Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

What do you think? Is it possible to live as a vegan whilst eating other animals? This essay from Tim Gier may present a perspective many of us haven't considered before. I think he raises some difficult issues, and I invite ARZone members to discuss their thoughts, and consider some of the questions raised in this essay. 

possible and practicable veganism

 

The Vegan Society, in their Articles of Association, explains that “the word ‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” They go on to say that “In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

One may choose to read these two statements as presenting something a conflicting message. The former clearly allows that veganism isn’t an absolutist position: that’s why it includes the emphasized caveat “as far as is possible and practicable.” The latter appears to ignore this caveat, claiming that veganism requires dispensing with “all products derived wholly or partly from animals;” this appears to be an absolutist position. However, given that the former statement is the more inclusive of the two, encompassing veganism in all its aspects, I believe that any fair reading of these two statements will acknowledge that the latter implicitly assumes the caveat of the former. In other words, I take it that the Vegan Society means to say, ”In dietary terms veganism denotes the practice of dispensing with – as far as is possible and practicable – all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” This makes sense and tracks well with what most vegans believe.

For example, I believe that most vegans would accept that, just in case the organic granola they might have eaten for breakfast contained some unintended and negligible amount of dead insect matter, they would still be vegan while eating it. Indeed, it’s commonly held within the vegan community that the unintended killing of field mice and other animals in the production of food crops doesn’t render those crops “non-vegan”. Given then that it’s not possible or practicable to remove every trace of every other animal from one’s diet – or to eliminate every instance of killing in the world – vegans accept that perfection isn’t possible or practicable. In terms of defining veganism then, so far is so good: Absolute perfection can’t be required. However, there is a problem that arises out of this line of reasoning; the following example should illustrate what that problem is.

Suppose that there is a young woman who fully understands and accepts the arguments made for veganism. She believes and wants to act on her belief that other animals should not be treated as mere commodities for human use and consumption. Unfortunately, she’s married to a man who is both physically and psychologically abusive to her. It just so happens that he is also an avid hunter who not only refuses to respect the woman’s beliefs, but who demands that the woman cook as well as eat the dead animals he brings into the home. On threat of torment and violence, the woman has little choice but to comply. As far as is possible and practicable for her, even though she identifies as a vegan and would abstain from all consumption of other animals if only she could, veganism for her includes the regular consumption of other animals.

Now, what are we to make of this?

On the one hand, given that she seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose, this woman is vegan. On the other hand, vegans are not likely to want to admit – because she regularly eats other animals – that this woman really is vegan. But then, what is the point of the definition of veganism including the caveat “as far as is possible and practicable”? If the definition is to mean what it says, then considering the circumstances this woman unfortunately finds herself in, she must be vegan. Otherwise the caveat doesn’t mean ”as far as is possible and practicable” but means little or nothing instead. That is, if in effect the definition means “as far as what other people determine is possible and practicable” then no one has the opportunity to live as a vegan on the terms that are possible for them, but only on the terms forced on them by others. But it must be the case that a person who lives in a city with no options to purchase 100% veganically grown plant-foods, for example, can’t be held to the same standards as one who lives in a self-supporting vegan commune. What is easily possible and practicable for the latter may not be at all possible or practicable for the former.  It must be the case, then, that each person must be able to claim – for themselves – what is possible and practicable for them in their practice of veganism.

Therefore, it must be the case – as it would be in the case of the abused young woman – that there are circumstances (however unlikely and infrequent they may be) in which a person can regularly consume other animals and yet correctly claim to practice veganism, as far as is possible and practicable for them. If it must not be the case, then the definition of veganism is meaningless.

tim gier

http://timgier.com/2012/07/02/possible-and-practicable-veganism/


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Hi Madeleine,

I agree with you.  Veganism as a matter personal and private practice, I believe, has little or no impact on the use, harm, or killing of other animals.  What I mean is that, in a country like the US, where perhaps as many as 10 billion land animals are bred, raised, confined and then slaughtered every year, the fact that I am vegan by itself cannot possibly make any difference in the lives of any of those who are being so mistreated and killed.  It's like I'm one out of 100 men all holding rifles in a firing squad - I may refuse to pull the trigger but the prisoner at the other end of the barrel is still going to be executed.  In the US, I am one out of 300 Million and most of the others show no signs of putting down their rifles.  Therefore, if my veganism is to have any value beyond the value I get from knowing that my practice aligns with my convictions (which is of great value to me) then my veganism must be part of a larger social and political statement such that it has a chance to have the effect of causing more people to do less harm.  Therefore, if someone like your spouse can convince people to reduce the amount of harm they cause in the world, even if he doesn't advocate for everyone to eliminate every harm, then I consider him to be in the same movement for social justice that I am in.  Others may feel differently, and that is their right, but their feelings don't make what I believe wrong, nor do they make the actions of you or your spouse to be wrong either.


Madeleine Longhurst said:

I was just trying to explain that carnists (like my hubby was) can be persuaded to avoid slaughterhouse and factory farm products, and, indeed, to see the dubiousness of 'ethical' vegetarian diets, more easily than they can be persuaded of the sentience of bees, or indeed fish.

Hi Lisa,

I agree with what you've said. Our actions must be grounded in our beliefs (and I would add that we ought to have the best reasons we can find to justify our beliefs!) 

I don't know much about chickens. To be completely honest about the whole thing, I don't much like to interact with other animals - it doesn't appear to me that we have much in common and them seem to prefer to be left alone anyway. However, it seems quite obvious to me that it cannot necessarily be the case that every interaction between human beings and other animals is or would be harmful to other animals. It is possible that humans can interact with other animals in ways that are not harmful to them and, it seems to me, in ways that would be mutually beneficial to both. It also appears to me that there must be some instances in which chickens wouldn't care whether someone took the eggs they've laid (assuming that it makes sense to say that chickens are able to care about such things in the first place) and, in those instances, there would be nothing wrong with a person taking those eggs. 

It's been suggested (here? elsewhere? I can't keep up!!) that as a vegan I shouldn't be trying to find instances in which the eating of eggs, honey or even "roadkill" wouldn't be wrong. That is, some have claimed that I am not acting in "the spirit of veganism" when I point out that it's not the honey itself that isn't vegan, it's the harm that is caused to the bees that isn't vegan. If it's possible to get honey without harming bees, then it wouldn't be wrong to get and eat that honey. If, as a vegan, I'm supposed to deny that and claim rather that there is some sort of absolute prohibition against all eating of all honey no matter where or how that honey was come by, not matter whether anyone was harmed in the process or not, then my veganism would cease to be grounded in ethical beliefs and would be grounded instead in non-rational and dogmatic claims. If that is what "the spirit of veganism" requires, so be it, but I haven't any use for spirituality anyway.


Lisa Viger said:

So, is vegan a belief or is it an action? ... that seems to be what you're asking?

I think it's both, actions that originate in a belief that other animals not be harmed or exploited.

Hi Lisa et al,

As I see it (and I am not writing this because anyone here has insinuated any differently),  just to be clear, veganism is not some highest moral platform achievable by humans. It is a conduct of justice for responsible moral behavior toward animals, in simple terms.  Just because someone is vegan doesn't mean that they can not improve their conduct.  A vegan who actively opposes equal pay for women who perform equal work, who actively opposes the justice of non-discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, and who actively opposes the justice of same-sex couples in a civil union receiving ALL the benefits and privileges hetero couples who are married do is not a vegan I would find drawn toward.

What is your definition of vegan?  Would you agree with this rough definition of vegan?  A vegan is someone who does not consume knowingly, products which rely on the intentional or purposeful harming or exploitation of animals or who has knowingly removed her/himself from complicity in the intentional exploitation or demise of members of the animal kingdom. Why / why not?

If not, what better definition would you posit?

If someone who knowingly and unnecessarily consumes animal products because it might be practical to not avoid doing so is considered vegan, then anyone and everyone could conceivably be called a vegan who claims practicality as the defining quality or measure rather than necessity or requirement.  Requirement (to sustain one's life), as I see it, is not relative. Is it required for humans to consume calories? Yes. Is it required for humans to eat animal products? No. Is it required that we drink fluids? Yes?  Can a person be considered vegan even if that person drinks milk that comes from cows raised for profit on beautiful, lush, open, organic pastures though without the cows being abused? No.  Can a person be vegan even if they drink fresh or running water (from a natural spring or brook for example) that may have some blood or tiny particles of a deer carcass -  a deer shot and wounded by a sadistic sport hunter? Yes.

The point of that is that intentionality is crucial to the definition of veganism as I see it.

How do members here see it?

Warmly,

Louie



Lisa Viger said:

So, is vegan a belief or is it an action? ... that seems to be what you're asking?

I think it's both, actions that originate in a belief that other animals not be harmed or exploited.

Is the abused woman vegan if her husband forces her to eat meat? I say she is. None of us goes a day without eating something or wearing something or using something that is made from or has harmed an animal. The thing that makes us "vegan" is that we try our best to minimize those things. This woman would be minimizing the harm she causes as much as she is able, just as I do.

It seems to me there is a set of animal uses that many vegans have come to think of as acceptable, mostly because other vegans think they're acceptable. Rather than each situation being considered and evaluated for the "less harm" choice that applies to that unique situation, it's more like there's a list that says "these things are OK to do, we don't expect anyone to not do this."

There are vegans who will tell me I'm not vegan because I might eat Oreos twice a year, and the sugar could be refined with animal bones. And in the same breath, they will happily proclaim they only eat organic produce ... which is grown with animal bones. The difference, they say? "Well, you CHOOSE to eat Oreos! I'm not CHOOSING to harm animals by eating produce!" Yes, you ARE choosing. You've just set a level of inconvenience beyond which you won't go, which may be different from mine.

We can look at someone doing what we consider to be "less" than we are, and jump all over them with cries of, "That's not vegan!!!" But I think that's a totally unproductive use of our time as vegans. I've done it myself in the past, but will try to never do it again going forward (I think it's also, often, something newer vegans do). I think it drives people away from being vegan and makes us look like hypocrites ... and silly and mean, too.

There's a local woman I know who does poultry rescue. She has chickens and ducks and turkeys and they get to live out the rest of their lives happy and cared for at her place. She does animal advocacy and has even been attacked for it ... she's had dead animals thrown on her lawn and threats made, etc. Every once in a while, she eats an egg one of her chickens lays. Because of this, she refuses to call herself vegan. IS she vegan? In my view, she IS vegan. It's not in any way hurting or taking advantage of that chicken to eat one of her eggs ... let me be clear, it's not harmful under those very particular circumstances.

 


We don't all live under the same circumstances. One person might find it easy to locate veganic produce (which still causes the death of animals anyway), and another may have to shop at a corner convenience store where vegan fare may be almost nil. When we make the decision to be vegan and to do the best we can, then we're vegan. 

Hi Louie,

Please accept my apology. I am sorry that I appeared glib.

You asked "on what evidence do these 'experts' posit that fish and / or insects do not have the capacity of sentience" but, if you'll forgive me for saying so, that is the wrong question - it is not the case that scientists try to prove a negative.  The right question is "On what evidence can anyone claim that another is sentient?" and therefore it would be up to anyone trying establish a claim of sentience to provide the evidence for such a claim. However, that is an extremely difficult thing to do. As I said earlier, adaptation through natural selection results in living organisms that are capable of complex interactions in the environment without necessarily entailing any subjective conscious experiences within those organisms. Given that that is the case, when non-sentient processes are sufficient explanations of observed behavior, the principle of parsimony suggests that we not posit additional and unnecessary processes to explain such behavior. I believe, based on the reading I have done thus far (which is admittedly very very far from exhaustive at this point) that very much of the complex behaviors exhibited by most living organisms can be explained by either non-conscious, non-cognitive or very simple cognitive processes that do require anything like subjective conscious experiences. As Bekoff and Allen write in the article I quoted from earlier:

"Two ordinary senses of consciousness that are not in dispute when applied to animals are the sense of consciousness involved when a creature is awake rather than asleep or in a coma, and the sense of consciousness implicated in the basic ability of organisms to perceive and thereby respond to selected features of their environments, thus making them conscious of aware of those features. Consciousness in both these senses is identifiable in organisms belonging to a wide variety of taxonomic groups" (pp. 58-9).

The problem, I believe, is that we often talk about sentience (i.e., phenomenological consciousness) when what we are really talking about are these two more basic forms of consciousness. We further confound the problem when we equate sentience with self-conscious states - when we move from saying that a being experiences pain, for example, to saying that a being thinks about itself as one who is in pain. There's a crucial difference between having the subjective experience "Pain!!" and having second-order thoughts about such an experience (i.e., "There is something and it is causing me pain"). Therefore, the two most basic forms of consciousness (asleep vs. awake and perception of and response to the environment) are not subjective qualitative mental or psychological states of mind and yet they can explain much animal (including human) behavior.

The fact that other animals engage in mating rituals, flee from threats, and so on is not, by itself, evidence that other animals have subjective experiences of their own lives. These behaviors can almost always be explained as being the result of the natural evolutionary process selecting for individual traits that prove to be advantageous in the long run.  At the same, there is a cumulative case that can be made for the sentience of other animals - the best fit explanation for the range of exhibited behaviors in most other animals (mammals, birds, and probably most other vertebrates too) is that they are most likely sentient.  I've never denied that. 

Let me say something about giving others the benefit of the doubt. Let's suppose we think that if another is sentient then they have interests and therefore we ought to give adequate consideration to their interests. Let's also suppose that it is true that the sentience of insects has not been established. Finally, let's also suppose that even though we haven't any good reason to think that insects are sentient, in order to give insects the benefit of the doubt, we choose anyway to avoid, as far as we can, causing harm to insects. That's fine and we can make that choice. But we aren't obligated to make that choice - we would be doing more than reason and evidence required. Therefore, it wouldn't be right for us to that others who may choose differently would be acting immorally - they would have no duty to do as we do. If, however, we were to say that even though we don't have reason or evidence that we and others would nonetheless be obligated to act in a certain way, then we would also be obligated to act in all sorts of ways for which there are no supporting reasons or evidence. But that would be absurd. We cannot be obligated to act when there are no supporting reasons or evidence for those actions - for then we would be obligated to everything! Therefore, if it hasn't been or can't be established that insects are sentient (and I believe that it hasn't been) then avoiding harm to insects is not obligatory, it is supererogatory: one who chooses to avoid harming insects would be going above and beyond the call of duty. Going above and beyond the call of duty is to be commended, but others who choose not to go above and beyond the call of duty ought not to be condemned.

Louie Gedo said:

Hi Tim,

That in no way answers my question. In fact your answer appears quite glib. I am left to believe that the sources you rely on do not know whether or not fish and insects can have subjective conscious experiences (exhibit sentience).

I am certainly convinced from all my studies that insects and fish exhibit sentience. The fact that they experience pain subjectively is a clear indication that these individuals are sentient. Fish and insects clearly appear to consciously (an awake mental state) recognize self because when they engage in mating rituals, flee from a threat, warn others of their group of a threat, disguise themselves (those that do), etc, etc, etc they behave in similar ways as we would in similar circumstances. In those similar circumstances we are acting in self interest utilizing conscious thoughts - why would someone assume that fish and insects behaving in similar ways under similar circumstances are not having subjective conscious experiences??? If anything, in not having a clue as to knowing with absolute certainty whether or not sentience is exhibited in fish and insects, the benefit of the doubt must be given, as I see it. That is the morally responsible choice.

Warmly,

Louie



Tim Gier said:

Hi Louie, 

Adaptation through natural selection results in living organisms that are capable of complex interactions in the environment without necessarily entailing any subjective conscious experiences within those organisms.

Louie Gedo said:

Hi Tim,

In your own words, on what evidence do these "experts" posit that fish and / or insects do not have the capacity of sentience (not being able to sense that "There is something that is causing me pain")? Afterall, why would many aquatic animals and insects disguise themselves, lure other animals, take on specific social roles, and flee away from attacks if they do not have some sense of self? What could possibly motivate these and other behaviors if not a subjective, conscious thought process?

Warmly,

Louie

Hi Tim, Thanks, I'm glad you agree that my hubby is in the same movement as you as he's asked to join the ARZone :)  I  respect people who feel very strongly that fish and insects should be given the benefit of the doubt on sentience, but I also see the validity of your point about the onus of proof being on proving (or, to be scientific, 'demonstrating') sentience, not on demonstrating non-sentience.  I don't really care about the label 'vegan', I just care that no meat or dairy gets past the door of our house anymore, and, as I said before, I think most 'ordinary' folks can get why - and I care most of all that all the non-vegans I come into contact with don't end up thinking veganism is a cult full of wierdos (not that I think it is!!). My personal thing is 'No harm to sentient beings' - impossible, as I think everyone here agrees, but everyone who' s trying to be compassionate to other beings is on the right side :)

Hi Tim,

Thanks for responding. As forums like this go, during the time that I was writing my previous post, unbeknownst to me, you had posted a comment that addressed to a point, my question.  But thanks for responding as you have.

Yes, I do agree that the burden of proof is on the affirmative but still, even without proof (which, as you note, might be a very difficult thing to ascertain in this case) I believe excellent arguments in the affirmative have been and can be made. I believe that the difference of consciousness you talk about is simply the splitting of hairs. When an individual is awake and conscious (not semi-conscious), they are, for all intents and purposes, self aware. Just because we believe they are not doesn't make it so. Just because we think they do not have the deliberated thought "THERE IS SOMETHING AND IT IS CAUSING ME PAIN" doesn't mean that in some real way they don't. I see evidence in the behavior of some fish and insects that that there is an understanding of self. These types of behaviors are not, I am convinced, merely a result of mindless adaptation. If it were, then the behavior would always be identical in every instance to which that behavior is a result of, and frankly, I have seen differences in behavior which would indicate some level of awareness of self.  Again, I'm not claiming that we can determine that a flea can or can not "see" itself in the mirror, but rather my contention is that there's some level of recognition of self going on in fish and insects as I see it.

As for your last paragraph, I think there's important content in there that I may agree or disagree with but it's confusing because of your grammar. Can you clean it up a bit and rephrase? Thanks Tim.

Warmly,

Louie



Tim Gier said:

Hi Louie,

Please accept my apology. I am sorry that I appeared glib.

You asked "on what evidence do these 'experts' posit that fish and / or insects do not have the capacity of sentience" but, if you'll forgive me for saying so, that is the wrong question - it is not the case that scientists try to prove a negative.  The right question is "On what evidence can anyone claim that another is sentient?" and therefore it would be up to anyone trying establish a claim of sentience to provide the evidence for such a claim. However, that is an extremely difficult thing to do. As I said earlier, adaptation through natural selection results in living organisms that are capable of complex interactions in the environment without necessarily entailing any subjective conscious experiences within those organisms. Given that that is the case, when non-sentient processes are sufficient explanations of observed behavior, the principle of parsimony suggests that we not posit additional and unnecessary processes to explain such behavior. I believe, based on the reading I have done thus far (which is admittedly very very far from exhaustive at this point) that very much of the complex behaviors exhibited by most living organisms can be explained by either non-conscious, non-cognitive or very simple cognitive processes that do require anything like subjective conscious experiences. As Bekoff and Allen write in the article I quoted from earlier:

"Two ordinary senses of consciousness that are not in dispute when applied to animals are the sense of consciousness involved when a creature is awake rather than asleep or in a coma, and the sense of consciousness implicated in the basic ability of organisms to perceive and thereby respond to selected features of their environments, thus making them conscious of aware of those features. Consciousness in both these senses is identifiable in organisms belonging to a wide variety of taxonomic groups" (pp. 58-9).

The problem, I believe, is that we often talk about sentience (i.e., phenomenological consciousness) when what we are really talking about are these two more basic forms of consciousness. We further confound the problem when we equate sentience with self-conscious states - when we move from saying that a being experiences pain, for example, to saying that a being thinks about itself as one who is in pain. There's a crucial difference between having the subjective experience "Pain!!" and having second-order thoughts about such an experience (i.e., "There is something and it is causing me pain"). Therefore, the two most basic forms of consciousness (asleep vs. awake and perception of and response to the environment) are not subjective qualitative mental or psychological states of mind and yet they can explain much animal (including human) behavior.

The fact that other animals engage in mating rituals, flee from threats, and so on is not, by itself, evidence that other animals have subjective experiences of their own lives. These behaviors can almost always be explained as being the result of the natural evolutionary process selecting for individual traits that prove to be advantageous in the long run.  At the same, there is a cumulative case that can be made for the sentience of other animals - the best fit explanation for the range of exhibited behaviors in most other animals (mammals, birds, and probably most other vertebrates too) is that they are most likely sentient.  I've never denied that. 

Let me say something about giving others the benefit of the doubt. Let's suppose we think that if another is sentient then they have interests and therefore we ought to give adequate consideration to their interests. Let's also suppose that it is true that the sentience of insects has not been established. Finally, let's also suppose that even though we haven't any good reason to think that insects are sentient, in order to give insects the benefit of the doubt, we choose anyway to avoid, as far as we can, causing harm to insects. That's fine and we can make that choice. But we aren't obligated to make that choice - we would be doing more than reason and evidence required. Therefore, it wouldn't be right for us to that others who may choose differently would be acting immorally - they would have no duty to do as we do. If, however, we were to say that even though we don't have reason or evidence that we and others would nonetheless be obligated to act in a certain way, then we would also be obligated to act in all sorts of ways for which there are no supporting reasons or evidence. But that would be absurd. We cannot be obligated to act when there are no supporting reasons or evidence for those actions - for then we would be obligated to everything! Therefore, if it hasn't been or can't be established that insects are sentient (and I believe that it hasn't been) then avoiding harm to insects is not obligatory, it is supererogatory: one who chooses to avoid harming insects would be going above and beyond the call of duty. Going above and beyond the call of duty is to be commended, but others who choose not to go above and beyond the call of duty ought not to be condemned.

Louie Gedo said:

Hi Tim,

That in no way answers my question. In fact your answer appears quite glib. I am left to believe that the sources you rely on do not know whether or not fish and insects can have subjective conscious experiences (exhibit sentience).

I am certainly convinced from all my studies that insects and fish exhibit sentience. The fact that they experience pain subjectively is a clear indication that these individuals are sentient. Fish and insects clearly appear to consciously (an awake mental state) recognize self because when they engage in mating rituals, flee from a threat, warn others of their group of a threat, disguise themselves (those that do), etc, etc, etc they behave in similar ways as we would in similar circumstances. In those similar circumstances we are acting in self interest utilizing conscious thoughts - why would someone assume that fish and insects behaving in similar ways under similar circumstances are not having subjective conscious experiences??? If anything, in not having a clue as to knowing with absolute certainty whether or not sentience is exhibited in fish and insects, the benefit of the doubt must be given, as I see it. That is the morally responsible choice.

Warmly,

Louie



Tim Gier said:

Hi Louie, 

Adaptation through natural selection results in living organisms that are capable of complex interactions in the environment without necessarily entailing any subjective conscious experiences within those organisms.

Louie Gedo said:

Hi Tim,

In your own words, on what evidence do these "experts" posit that fish and / or insects do not have the capacity of sentience (not being able to sense that "There is something that is causing me pain")? Afterall, why would many aquatic animals and insects disguise themselves, lure other animals, take on specific social roles, and flee away from attacks if they do not have some sense of self? What could possibly motivate these and other behaviors if not a subjective, conscious thought process?

Warmly,

Louie

Hi Sandra,

While I like the idea of people who "actively work towards alternatives to exploitation, harm, and the demise of others" would that not be implied in my definition? Maybe I'm wrong.

Warmly,

Louie



Sandra Higgins said:

I like your definition Louie.  It has similarities to Watson's but there is clarity in the words 'knowing consumption' and I think that introducing the word complicity is good.  What do you, and others, think of the inclusion of a phrase that suggest that vegans actively work towards alternatives to exploitation, harm, and the demise of others (e.g. alternatives to vivisection, veganic plant growing etc)?  Perhaps that was in the original definition?  I do not personally practice any religion or have any religious or spiritual beliefs but I believe there is a place for the definition of Ahimsa in veganism. 

 

All the best,

Sandra
 
Louie Gedo said:

Hi Lisa et al,

As I see it (and I am not writing this because anyone here has insinuated any differently),  just to be clear, veganism is not some highest moral platform achievable by humans. It is a conduct of justice for responsible moral behavior toward animals, in simple terms.  Just because someone is vegan doesn't mean that they can not improve their conduct.  A vegan who actively opposes equal pay for women who perform equal work, who actively opposes the justice of non-discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, and who actively opposes the justice of same-sex couples in a civil union receiving ALL the benefits and privileges hetero couples who are married do is not a vegan I would find drawn toward.

What is your definition of vegan?  Would you agree with this rough definition of vegan?  A vegan is someone who does not consume knowingly, products which rely on the intentional or purposeful harming or exploitation of animals or who has knowingly removed her/himself from complicity in the intentional exploitation or demise of members of the animal kingdom. Why / why not?

If not, what better definition would you posit?

If someone who knowingly and unnecessarily consumes animal products because it might be practical to not avoid doing so is considered vegan, then anyone and everyone could conceivably be called a vegan who claims practicality as the defining quality or measure rather than necessity or requirement.  Requirement (to sustain one's life), as I see it, is not relative. Is it required for humans to consume calories? Yes. Is it required for humans to eat animal products? No. Is it required that we drink fluids? Yes?  Can a person be considered vegan even if that person drinks milk that comes from cows raised for profit on beautiful, lush, open, organic pastures though without the cows being abused? No.  Can a person be vegan even if they drink fresh or running water (from a natural spring or brook for example) that may have some blood or tiny particles of a deer carcass -  a deer shot and wounded by a sadistic sport hunter? Yes.

The point of that is that intentionality is crucial to the definition of veganism as I see it.

How do members here see it?

Warmly,

Louie



Lisa Viger said:

So, is vegan a belief or is it an action? ... that seems to be what you're asking?

I think it's both, actions that originate in a belief that other animals not be harmed or exploited.

Is the abused woman vegan if her husband forces her to eat meat? I say she is. None of us goes a day without eating something or wearing something or using something that is made from or has harmed an animal. The thing that makes us "vegan" is that we try our best to minimize those things. This woman would be minimizing the harm she causes as much as she is able, just as I do.

It seems to me there is a set of animal uses that many vegans have come to think of as acceptable, mostly because other vegans think they're acceptable. Rather than each situation being considered and evaluated for the "less harm" choice that applies to that unique situation, it's more like there's a list that says "these things are OK to do, we don't expect anyone to not do this."

There are vegans who will tell me I'm not vegan because I might eat Oreos twice a year, and the sugar could be refined with animal bones. And in the same breath, they will happily proclaim they only eat organic produce ... which is grown with animal bones. The difference, they say? "Well, you CHOOSE to eat Oreos! I'm not CHOOSING to harm animals by eating produce!" Yes, you ARE choosing. You've just set a level of inconvenience beyond which you won't go, which may be different from mine.

We can look at someone doing what we consider to be "less" than we are, and jump all over them with cries of, "That's not vegan!!!" But I think that's a totally unproductive use of our time as vegans. I've done it myself in the past, but will try to never do it again going forward (I think it's also, often, something newer vegans do). I think it drives people away from being vegan and makes us look like hypocrites ... and silly and mean, too.

There's a local woman I know who does poultry rescue. She has chickens and ducks and turkeys and they get to live out the rest of their lives happy and cared for at her place. She does animal advocacy and has even been attacked for it ... she's had dead animals thrown on her lawn and threats made, etc. Every once in a while, she eats an egg one of her chickens lays. Because of this, she refuses to call herself vegan. IS she vegan? In my view, she IS vegan. It's not in any way hurting or taking advantage of that chicken to eat one of her eggs ... let me be clear, it's not harmful under those very particular circumstances.

 


We don't all live under the same circumstances. One person might find it easy to locate veganic produce (which still causes the death of animals anyway), and another may have to shop at a corner convenience store where vegan fare may be almost nil. When we make the decision to be vegan and to do the best we can, then we're vegan. 

Hi Madeline,

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but just because I can make some electrical repairs around my house doesn't mean that I'm necessarily an electrician. In the same way, just because someone perceives them self or someone else as a vegan, doesn't necessarily make them one. The fact that your husband eats fish or fishes means that he is not vegan. Why even try to make that argument? It's not like because he is not vegan, therefore he's a monster...no, of course not. But "vegan" has to have a definitive definition if it is to count for something important.

Also, I don't know if you understand the difference between intentional, necessary, and requisite harm and unintentional, accidental, noncompulsory harm....I have not seen that understanding in your posts.  For example, someone who deliberately eats the vestiges of farmed animals is complicit in the intentional, necessary, and requisite harm of that animal. You can not eat even the smallest mouthful of chicken breast without having to necessarily harm and kill an entire animal. But eating rice grown in fields where mice may have drowned when the field was flooded with water is not complicit in the intentional, necessary, requisite harm of mice that may end up drowning. That said, I feel that the system of rice production can be made much better so as to virtually eliminate the likelihood of mice drowning. On the other hand, no matter how much we try to improve the killing of chickens for their breasts, there will always be required violence, exploitation, and harm of those chickens for their body parts.


In this way, "No harm to sentient beings' - impossible," doesn't get confused with intentional harm and unintentional harm is the same thing....it is not in my view.

Warmly,

Louie


Madeleine Longhurst said:

Hi Tim, Thanks, I'm glad you agree that my hubby is in the same movement as you as he's asked to join the ARZone :)  I  respect people who feel very strongly that fish and insects should be given the benefit of the doubt on sentience, but I also see the validity of your point about the onus of proof being on proving (or, to be scientific, 'demonstrating') sentience, not on demonstrating non-sentience.  I don't really care about the label 'vegan', I just care that no meat or dairy gets past the door of our house anymore, and, as I said before, I think most 'ordinary' folks can get why - and I care most of all that all the non-vegans I come into contact with don't end up thinking veganism is a cult full of wierdos (not that I think it is!!). My personal thing is 'No harm to sentient beings' - impossible, as I think everyone here agrees, but everyone who' s trying to be compassionate to other beings is on the right side :)

OK, Louie ... but what about eating rice from fields where tons of animal bones, animal blood, and whole entire animal bodies have been purposely used as fertilizer? Is that still vegan? Because I've just described organic (and much non-organic) farming. It's not a matter of field mice being accidentally run over, it's massive, massive amounts of fertilizers that are made from the bodies of animals ... and which are leftovers from the slaughter industry. The blood meal (which is flash dried blood) used in organic farming comes directly from slaughterhouses. The bone meal (which is ground up bones) comes directly from slaughterhouses. The manures come directly from factory farms. The fish used is leftovers from the fishing industry. And so on.

So, is that vegan? I don't think it is. Is it intentionally non vegan? I think it is intentional. But I eat organic produce. Because I do what I can ... what is practical. And that was the question Tim's post the asked. Could a woman who we assume has no choice but to eat meat still be vegan. I think she could.

Louie Gedo said:

Hi Madeline,

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but just because I can make some electrical repairs around my house doesn't mean that I'm necessarily an electrician. In the same way, just because someone perceives them self or someone else as a vegan, doesn't necessarily make them one. The fact that your husband eats fish or fishes means that he is not vegan. Why even try to make that argument? It's not like because he is not vegan, therefore he's a monster...no, of course not. But "vegan" has to have a definitive definition if it is to count for something important.

Also, I don't know if you understand the difference between intentional, necessary, and requisite harm and unintentional, accidental, noncompulsory harm....I have not seen that understanding in your posts.  For example, someone who deliberately eats the vestiges of farmed animals is complicit in the intentional, necessary, and requisite harm of that animal. You can not eat even the smallest mouthful of chicken breast without having to necessarily harm and kill an entire animal. But eating rice grown in fields where mice may have drowned when the field was flooded with water is not complicit in the intentional, necessary, requisite harm of mice that may end up drowning. That said, I feel that the system of rice production can be made much better so as to virtually eliminate the likelihood of mice drowning. On the other hand, no matter how much we try to improve the killing of chickens for their breasts, there will always be required violence, exploitation, and harm of those chickens for their body parts.


In this way, "No harm to sentient beings' - impossible," doesn't get confused with intentional harm and unintentional harm is the same thing....it is not in my view.

Warmly,

Louie

Hi Louie,

When you speak about what you have seen evidence for, do you mean that you have taken part in methodical scientific research on the behavior and cognitive abilities of other animals or do you mean that you have witnessed events having to do with other animals as part of some other project or endeavor?  The reason I ask is that, in my readings on these matters, I am led to believe that researchers go to great lengths to devise tests and experiments designed to isolate particular aspects of behavior in order to try to understand exactly which cognitive processes would need to be involved to produce such behaviors. For example, perhaps it is the case that, if a being was capable of having an idea such as "There is something and it is causing me pain" then there would be certain actions or behaviors that it would only be able to perform or engage in because it was capable of having that idea. In other words, while we can never test directly whether or not a being has a subjective experience of pain, we may be able to test whether a being can act in certain ways that would only be possible if it could have such a subjective experience. Have you conducted any such tests or read about any?

My final paragraph dealt with giving others the benefit of the doubt. I apologize that my meaning was not clearly expressed. I will try again.

Let's assume that we don't owe anything to those who are not sentient - they have no interests that we need to respect. For example, I take it that sponges, even though they are animals, are not sentient. Because we don't owe anything to those that are not sentient then we don't owe anything to sponges.  Maybe we have other reasons to let sponges live as sponges do, but it wouldn't be that sponges have any rights or that there are any duties that we would owe directly to sponges.

Now, let's suppose that someone else claims that, even though most people believe that sponges are not sentient, they have doubts about the matter - they claim that they think it may be that sponges are sentient. They also claim that they are going to give sponges the benefit of the doubt and they are going to respect sponges just as if sponges had the same rights that others think dolphins should have. There would be nothing wrong with them doing that, but, unless another person was willing to act in the absence of evidence too, there would be no reason for anyone else to act as though sponges were sentient and had rights.

Without any evidence that sponges are sentient, any person who did think sponges had rights would have no grounds from which to challenge the morality of others who didn't think that sponges have rights. Moreover, if a person is going to act as if creatures are sentient when there isn't any evidence that those creatures are sentient, then where would he draw the line? If there's no evidence that sponges are sentient and one acts as if they are anyway, then why should not one act as if all other living things are sentient too, even if there's no evidence that they are sentient either? No one has a moral obligation to act in the absence of sound reasons and good evidence. We may choose to act when we haven't any sound reason or good evidence, but when we do we are going above and beyond the call of duty and we can't complain when others won't go there with us.  

If we are going to claim that others have moral obligations, then we must be able to back up those claims with sound reasoning and good evidence, otherwise people should be free to ignore or accept our claims according to their own conscience and we shouldn't complain whatever they do. We can't expect others to be obligated to give anyone the benefit of the doubt that only we have. Therefore, to return to the example of the sponges, only I can choose whether I should give sponges the benefit of the doubt, and since I have no doubts about the non-sentience of sponges, whether anyone else has doubts about the matter is none of my concern.

Of course, if one is going to live well, and try to act morally, then one mustn't be cavalier in one's judgment about matters that affect the lives of others. One must make a serious and well-considered attempt to understand how one's actions affect others and whether and how one's actions matter to others, for others.

I've been thinking about sentience quite a lot for about 30 months and I've been considering what the lives and minds of insects might be like for longer than that. Other people may think that the jury is in and that we know that insects are sentient beings. I believe that the jury is still out. As I go through my day, I do what I can to avoid harming insects and I choose to not eat honey or wear silk. But that's because I've decided that, in the absence of evidence, I will give insects the benefit of the doubt whenever I am able. If others choose to do the same, I think that would be great. But if others choose to make a different decision, I have no grounds from which to say that they are acting immorally. 

One last thing: I believe that I'm not splitting hairs on the subject of consciousness. It's an incredibly complex phenomena such that we may never adequately understand it. David Chalmers, a philosopher who has invested years of study on the subject, says that there are "easy problems" of consciousness - questions about such things as: the ability of an entity to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli; or the focus of attention; or the difference between wakefulness or sleep. When it comes to these sorts of questions Chalmers is confident that we will find good answers for them in a relatively short time - that is in 100 to 200 years from now! As to the "hard problem" of consciousness which involves questions about such things as the ability to experience the felt qualities of emotions, or to ponder the beauty of a picture that is only in one's mind, or the something it's like to be someone, Chalmers is not at all so optimistic. It's possible that we may never solve the hard problem. If it appears that I am splitting hairs when talking about consciousness, it is only because all of the information I read on the subject attests to how seemingly impossible it is to not split hairs.

Thanks for continuing the discussion,

tim

Hi Lisa,

Rice is not an animal product nor does it require, as far as I am aware, fertilizers which have intentionally included animal bone, blood, etc. Rice can be grown without such fertilizers....after all animal laden fertilizers are and were probably not used in all rice growing. The point is, the harming of animals is not requisite for rice to be grown. Therefore, rice, is a vegan food as I see it. Eating rice is a choice that a vegan can (but doesn't have to) make in my view.

If we claim that any food or drink that has, as a matter of current production methods, animal by-products in it but that by-product is not required to produce the food / drink, then hypothetically any and every food and drink product could be tainted at some point by a particular production method. Depending on your definition of vegan, this would mean that either no one is really vegan or everyone who claims they are subjectively doing what they "practically" can is vegan. I suppose using that logic, I was vegan even though I ate many dozens of kinds of animals and animal products growing up (because growing up I was expected to eat what was on the dinner plate even though I loved animals and I didn't think animals should be hurt). I personally don't subscribe to that logic. I don't see myself as following a vegan diet growing up nor do I see the woman who eats meat as following a vegan diet. The woman incidentally has a choice not to eat meat. She isn't chained in a prison where she is allowed only to eat what she is given. She can leave, get help, call the authorities, and such things. I'm not saying it would be easy to do those things, but my point is, even though her choices are a lot more limited than the average person, she is still free to choose.

Warmly,

Louie



Lisa Viger said:

OK, Louie ... but what about eating rice from fields where tons of animal bones, animal blood, and whole entire animal bodies have been purposely used as fertilizer? Is that still vegan? Because I've just described organic (and much non-organic) farming. It's not a matter of field mice being accidentally run over, it's massive, massive amounts of fertilizers that are made from the bodies of animals ... and which are leftovers from the slaughter industry. The blood meal (which is flash dried blood) used in organic farming comes directly from slaughterhouses. The bone meal (which is ground up bones) comes directly from slaughterhouses. The manures come directly from factory farms. The fish used is leftovers from the fishing industry. And so on.

So, is that vegan? I don't think it is. Is it intentionally non vegan? I think it is intentional. But I eat organic produce. Because I do what I can ... what is practical. And that was the question Tim's post the asked. Could a woman who we assume has no choice but to eat meat still be vegan. I think she could.

Louie Gedo said:

Hi Madeline,

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but just because I can make some electrical repairs around my house doesn't mean that I'm necessarily an electrician. In the same way, just because someone perceives them self or someone else as a vegan, doesn't necessarily make them one. The fact that your husband eats fish or fishes means that he is not vegan. Why even try to make that argument? It's not like because he is not vegan, therefore he's a monster...no, of course not. But "vegan" has to have a definitive definition if it is to count for something important.

Also, I don't know if you understand the difference between intentional, necessary, and requisite harm and unintentional, accidental, noncompulsory harm....I have not seen that understanding in your posts.  For example, someone who deliberately eats the vestiges of farmed animals is complicit in the intentional, necessary, and requisite harm of that animal. You can not eat even the smallest mouthful of chicken breast without having to necessarily harm and kill an entire animal. But eating rice grown in fields where mice may have drowned when the field was flooded with water is not complicit in the intentional, necessary, requisite harm of mice that may end up drowning. That said, I feel that the system of rice production can be made much better so as to virtually eliminate the likelihood of mice drowning. On the other hand, no matter how much we try to improve the killing of chickens for their breasts, there will always be required violence, exploitation, and harm of those chickens for their body parts.


In this way, "No harm to sentient beings' - impossible," doesn't get confused with intentional harm and unintentional harm is the same thing....it is not in my view.

Warmly,

Louie

Hi Louie, It's probably the limitations of communicating in print that's caused the confusion that I mentioned above. I thought some folks - who were protesting that you couldn't eat fish and call yourself a vegan - had thought I was saying my non-dairy/meat eating husband was a vegan because, although he eats fish he does so because he doesn't think fish are sentient . I never meant to imply that someone who eats fish can call themselves a vegan (and, because I'm not sure about honey myself I can't call myself one either!).  

  On the subject of field mice, sorry again if I didn't make myself clear. I think that if someone knows that field mice are chopped up or drowned in the production of their plant-based diet then to say that  the animal-suffering caused by the consumption of said plants is unintentional and therefore in a different category from intentional  harm seems disingenuous to me (same goes for animal-bone organic fertilisers). Of course I know that field-mice suffering 'can't be helped', but that doesn't make me morally less culpable, I feel.  I can't, morally, see any difference between eating honey knowing that it's stolen from bees and eating soya beans  knowing that field mice have been killed and injured to produce them. Well - having read it I've come back to edit this! - actually I can see some difference, because, as I'm not at all sure bees are sentient, I think it is ethically more problematic to eat soya beans than to eat honey.

Kind regards,

Madeleine 

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