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Do insects have rights? If so, are they intrinsic, or socially constructed, or granted by humans, or somehow else obtained by them? If insects did have rights, how would that affect our daily lives, and how would we avoid violating those rights? 

vegan nonsense about insects

Written by Tim Gier

Insects haven’t got any rights and they never will have any rights, not because there are no such things as rights but because insects aren’t the sorts of beings who could or should ever have rights.

A vegan can be a vegan without believing in nonsense.

The more vegans who stop believing in and talking nonsense, such as the nonsense that insects have rights, the better the chances that veganism will spread.


tim gier



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Hi Tim,

Very well put.  I am interesting in learning about why you think insects are the sorts of beings who could or should have rights.  Although I don't know a lot about insects, I do have questions about whether or not they have interests and whether or not they experience harm.

Hi Matt:

I think that insects are not the sort of beings who could or should have rights. I'll deal with the "should have rights" part first, and then address the "could" part.

To my mind if rights are to mean anything at all, it's because rights have value because they create limits that are, for almost all intents and purposes, absolute. For example, to say that an innocent person has a right not to be killed, is to say that no one should kill that person, no matter what. That is, everyone would have a duty not to kill an innocent person. If someone were to violate the right not to be killed of an innocent person, then that someone could be punished. Indeed, if one were to witness another attempting to kill an innocent person, then one would be justified in the use of whatever force may be necessary to stop another from killing an innocent person, up to and including lethal force. Should insects have such a right not to be killed? Should everyone have a duty not to kill insects? If one were to see another attempting to kill a spider, would one be justified in the use of whatever force may be necessary to stop another from killing a spider?  I don't think so, because I don't think the world would make much sense if we took it that insects had such a right. For example, each time I drive my car it's almost certain that I will kill insects as I drive. Would I have a duty not to drive my car? If I did drive my car, would someone else be justified in the use of lethal force if such force proved necessary to stop me from driving my car and killing insects? I can't imagine that we want a world where people can killed just to save the lives of insects. It seems absurd to me to say that insects should have rights; it seems to me that life as we know it would have to stop if we said that insects have rights. Therefore, insects shouldn't have rights.

Could insects have rights? I think not. Rights, basically, involve two things: 1) valid claims made by someone for something against someone (so in the example above, an innocent person makes a valid claim  against all other people to not be unjustly killed) and 2) the duties that others have to that someone as a result of their valid claims. Insects are not the sort of being who can make valid claims against others - they don't know what claims are, they don't understand what duties are - and it's very unlikely that insects know who others are (that is, it's not at all likely that insects have any idea that other animals have minds, or that other animals might have duties). So, since insects can't have rights on their own, then they can only have rights if humans grant them (that is, if humans reach an agreement among themselves such that all humans should recognize rights in insects - one might say such an agreement would be a social construction). But, as I've said, I think that insects should not have rights. Therefore, insects cannot and should not have rights.

I don't entirely agree.  Insects have this quality that is shared with other living things, the life force, which is what is taken in, say, cases of murder.  Is the suggestion that they ought not have rights based on a value judgement about their worth?  Insects do have an important, and essential role to play in the health of the ecosystem, consequently they have value.

The difficulty comes with for example getting rid of a flea infestation on a dog or cat, because we value the dog or cat more. That's not to say that the fleas would probably prefer to live, and were it possible to find a way to remove fleas without killing them possibly I would do that.  And yes if I saw someone about to step on a spider, I'd intervene if I could.

If we are going to accept that insects have less value, consequently no rights, how then do we consider humans in a vegetative state?  They have no cognitive function, no 'value' to society so to speak.  I recall a couple of years ago reading an item in the paper about a teaching hospital, can't remember if it was here or in the UK somewhere, that created a storm of controversy when it was revealed that comatose humans were being used for interns to practice spinal taps.  They had to stop due to the public outcry.

The Jains won't eat root vegetables as they contain microorganisms, filter water to remove living things, and sweep the ground ahead when walking to avoid killing insects.

I guess at the end of the day one can only go so far, as per your example about driving cars. As far as vegan philosophy and treatment of insects relate, I think that it is about the 'intent' of how one lives a life.

I can see that bees may be given rights in the not too distant future, because they are dying out through a nasty disease and if they go, there goes the pollination of plants and we'd be facing a global disaster.

For myself, yes I kill fleas on my pets because they are harmful. But I try to catch flies in a tissue and put them out, or gently move a spider to make sure it will get outside somewhere safe. I see no reason to take a life if it can be avoided, and feel all living things really have a right to life.

Hi Kerry, 

I'm ok to bite the bullet and say that the so-called marginal cases of humans have no rights either. Also, I reject any world view whose explanation depends on the existence of immaterial souls (as does Jainism) or on the existence of a "life force" as if there is something animating living things that is other than what can be explained by the actual physical material and make-up of biological organisms. That is to say, living organisms don't contain something that they lose in death - something that leaves their bodies as if it could or would survive apart from their bodies. Living things are alive, but they haven't any souls or a life force within them to give them life, keep them alive, or give value or meaning to their lives.

Any conception of "rights" that depends, on whole or in part, on any such things as souls or a life force is a conception of rights I reject.

You are practically ridiculating the most common definiton of veganism, calling vegans for belivers of nonsense. For a website dedicated to anti-speciesism and critical questioning, I think it's disappointing with this heavy promotion of antropocentric views and demeaning of the more extended critiques of speciesism, especially that of Joan Dunayer. 

If rights ethics is necessarily based on too antropocentric criterias, excluding the too "nonhuman-like" beings, it could be a good idea for vegans and anti-speciesists to throw the rights-ethics over board completely, or acknowledge it as insufficient.

I for my part think sentience seems like the most natural criterium for rights, if "rights" should be advocated at all (I find many problems with the rights-retoric). 

I think we need to examine the common definitions of veganism.  The criticisms of these common definitions can be devastating and discredit veganism if these criticisms are successful in making vegans appear nonsensical.  How vegans answer the question "What about insects?" is one area that, I believe, possess a problem for vegans because for many people the idea that we should think about our treatment of insects seems absurd.  It raises a lot of questions that I think are hard for vegans to answer, such as "How do we live if we kill insects as part of our everyday lives?" 

We could say that our treatment of insects doesn't matter, but critics of veganism will raise the point "But insects are animals.  If animal rights is about extending rights to animals  or recognizing that animals have rights, how can you just exclude insects?" How vegans answer these and similar questions, I think, has an impact on whether veganism is viewed and on vegans advocacy, for how will we be able to advocate for a practice if we can't adequately defend it against criticism?

I agree with this:

Arild Tornes said:

it could be a good idea for vegans and anti-speciesists to throw the rights-ethics over board completely, or acknowledge it as insufficient.

I agree with you Matt.  I'll add that we can easily talk about what is better for insects without asserting that insects have rights. For example, we know that certain human behaviors involving plants contribute to plants flourishing or thriving; for the plant's sake, it's better that humans engage in such behaviors when they can. The same could be said about insects; there are obviously circumstances in which insects flourish and thrive. We don't need to wonder about the mental states or consciousness of plants or insects to recognize that some of our own behaviors will make their lives better or worse. All things being equal, it seems that a person leading a good life would not want to make the lives of other living things fare worse, so whether insects and plants have rights, a good person would want to see them flourish and thrive.

MattZCohen said:

How vegans answer these and similar questions, I think, has an impact on whether veganism is viewed and on vegans advocacy, for how will we be able to advocate for a practice if we can't adequately defend it against criticism?

Good points all.  I am not convinced that insects are necessarily killed by us walking down the street for example. There are a couple of things that have bothered me for a long time. Firstly that human concepts of non-human species are constantly being disproved. I suspect we will find the same about insects which from a couple of posts seems to be going in that direction. Humans thought of birds as very unintelligent for a long time, now scientists are speculating that their brains behave for want of a better description like zip files.

The second thing that bothers me is that once we start ascribing one set of rights to a species and other rights to other species, it tends to create increased discrimination rather than reduce.

I think it would be perhaps more useful to strive to make a world where nothing gets harmed. For example we may be able to design cars that use thermal flows to push insects away instead of them hitting your car.

When we talk about 'rights' these occur on several levels. I agree it would be impossible to develop legal rights for species like insects. That doesn't mean we can't acknowledge moral, ethical and environmental rights.

Yes it does mean we need to consider what veganism means and as has been pointed out we can't be 100% vegan because of the way society and our consumer products are constructed. It is continuous learning. I think however the 'striving' is the main point, an attempt to live harmlessly. In that sense, I think insects should have rights.

I liked the idea of design cars with insect-friendly thermal flows. Maby it can get the vegan-approved mark in the future.

Hi Tim,

Thank you for your reply.  I agree with your idea that we can talk about the flourishing of plants and insects without attributing rights to them and that it is preferable for us to not hinder their flourishing when we can.

When it comes to animals (such as rabbits, turtles and robins) I believe one of the things that separates these animals from plants and insects is that these animals have interests that plants and insects do not have,  and these interests should be factored into our decision making.  For example, I think plants, insects and animals all are capable of flourishing but the flourishing of animals differs in that when their flourishing is hindered these animals interest in not suffering is setback.  In the case of plants when their flourishing is hindered their biological interests (such as in access to soil, water or sunlight) are setback which is bad for the plant, but the plant, I don't believe, suffers.  For an animal, on the other hand, when that animal's biological interests are setback in someway, such as in depriving the animal or nourishment, an additional interest, that of not suffering, is also hindered.

I believe the additional interest in not suffering that animals have that plants do not have is what makes it preferable to eat plants rather than animals when such a choice can be made.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

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