Veganism And The Meaning Of ‘True’
Informal conversation is perhaps the most common – and potentially most effective – form of vegan advocacy. However, many vegans sometimes find themselves in a difficult position when they have a conversation about hypothetical ethical dilemmas. Addressing these dilemmas can become repetitive and tedious.
The non-vegans who pose these hypothetical scenarios may be genuinely interested in the details of veganism, or they may be seeking to rationalize their own lifestyle choices. The author of this paper argues that this rationalization is often intentional. Non-vegans engage in such thought experiments to shift the burden of proof from the non-vegan to the vegan, but in doing so they tend to focus on hypothetical rather than real-world problems.
These thought experiments, while often interesting, can be a distraction for vegan advocates. Moreover, the author suggests engaging in them might even harm vegan advocacy. Do vegans need to answer every single hypothetical dilemma with perfect accuracy to support their position? The author suggests that other social justice causes are not subject to this same level of scrutiny.
To challenge the ethical choice of veganism, a non-vegan might press the vegan about perceived problems at the margins of his or her beliefs. For example, they might challenge the idea of vegans eating honey or mollusks (e.g., mussels, clams, oysters, etc.). There is no single and correct response to this challenge, and many would find it difficult to respond. The author explains that veganism can be described most generally as “an ethical orientation to non-human animals, based firstly upon ideals of compassion and non-violence…” However, this broad description does not provide “specific, action-guiding direction” in response to any of the innumerable hypothetical scenarios one could pose. In other words, we can’t characterize a single “true” or “ideal” vegan response and, as the author suggests, we shouldn’t have to.
Instead, the paper suggests that we should substantially de-prioritize “non-obvious cases” in vegan advocacy, theory, and practice. Debating the ethical consequences of eating honey and mollusks, which is not necessarily relevant to many vegans, keeps us from focusing on more pressing issues, such as how veganism impacts the welfare of farmed animals.
The author, a vegan, says that not having a single “true” definition of veganism in no way compromises it as an attractive, coherent, and practicable lifestyle. This paper asserts that veganism is just as morally defensible as anti-racism and anti-sexism, despite the lack of definitive answers on all aspects of it. The author argues that the diversity of thought can even help legitimatize veganism by eliminating negative stereotypes of vegans as extreme or purely ideological (or ideologically pure).