I thought I’d explain in this post a bit about what my tagline “eats plants” actually means. I have been reluctant to write about this here before because I don’t want to come across as judgemental of what other people eat. We each make the best decisions we can and so here I want to write about why I have made the decision that I have made. You might agree with me or disagree with me and that is fine. I hope that at the very least, it might make you think about something you hadn’t thought about before.
My reasons for mostly abstaining from animal products are primarily ethical and based on the philosophy of Peter Singer. I will try to summarise part of this philosophy here although he has written entire books about it and so what I will say only touches the surface. But it goes like this:
If we accept the basic principle of equality – that is equal consideration of interests for everyone – then it follows that this principle should apply to members outside our own species. This might sound strange at first but the idea behind equal consideration of interests is that we give equal concern to all members of humanity regardless of their sex, skin colour, intelligence or various other arbitrary characteristics because equality is not dependent on these characteristics. This implies that equality is also not dependent on the species to which we belong.
Put simply, our concern for others should not depend on what others are like. It does not depend on their sex or race or level of intelligence. We cannot exploit a being because they belong to a different race and so we also cannot exploit a being simply because they belong to a different species. To do so would be a prejudice known as speciesism.
If species classification is not a good boundary then what is? What I think is more important than the species to which an organism belongs is their capacity for pain and suffering. And here I will quote Jeremy Bentham,
What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
The capacity for pain and suffering and also enjoyment of life is the prerequisite for any of us having interests at all. Peter Singer writes, “If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration.” This does not mean that all suffering is equal. In many cases an adult human is likely to suffer more than a dog because an adult human has the capacity to plan for the future and can anticipate pain and suffering. But it does mean that if it is wrong to inflict pain on an adult human then it is also wrong to inflict the same amount of pain on a dog.
I have not mentioned taking life here and that is because this is quite a complicated topic and so I will leave that for another post. I thought I would end with this interesting history lesson from the women’s rights movement. The English philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote a book in 1792 called A vindication of the rights of women in which she argues for equality for women. A year later, Thomas Taylor wrote a parody of her book called A vindication of the rights of beasts in which he suggests that the same arguments used by Wollstonecraft to champion rights for women can similarly be applied to beasts which, according to Taylor, would be absurd.