can learn more about the abuse of factory farm workers here and slaughterhouse workers here.

9. Veganism and the Sanctity of Life

In my post about how vegans view abortion, I explained how it really depends on your underlying philosophical beliefs. One pro-life view that some vegans share is that life is sacred.

The writer at vegblogger.com, for example, has written, “Veganism is about respecting and protecting life. Abortion is about taking life. End of story.”

Now, this is a very different view from that held by Peter Singer, whose utilitarian ethics I covered above. Singer cares about reducing suffering. He doesn’t care at all about “life” in and of itself.

But I think most vegans intuitively just find something wrong about killing other animals. For some of those vegans, it may come back to the sanctity of life as described by various religions.

Western religion tends to view the “sanctity of life” only applying to human life, but some Eastern religions have a view of the sanctity of life for all sentient beings, including nonhuman animals. Many Buddhists are vegetarians for this reason.

10. Speciesism and Anti-Speciesism

Speciesism is, of course, an equivalent term to racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and oppression between human groups.

Calling attention to speciesism is a central part of what vegan activists seek to do. There are many things our society does to nonhuman animals which, if done to humans, would be universally condemned.

For example: No reasonable person would argue that it’s okay to buy a human from someone else, chain her up, impregnate her without her consent, then take away her baby and hook her up to milking machines each day, and kill her baby to sell it as meat after about 4 months of it living in a small crate!

The fact that our society is okay with that happening to cows in the dairy industry is, therefore, speciesist.

What Anti-Speciesism Really Means

Humans and nonhuman animals are not the same—and many of our differences are significant in ways that are morally relevant.

Certain things that may cause suffering to a human may not bother a nonhuman animal. So that needs to be factored in when talking about speciesism.

But usually, what vegans are arguing is the following: Many of the things we do to cows, pigs, and chickens clearly cause them pain and distress—and that pain and distress cannot be considered morally irrelevant due to the species of animal experiencing it.

11. The Importance of Sentience (And Why It’s Okay to Kill Plants)

Many vegan arguments hinge on the distinction that animals are sentient and plants are not. It matters what we do to other animals because they are sentient—because they feel and experience sensations.

By this same logic, vegans are typically okay with killing plants because the general consensus is that plants are not sentient.

Sometimes, you do run into people saying that plants are sentient based on some research… But most of us have an intuitive sense that plants do not have a central nervous system that resembles our own at all. They likely do not suffer in a way that is at all comparable.

12. “Expanding the Circle” of Moral Concern

“Expanding the circle” is a visual metaphor used by many animal rights activists and theorists, which refers to adding more and more groups of individuals into our circle of moral concern.

The explanation may go like this: When we’re acting most selfishly, we only care about ourselves. Then the next level of concern for others is usually focused on your family. Then maybe your broader “tribe” after that. Then maybe your country, your race, or your gender. Then we care about the rights of all humans. And what’s next after that?

Next, you expand the circle to include nonhuman animals!

Tom Regan’s philosophy takes an established idea of “moral rights” and expands it to include moral rights for other animals. Intersectional vegans take an established idea of intersectional anti-oppression and expand it to include the human/nonhuman relationship.

We should “expand the circle” of our moral concern to include nonhuman animals, whichever ethical model we’re using. Or that’s what vegans argue anyway!

Peter Singer even has a whole book about ethics called The Expanding Circle.

What About Being Human Gives Us Moral Rights?

A common line of argument in the philosophy of Peter Singer, as well as that of Tom Regan and other animal rights philosophers, is that it’s very difficult to draw any logically consistent line between all humans and all nonhuman animals ethically.

If you say that humans deserve to be respected and treated well because of intelligence or rational thinking, well, not all humans can think rationally. And we still care about how we treat the severely mentally impaired, for example.

So, we have to think more deeply than just “Humans matter, animals don’t.” We have to specifically ask, What about being human gives us moral rights? And is it actually something that doesn’t apply to nonhuman animals?

Peter Singer says what really matters is that we suffer, we experience happiness, and we have preferences. Tom Regan says what matters is that we are the “subject-of-a-life” and we care what happens to us.

And both of those apply to nonhuman animals, too.

13. Veganism and Nonviolence

Many vegans understand their position as one of nonviolence. “Nonviolence” could mean different things to different people, though.

A common-sense understanding of nonviolence might be that violence is wrong and should be avoided if at all possible. And the implication when saying that veganism is nonviolence is that meat and other animal use are forms of violence.

Gary Francione has this to say: “If the principle of nonviolence means anything, it means that you cannot justify any killing or suffering for transparently frivolous reasons such as pleasure, amusement, or convenience” (source).

Francione seems to be saying that it is violent to use animals in these ways—so being nonviolent requires no longer supporting those practices. Being nonviolent requires veganism.

For Some Vegans, There Is No Philosophy: It’s Just a Gut Feeling

The following video I’m going to link to is not bloody or graphic. But even so, it’s one of the most emotional videos of animals in our food system—because it tells a story.

Watch this video of two cows waiting in line to be slaughtered at the slaughterhouse. And just see how it makes you feel. It’s just 3 minutes.

Now, when you watch this footage, do you feel that it’s a good thing? Is your gut reaction that this is fine?

Or does it feel sad? Does it feel like a pretty bad thing? Do you feel like it’d be better if cows didn’t have to experience this? For some vegans, it’s simply a gut feeling like that.

So I’ll end the post with that. My personal vegan ethics are, as much as anything, based on this emotional reaction.

Causing fear, pain, and death for other animals just doesn’t feel like a great thing to do. If we can be healthy and happy without killing other animals, that just seems like the preferable way to live.

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