An attempt to define veganism as I understand it

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
From discussions I've had here in the past year or two I have to admit I've gained a different understanding of veganism. I am curious about whether this understanding matches the ideas of others. So, I offer a definition below. I am aware veganism is defined in many different ways by many different people and groups, this is really meant to be a simple look at how veganism applies in pretty much all aspects of human relations with other animals. I am interested in criticisms of where my definition is wrong as you understand veganism, and why.

********************************************************************************************************************************​

Veganism is the term that describes extending ideas about justice and rights - as understood for intra-human relations - to include other animal species when possible and practicable.

It is accepted that people deserve certain rights; these include the right to life and freedom, to not be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to not be held in slavery, and to have their interests protected at law. Justice is understood to mean fair treatment and for victims of unfair treatment to be protected and perhaps for the perpetrators of unfair treatment to receive punishment.

In the context of human relations with other species, all of these principles can and should apply when possible. As the extent to which just treatment can be extended depends upon circumstances, it is not the case that humans should never use, own or harm other species.

For example, someone living where access to food is limited might own animals from whom food and fibre is collected or gained. People living in traditional communities with limited access to modern goods and services might continue to hunt other animals for food and fibre. Animals may be used in the pursuit of medical treatments where the outcome can be shown to benefit many.

Circumstances and needs influence to what extent it is possible and practicable to extend justice and rights to other animals. In all cases however, the maximal limitation of harm to individuals of other species should be sought. For example, if animals must be farmed for food, there should be standards for treatment that protects those individuals from unnecessary suffering.

In regard to how any person might treat other species, the goal of veganism is to encourage choices and actions that both respect other animal species and minimise harm to them. Typically this means choosing foods and other goods and services that - whenever possible - do not compromise the kinds of rights mentioned above and cause least harm and suffering to other animals. Again, this will depend upon personal circumstances and information to hand.


********************************************************************************************************************************​
 

Lou

Forum Legend
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Reaction score
12,528
Age
67
Location
San Mateo, Ca
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
From discussions I've had here in the past year or two I have to admit I've gained a different understanding of veganism. I am curious about whether this understanding matches the ideas of others.

I love this attitude

So, I offer a definition below. I am aware veganism is defined in many different ways by many different people and groups, this is really meant to be a simple look at how veganism applies in pretty much all aspects of human relations with other animals.

Simple?? Not quite. You took a 2 sentence definition and turned it into an essay. Also, at my old job we pretty much lived by the aphorism of not reinventing the wheel. Besides, I really like the job the Vegan Society did in defining the term.

I am interested in criticisms of where my definition is wrong as you understand veganism, and why.

OK here goes. You asked for it.

Veganism is the term that describes extending ideas about justice and rights - as understood for intra-human relations - to include other animal species when possible and practicable.​

That's absolutely right.

It is accepted that people deserve certain rights; these include the right to life and freedom, to not be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to not be held in slavery, and to have their interests protected at law. Justice is understood to mean fair treatment and for victims of unfair treatment to be protected and perhaps for the perpetrators of unfair treatment to receive punishment.

That's right too.

In the context of human relations with other species, all of these principles can and should apply when possible. As the extent to which just treatment can be extended depends upon circumstances, it is not the case that humans should never use, own or harm other species.

Ok, I'm with you so far although I think you are making it sound more complicated than necessary.

For example, someone living where access to food is limited might own animals from whom food and fibre is collected or gained. People living in traditional communities with limited access to modern goods and services might continue to hunt other animals for food and fibre. Animals may be used in the pursuit of medical treatments where the outcome can be shown to benefit many.

This is wrong. I totally understand your sentiment. And maybe these ideas would be necessary if Veganism became a law, or a religion. Although I can see how people might get it mixed up with that. I suppose it could be a political movement but IMHO its not.

Eskimoes and bush people (wait are those labels not PC?) are not vegans. and they don't have to be. I don't think any less of them for remaining traditional. Its not necessary to include exemptions for them. They are just not vegan.

Veganism does not Have to be inclusive. We are not trying to win an election. Or change the constitution . Oh but hey, when they ask me to help frame a constitutional amendment for animal rights, I'll look you up. Then we will need some exemptions.

Circumstances and needs influence to what extent it is possible and practicable to extend justice and rights to other animals. In all cases however, the maximal limitation of harm to individuals of other species should be sought. For example, if animals must be farmed for food, there should be standards for treatment that protects those individuals from unnecessary suffering.
Ah. Now that is not only a good point but something that has caused arguments amongst vegans. Its usually discussed as the Abolitionists vs the Welfarists? Have you heard those terms? If not, congrats for coming up with that independently. Both sides have really good arguments. My personal opinion is that neither side is absolutely right. In fact, like a lot of views, it can be considered a spectrum. And like many examples that include "absolutes" the answer is somewhere in the middle. And the right answer may be one based on the specific question. I don't want to get too deep into the weeds here. but I'll discuss this more in another post. Or maybe in another thread.

In regard to how any person might treat other species, the goal of veganism is to encourage choices and actions that both respect other animal species and minimise harm to them. Typically this means choosing foods and other goods and services that - whenever possible - do not compromise the kinds of rights mentioned above and cause least harm and suffering to other animals. Again, this will depend upon personal circumstances and information to hand.
Yes. but here I believe you are hinting at compromises that include animal exploitation. Like I said earlier we don't have to have exceptions. we aren't required to be inclusive. Well maybe if veganism becomes a law we can consider exemptions but for now they just aren't necessary. If you are an Eskimo in Alaska, or a Susbsitance Fisherman in the Pacific, or a subsistence cow herder in South Africa you can't be a vegan.

However we do need to address exemptions for all the other vegans. Which the Vegan Society definition does with the "as fas as possible and practicable" clause. This is a pretty elastic phrase and can and does mean different things to different people. since veganism is not mandatory we don't really need a more specific locked in rule for exemptions. We can pretty much leave it up to the individual.

However this does cause some concerns amongst us. And some of us wish for a stricter definition. and some of us wish for a less strict definition. (we have whole threads on it) Personally I'm ok with the definition as it is. Especially since its so elastic it pretty much relies on people making decisions on their own. So it's not Dogma. And I trust people to make the right decisions for themselves as opposed to looking up the answers in a book.

Something that I frequently point out is that its pretty much impossible to be a perfect vegan. Or live a perfectly vegan life. Its more like something we intend to do. That's why I tell people, if you want to be a vegan. Poof! You're vegan.
 

Stardust1986

Forum Devotee
Joined
May 4, 2022
Reaction score
87
Age
36
Location
Dayton
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan newbie
Veganism is simply not eating animals or products that come from animals. It is extremely difficult to be a perfect vegan, theres evencanimal products in sunscreen. I think veganism is about making your very best effort to avoid non-vegan anything. That effort matters, it's about the big picture, and it's a group effort. If enough people go vegan, buther shops and factory farms collapse, and shut down. Fewer animals are bred for human consumption. Demand for plant based products will rise and meat and dairy demands fall. This change will be better for all living things and the planet we all share
 
D

Deleted member 14798

Guest
What about fossil fuels? They're ancient and died of natural causes?
Some find it funny I can easily watch human operations on TV but can't stand to watch a raw chicken or whatever. The people are treated to get better but the animals to be killed and often wasted. It may be all blood and guts but humans' don't make me gag.
I just happened upon Food Inc again and they're at the part where farmers can't allow them to film because of Tyson. If they feel it's okay and such a good brand then be transparent.
And viruses like Covid and others are due to meat consumption. And antibiotic allergies and resistance are too.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
D

Deleted member 14798

Guest
I've found that the definition of veganism depends on who is asked. Some consider us as tree hugging hippie types. Some consider us as eating healthy 100 percent of the time. Some consider us as trying to be perfect; whatever the definition of that is. I consider us as accepting animals also have lives, feelings, capable of tasks, etc. "Animal Sapiens" is an informative documentary to watch.
Religious or not, anyone living by the commandments in general can't go wrong. It's "Thou shall not kill" there isn't "humans" at the end of that line.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • Like
Reactions: Lou

Stardust1986

Forum Devotee
Joined
May 4, 2022
Reaction score
87
Age
36
Location
Dayton
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan newbie
The only solution to ignorance is education, and unfortunately, all that information is at everyone's finger tips, but most people just aren't interested enough to do their own research on this topic. There has been a lot of progress on getting the information out there, this is sure to continue and get better
 
  • Friendly
Reactions: Lou
OP
OP
Graeme M

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
This is wrong. I totally understand your sentiment. And maybe these ideas would be necessary if Veganism became a law, or a religion. Although I can see how people might get it mixed up with that. I suppose it could be a political movement but IMHO its not.
Lou, I quoted this bit because it sort of summarises something about my definition (which is really more of an explanation) which is intended but I am not sure is clear from what I wrote. Also, another commenter above made a similar point when they said, "Veganism is simply not eating animals or products that come from animals."

My understanding about veganism is that it isn't a diet, it's a moral perspective. If you think of it like that, there is absolutely nothing about veganism that is different from how we think we should treat other people. That means veganism doesn't actually exist because we already know, understand and endorse the underlying ideas in respect to our species. We just haven't extended them to other species.

Thus, veganism seems to be no more than the idea that we take already well understood principles and extend them to other animals, when we can. When we can is rather different for intra-human relations than for intra-species relations. That is because in the end, humans are preferred over other animals in marginal cases.

That is why people like Earthling Ed argue that we can use, own, exploit or eat other animals when necessity dictates. And why people like Peter Singer approve of animal use in medical research but would not approve of doing the same with humans.

No-one is really "a vegan" because veganism isn't a club or a cult or a society (unless of course, someone creates a society or club for vegans!). Until our behaviours are constrained by law to reflect our ideas about moral relations with other species (as they are for other people), then it's up to the individual to decide how far they wish to take things.

Activists might wish to provide people with information so that they can make their own decisions, but in the end, it is a person's right to choose however they wish.
 
Last edited:
OP
OP
Graeme M

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
Religious or not, anyone living by the commandments in general can't go wrong. It's "Though shall not kill" there isn't "humans" at the end of that line.
Except that isn't how we live in reality. By and large, we are permitted to kill when circumstances call for it (eg warfare, self-defence, abortion). It is the law that prescribes when killing is permitted, not our underlying beliefs about right and wrong. Similarly, any human diet results in animals being killed in huge numbers. The actual rule could be stated more like "Thou shall not kill whenever possible and practicable subject to the law".
 

Tom L.

Forum Legend
Joined
Oct 30, 2012
Reaction score
3,370
Age
70
Location
New York State capital district
Lifestyle
  1. Strict vegetarian
Religious or not, anyone living by the commandments in general can't go wrong. It's "Though shall not kill" there isn't "humans" at the end of that line.
I may have heard wrong, but supposedly the original commandment specifically stated: "Thou shalt not murder". "Thou shalt not kill" is not a precisely accurate translation from the original text. I can't read ancient Hebrew, so I have no way of knowing first-hand.
 
OP
OP
Graeme M

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
I may have heard wrong, but supposedly the original commandment specifically stated: "Thou shalt not murder". "Thou shalt not kill" is not a precisely accurate translation from the original text. I can't read ancient Hebrew, so I have no way of knowing first-hand.
I have never seen that before, but it makes sense.
 
OP
OP
Graeme M

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
"Yes. but here I believe you are hinting at compromises that include animal exploitation. "
and
"However we do need to address exemptions for all the other vegans. Which the Vegan Society definition does with the "as fas as possible and practicable" clause. This is a pretty elastic phrase and can and does mean different things to different people. "
Could you clarify what you mean here? You seem to object to a hint of compromise but then declare the Vegan Society's compromise is acceptable.
 

Lou

Forum Legend
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Reaction score
12,528
Age
67
Location
San Mateo, Ca
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
Could you clarify what you mean here? You seem to object to a hint of compromise but then declare the Vegan Society's compromise is acceptable.
Sure.
Its good you asked for clarification. this is not necessarily a gray area but the distinctions can be subtle.

The "hint of compromise" is that a person would be vegan if he had to exploit animals to live. Trolley cars and dessert islands aside, a person cannot be vegan by definition if he exploits animals.

You will then ask, "What about all the insects and small animals that are killed during the harvesting of crops?"

Then I would reply, "Those death are for the most part unavoidable, and maybe even more importantly, unintentional." Also we are not exploiting the insects and small animals.

It is a blurred line. If we were to make veganism a philosophy instead of a lifestyle we would have to clear that up.

The Vegan Society's definition, "The Vegan Society defines veganism as “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”. Has a few key points. It uses the word seeks. That extra word allows me to infer that this is all about intention. the as far as is possible and practicable, clause recognizes that its close to impossible to be perfect. It also allows for people to decide what is possible and practical based on their own circumstances. It also does not use the work kill, just exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals.

One might argue that strictly speaking a subsistence fisherman perhaps is doing just what is practical and possible for HIM. But I think that is just stretching the definition too far.

On a personal basis I hate when people say things like he is not a real vegan, or he is not vegan enough. I believe that being vegan is based on a your intentions not on how well you behave. (In management and football we are taught to judge performance separate from results.)

One of my favorite vegan authors said something like don't confuse veganism with a goal. Compassion for animals is the goal. Veganism is the path toward the goal.
 
Last edited:
D

Deleted member 14798

Guest
I may have heard wrong, but supposedly the original commandment specifically stated: "Thou shalt not murder". "Thou shalt not kill" is not a precisely accurate translation from the original text. I can't read ancient Hebrew, so I have no way of knowing first-hand.
Either way it fits.
 
D

Deleted member 14798

Guest
Except that isn't how we live in reality. By and large, we are permitted to kill when circumstances call for it (eg warfare, self-defence, abortion). It is the law that prescribes when killing is permitted, not our underlying beliefs about right and wrong. Similarly, any human diet results in animals being killed in huge numbers. The actual rule could be stated more like "Thou shall not kill whenever possible and practicable subject to the law".
As Tom pointed out, it's about murder and the interpretation thereof. The law allows for animals to be intentionally slaughtered. Vegans believe it's wrong. I never saw an animal I'd want killed/murdered but there's a few humans I wouldn't cry if they passed.
 
OP
OP
Graeme M

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
Lou, I think you and I might have a fundamental disagreement about what we think veganism actually is. I *think* you see veganism as a lifestyle and potentially a philosophy. I am saying veganism is neither, it is no more than the act of extending already existing ideas about rights and justice to other species when we can. We don't even have to invent any new moral concepts.

What do you think?

The "hint of compromise" is that a person would be vegan if he had to exploit animals to live.
I think this is true. On my view, behaving in morally desirable ways depends on both the intent to do so and personal and/or societal circumstances. Because veganism doesn't really exist, there is no reason to wonder whether Inuit are vegan or whether a person who farms animals where that is necessary is vegan.
 

Lou

Forum Legend
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Reaction score
12,528
Age
67
Location
San Mateo, Ca
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
Lou, I think you and I might have a fundamental disagreement about what we think veganism actually is.
don't believe we have a fundamental disagreement.

I *think* you see veganism as a lifestyle and potentially a philosophy. I am saying veganism is neither, it is no more than the act of extending already existing ideas about rights and justice to other species when we can. We don't even have to invent any new moral concepts.

What do you think?
.I think it's both.
I think this is true. On my view, behaving in morally desirable ways depends on both the intent to do so and personal and/or societal circumstances. Because veganism doesn't really exist, there is no reason to wonder whether Inuit are vegan or whether a person who farms animals where that is necessary is vegan.
Now, you've lost me.

Veganism doesn't really exist? doesn't exist like morality doesn't exist? that its a human construct?

Still it exists in my mind as as do ethics and justice. Inuits can be ethical. just not vegan.
 
OP
OP
Graeme M

Graeme M

Forum Senior
Joined
Nov 23, 2019
Reaction score
77
Age
63
Location
Canberra, Australia
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
don't believe we have a fundamental disagreement.
Sorry, poor choice of words. I mean more of a difference in what we each have in mind.

Veganism doesn't really exist?
I mean in the sense that it is a particular unique thing. What I am getting at is that we don't have to invent any new ethics to extend moral consideration to other animals. If you want veganism to be a specific thing such that Inuit cannot be vegan, you are arguing in favour of the notion of veganism as a social sub-group to which people can belong to by doing certain things. Whereas I am saying veganism is a continuum of everyday ethics. We start with ideas about just relations between people and extend that to other species as and when we can. Everyone is vegan, what is in question is how far they go in enacting the principles.

This is how everyday ethics works. For example, we say that we shouldn't kill others, but without the law, I think people would be more inclined to kill each other more often. The law acts to encourage conformity with moral belief (murder is a legal concept). Similarly, we might generally believe that adultery is immoral, but there are no laws against it (in the West, at least). Consequently, many people are adulterers.

Inuits can be ethical. just not vegan.
Inuits can be ethical, full stop. We don't have to invoke veganism as a kind of value judgement because we have already accepted - like with all other ethical concerns - that we do what we can in respect to other species in our particular circumstances.

I think this perspective on veganism is more aligned with how we think about moral practice in all other aspects of life, making veganism an intrinsic part of existing morality.

On the other hand, I suppose veganism might just be a social sub-group to which people can choose to belong if they follow the rules?
 

Lou

Forum Legend
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Reaction score
12,528
Age
67
Location
San Mateo, Ca
Lifestyle
  1. Vegan
@Graeme M
I think you are wrong about that. However I can't explain why. I'll give it some thought
I do find your phrase "social sub-group" somewhat demeaning. but maybe I'm reading into it.

I suppose your, "veganism is a continuum of everyday ethics" is correct but it sort of misses the point.

I love metaphors and of course you have to be careful with them. but the one that is bouncing around my head this morning is the idea of colors and the visible light spectrum.

The color red is an invention. As a culture we all agree on what red means. Scientists can define it using wavelengths. but the frequency that defines red is somewhat arbitrary.

My metaphor is that just as veganism is on a spectrum of ethics, red is on the visible light spectrum. just as its a little hard to say where red ends and orange begins, red does end before orange begins. Same with veganism which ends before Carnism starts. Just like red, where you can add extra white and black to get your pinks and magentas, we have the different schools of veganism too.

There may be shades that are hard to define. But no one confuses carmine with puce.

Oh! Wait! are you proposing a color blind type of ethics?

;)
 
D

Deleted member 14798

Guest
Sorry, poor choice of words. I mean more of a difference in what we each have in mind.


I mean in the sense that it is a particular unique thing. What I am getting at is that we don't have to invent any new ethics to extend moral consideration to other animals. If you want veganism to be a specific thing such that Inuit cannot be vegan, you are arguing in favour of the notion of veganism as a social sub-group to which people can belong to by doing certain things. Whereas I am saying veganism is a continuum of everyday ethics. We start with ideas about just relations between people and extend that to other species as and when we can. Everyone is vegan, what is in question is how far they go in enacting the principles.

This is how everyday ethics works. For example, we say that we shouldn't kill others, but without the law, I think people would be more inclined to kill each other more often. The law acts to encourage conformity with moral belief (murder is a legal concept). Similarly, we might generally believe that adultery is immoral, but there are no laws against it (in the West, at least). Consequently, many people are adulterers.


Inuits can be ethical, full stop. We don't have to invoke veganism as a kind of value judgement because we have already accepted - like with all other ethical concerns - that we do what we can in respect to other species in our particular circumstances.

I think this perspective on veganism is more aligned with how we think about moral practice in all other aspects of life, making veganism an intrinsic part of existing morality.

On the other hand, I suppose veganism might just be a social sub-group to which people can choose to belong if they follow the rules?
I don't need a law to keep me from committing adultery and/or murder. I also don't see veganism as a club trying to keep some in and others out. I never saw it as complicated. Carnivores eat meat, herbivores eat plants, omnivores eat meat & plants, pescatarians eat fish, vegetarians eat dairy, vegans avoid consuming animals, etc.
It's like the labeling of boys and girls. It can be done with what's there at birth, usually, but doesn't have to be that way if one chooses differently or not to label. It's all about individual preferences. there's no universal law about it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Lou