Arguments for veganism

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This is an early draft. Please do not read this article for informational purposes. For community feedback and editing only.

I will focus on food arguments here for brevity and because food is related to the greatest amount of suffering and killing, but similar arguments to points 1-3 could be applied to animals used to produce toiletries, clothes etc.

Basic Ethical Arguments

The Golden Rule

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" That is, in their circumstances. A common misunderstanding of the golden rule is articulated by George Bernard Shaw's response:

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”[1]

However, the Golden Rule is self correcting: As the recipient of certain treatment, would you want somebody to treat you according to the preferences of the doer were he or she the recipient based on his or her personal tastes, or the tastes of the recipient?
No matter how much you personally like chocolate, if you were in the position of somebody who doesn't enjoy chocolate (or is even allergic to it) that context matters, so in carrying out the golden rule we treat people according to their own wants.

Starting with the golden rule, if you can explain it properly, is very effective because this is both a very strong and specific ethical claim, and it's broadly accepted which gives you the ability to make strong normative statements that will be much better received than assertions.

  • Ask people if they accept the golden rule
  • Ask if they were in an animals' hooves if they would like being born into this world as property, only to be killed at a young age for another's taste pleasure.
  • The response should typically be "no", but...

There are three common objections:

1. The objection that we could eat nothing, because "If I were a plant I wouldn't want to be eaten either"
This is easily answered, but may lead into more discussion: If you were a plant you would not care about being eaten, because plants are not sentient and have no brain or ability to think. The only likely response is plant-sentience, which is an argument rife with pseudoscience and misunderstanding of physiology and the nature of sentience and intelligence, as well as often supernatural claims.

2. The arbitrary objection that the golden rule only applies to humans.
Which begs the question of "why?", and "why not only to your own family and not to strangers?" Or "why not only to your own 'race'?"

3. The rejection of application of the golden rule to those who in theory would not or could not apply it back to you.
This is a misunderstanding of the golden rule, which operates independently of how others might treat you. This objection may in part be advocacy of the satanic opposition to the golden rule:

“Satanism advocates practicing a modified form of the Golden Rule. Our interpretation of this rule is: "Do unto others as they do unto you"; because if you "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and they, in turn, treat you badly, it goes against human nature to continue to treat them with consideration. You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but if your courtesy is not returned, they should be treated with the wrath they deserve.” ― Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible[2]

However, even this application is not proactive in treating others badly under the assumption that they would treat you badly.
Any general objection on these grounds is a rejection of the golden rule, and probably calls for a different argument.

More complex objections recognize that is it wrong to treat animals as such, but may assert it as a lesser evil based on human need, and these argument should be addressed with empirical responses such as discussion of nutrition and environmental harm.

Arguments that are Largely Neutral as to More General Issues in Ethical Theory

Unnecessary Suffering

Consuming animal products causes unnecessary suffering (and death), and we should not want to cause unnecessary suffering. It is not justified for someone to have a poor quality life (months or years of suffering) and then die, just so we can have a tasty snack that will give us pleasure for only minutes. Note that this is perhaps the best and most fundamental core argument for veganism.

Less Able Humans ("Marginal Cases")

Here is a version of the argument from Less Able Humans "marginal cases", which defends the view that the well-being of non-human animals (who are capable of well-being - which presumably includes all and only those who are able to have phenomenally conscious states, or are sentient, on almost all plausible theories of well-being) matters morally. It thus functions as a defense of the idea of the argument from unnecessary suffering that the unnecessary suffering (and death, to the extent that it deprives non-human animals of future goods) of non-human animals is a morally decisive consideration. It is a slight adaptation from the slides of a philosophy professor who has given permission to use them. He teaches this as an argument for the Principle of Equal Consideration, then allows that even if we weaken that substantially, the case for veganism follows from empirical reality:

The Argument from Less-Able Humans ("Marginal Cases")

P1. Some humans (infants, young children, profoundly intellectually disabled) are intellectually comparable to non-human animals
P2. If the well-being of non-human animals (e.g. their avoiding a given amount of suffering, their benefiting from a given quality of life) is morally less important than ours (in virtue of these lesser intellectual abilities), then the well-being of these humans is equally less important (in virtue of their lesser intellectual abilities)
P3. But the well-being of these humans isn’t morally less important than ours

Therefore, C1. The well-being of non-human animals is not morally less important than ours

This entails (if you like in conjunction with P4. Our well-being is morally important) the Principle of Equal Consideration: human and non-human animal well-being is of equal intrinsic moral importance (i..e moral importance in itself and apart from its further effects) - e.g. all else held equal, the fact that an act would inflict a given amount of harm (e.g. a given amount of suffering) on a human or a non-human animal is an equally strong moral reason against it.

Defense of P3: It is deeply implausible that intellectual ability affects the intrinsic importance of one's well-being once we distinguish (i) its role in making one a moral agent who owes duties vs. a moral patient who is owed duties, (ii) its role in affecting the instrumental importance of one's well-being for others, and (iii) its role in determining how beneficial or harmful certain things are for you (including how much typical human adults benefit from living vs. how much non-human animals and profoundly intellectually disabled humans benefit from living).

Defense of P2: The only relevant thing that distinguishes non-human animals from intellectually comparable humans is bare biological species membership, but it's deeply implausible that bare biological species membership is relevant to the intrinsic moral importance of someone's well-being once one we focus on what it really is: something like potential to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, psychology-independent morphology, phenotype-independent genotype, history of phylogenetic descent. It's no more plausible that these matter to the intrinsic moral importance of someone's well-being than someone's ethnicity / continent of ancestry and consequent facial features, hair texture, and skin colour (race), or her chromosomes and relative gamete size (sex).

The weakening: Even if somehow intellectual ability or biological species memebership per se mattered to the moral importance of someone's well-being they couldn't matter very much. Since they seem utterly devoid of moral importance; surely it is safe to at least conclude:

C2. Principle of Minimal Consideration: We should / are morally required to avoid inflicting enormous harm on non-human animals for what is at most relatively trivial benefits for ourselves.

Empirical considerations about factory farming, human health, environmental effects, and, if you like, further philosophical considerations about what makes death a harm, the potential relevance of the fact that future farmed animals won't exist unless we buy animal products, and the probabilities that one's purchasing decisions will make a difference of various kinds and to what extent this matters, we get:

P5. To avoid inflicting enormous harm on non-human animals for what is at most relatively trivial benefits for ourselves, we must be vegan.

Finally, C2 and P5 entail:

C3. We should / are morally required to be vegan.

[This is repeated in a separate page on Less Able Humans.


Veganism is at its core about peace and compassion.' By not buying animal products, you may even feel more at peace and start to get other ideas about how to become a more compassionate person in other areas of your life. Virtue ethics Feeding your virtue in one way can help you become a better person, while doing harm to animals can lead to cruelty or caprice in other ways. Link between harm to animals and child abuse etc.

Of course this isn't always the case: some people seem to go vegan as a method to feed a concept of superiority and use it as a tool to bash others over the head with


Rights (as opposed to welfare) are absolutist and the utility of these arguments depends very strongly on political views.

The raw social contract is very minimal and deals only with negotiation.
"I won't bash your head in with a rock while you sleep, and you'll afford me the same"
It naturally did not extend to animals, or even children or women who at the time of the formation of most societies did not have the negotiating power to offer a mutual exchange: which is why in ancient societies these people were property too, and could be bought and sold. Likewise for disenfranchised men who were slaves.

There are political belief systems that want to go back to a more "pure" notion of rights that deals only with the raw social contract and what privileges can be negotiated, stripping all aspects of moral consideration and granting of rights to those who are not otherwise a thread (Randian Objectivists lean in this direction, although some draw arbitrary lines).
Where these belief systems advocate rights only for certain adult citizens and see children and other groups as proprty (even advocating human slave ownership), that are unfortunately consistent in their ideology. Where rights negotiations are minimal and apply only to agents with power they are non-arbitrary.

However, for most people there is an interest in rights as a form of protection for the weak and a metric of social progress. They do not want to restrict rights to a certain class of able citizens, and instead extend them arbitrary out. This is certainly compassionate, but the arbitrary species limit is a logistical problem.

Animal rights is about taking the beliefs we already hold within our human civilization, and expanding them to other species. Following the ending of sexism, racism and other human discrimination, animal rights is the next logical step for widening that circle of compassion where ideological arguments for rights are being made. Stopping that expansion at humans is arbitrary, stopping at dogs and cats is arbitrary, the only other non-arbitrary stopping point (beyond the minimum rights possible) is extending that consideration as far as is practicable for your society.

Conceptual and Physiological Harm

Benefit of the Doubt

Do animals experience harms in the same way humans do? It has been debated, but what is the moral default position?

When it comes to choosing between harm to a human and harm to a non-human, as in the burning building scenario, it makes sense to choose to save the human who is known to experience those ills (or, short of solipsism it is at least more certain).

(burning building thought experiment illustration)

But when it comes to deciding whether or not to do something to an animal which is unnecessary to avoid harm to humans (and only contributes to some form of entertainment, for example), then we have a different moral situation at hand: not choosing to avid a certain harm in exchange for an uncertain one, but simply choosing to cause an uncertain harm.

Decision table: (decision table table here. You assume there's harm, you assume there is no harm, there is unknown harm, there is no unknown harm)

As seen in the decision table, assuming that, without *proof* of harm that there is none is a morally problematic choice.
Assuming that, without proof of no harm that there isn't one is a much safer moral choice.

Unfortunately, there's a significant Species-based bias (or speciesism) Considering the ethics of animals like that to humans without evidence to the contrary

There is no reason to consider completely acceptable activities done to animals that would be completely unacceptable if done to humans. If it is fundamentally wrong to use a human as a slave, it cannot be completely OK to do the same with members of other species.

Loss of Freedom

freedom. Animals also desire freedom and a good life, have been shown to have emotional needs, and many are intelligent (pigs are more intelligent than dogs).

Physical Suffering

Tetrapods (Primarily mammals & birds)

Modern factory farms (and animal testing) cause tremendous suffering and are considered immoral by almost any neutral observer who visits and studies them in any depth, even non-vegetarian journalists. Certain practices are blatantly cruel. For example, killing at birth male chickens in egg factories, separating mother and young and breeding animals to get fat faster even if it leads to deformities and an inability to walk. Other immoral practices include pigs having their tails chopped off so they don’t bite each other, cattles being dehorned and chickens being painfully debeaked for similar reasons: so the animals can live unnaturally close together. Most animals are overfed and fattened up so that they can be killed at a much younger age than their natural life. Consuming animal products means paying to support these practices.


Fishes usually die in pain typically suffocation or depressuration. For each fish killed, many others are caught as bycatch. Modern fishing practices have become completely unsustainable and the oceans are being emptied of fish.

Selfish Reasons

Personal Health

Vegans on average have better or the same health as meat eaters. Well-planned vegan diets are now accepted by most national and well known health organizations for all stages of life and the evidence from scientific studies suggests that. Major advantages include lower heart disease due to lower cholesterol, and possibly a longer lifespan and lower risks of some cancers and diabetes.

Vegan diets enable people, on average, to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight more easily because they are lower in fat, higher in fiber and hence lower calorie density diets. To lose weight on a vegan diet, keep processed and junk foods to a minimum, focus on plant proteins and healthy fats (like nuts and seeds) along with vegetables for satiation.

Social Pragmatic Issues

Environmental Damage

Eating meat causes much more environmental damage than eating plants because of three main reasons: A: Feed conversion ratio: to produce a plate of meat requires feeding an animal around 5-20 plates of plant food so logically whatever environmental impact there is from growing and transporting plants (including water use, pesticides and fertilizers) is much less if we eat plant foods directly. B: Cow (and sheep) methane, contribute a large amount to global warming. C: In modern industrial farming a lot of animal waste goes into the air and rivers and soils around the animal facilities.

Resource Use

Land use. Vegan diets use far less land, mainly due to the feed conversion ratio above. A vegan world can support more people and wild animals in a given space, or provide a better quality of life to those that live on the planet. Without a transition to plant-based diets, our current population growth is unsustainable. With it, we may even be able to rewild natural areas.


Zoonotic plagues

Antibiotic Resistance

Public Health

Some people may be able to consume things that don't promote health in moderation, including animal products and hyper-palatable foods, and even hard drugs like cocaine. Moderate recreational use is possible without severe health effects, but for many people moderation fails: an important consideration in public health is abuse potential.

There are arguments for personal responsibility, that people who get fat or sick only have themselves to blame (law suits on food), but that's not always strictly the case. There's extensive feedback between advertising, and biology (including early childhood), and while a strong willpower can overcome these effects it's not always in reach for everybody (just as some people can't use drugs and alcohol in moderation).

No matter the ultimate causes we want to blame, the effects on public health and the economy are clear.

Incidence of chronic disease, obesity, etc. Spending on medical care as % of GDP

Compare to banning sodas (some people may be able to drink them responsibly, but in terms of public health many people can not)