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Animal Rights vs. Veganism: The intersection between veganism and animal rights, today and in the past

Animal rights focuses on non-human animals and considers whether they have intrinsic rights which justify being treated by humans in a different way. Veganism is focused on how humans should behave. It is not concerned about whether one particular animal has a conscience or moral agency. It considers all animals (including humans) as beings capable of being harmed.

JORDI CASAMITJANA: Veganism and animal rights are indeed philosophies, in the sense they are particular systems of thought relating to the understanding of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Also, they are both non-religious philosophical beliefs in the sense they do not go into metaphysics or cosmology of a religious nature. They are both key philosophies followed by people who care about non-human animals and try to respect them, and animal protection organisations involved in advocating for them and helping them. However, I believe they focus on different subjects and belong to different philosophical disciplines.

The philosophy of animal rights focuses on non-human animals, which is to say, all individuals of all the species in the Animal Kingdom except Homo sapiens. It looks at them and considers whether they have intrinsic rights which justify being treated by humans in a different way than they had been traditionally treated. This philosophy concludes that they indeed have basic rights because they have moral worth, and if humans want to live in a law-based society of rights, they must also consider the rights of non-human animals, as well as their interests (such as avoiding suffering).

These rights include the right to life, body autonomy, liberty, and freedom from torture. In other words, it challenges the notion that non-human animals are objects, property, goods, or commodities, and ultimately aims to acknowledge all their moral and legal “personhood”. This philosophy focuses on non-human animals because it looks at who they are, what they do, how they behave, and how they think, and, accordingly, assigns them attributes related to sentience, conscience, moral agency, and legal rights…

Veganism asks humans not to harm others (apply ahimsa to all sentient beings), and although such others are often thought of as being non-human animals, it does not limit its scope to these. The first part of the official definition of veganism of the Vegan Society says that veganism “is 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.” It does not use the term “non-human animals”, which was already widely used in 1988 when this definition was finalised, because it does not exclude humans from the exploitation and cruelty requirements. Being non-human animals the most numerous victims of humanity’s misbehaviour, it is easy to understand why many people would consider the focus of veganism is on them. It may be in practical terms, but philosophically, I think it goes further.

For instance, if you deconstruct the philosophy of veganism, you will be able to identify that one of its three main axioms is that vegans are anti-speciesists, meaning they do not discriminate against anyone according to species membership. Excluding the species Homo sapiens from the scope of ahimsa would be speciesist. The key to the “do no harm” meaning of ahimsa is the word “harm”, which can be interpreted as causing distress, pain, injury, or death. It would not make sense that such a fundamental principle would be only directed to particular sentient beings who could be harmed, not to all. And veganism fully understands that, and this is why its two other main axioms are 2) all animals should be regarded as sentient beings who can suffer, and 3) any exploitation of animals should be avoided because it can make them suffer. In other words, veganism is against the exploitation of any sentient being.

Regarding philosophical disciplines, veganism clearly falls into ethics, as it is focused on humans (specifically on humans’ relationships with others) and does tell them how they should behave (do no harm). Veganism is not concerned about whether one particular animal has a conscience or moral agency. It considers all animals (including humans) as beings capable of being harmed (as they are sentient beings), and therefore it aims to protect them by asking humans not to harm them. Indeed, harming them would be considered “wrong”, and changing one’s behaviour by excluding all forms of animal exploitation (the vegan lifestyle) would be considered “right”. Veganism is an ethical philosophy. It’s all about the rights and wrongs of human behaviour….

Both philosophies of veganism and animal rights can also be seen as part of social justice movements which sprang from the recognition of one injustice: the way people treat non-human animals is unjust and must change. The Animal Rights philosophy says it is unjust because non-human animals have intrinsic rights most humans violate, while the veganism philosophy says it is unjust because people do not follow ahimsa when they behave toward non-human animals, deliberately harming them. Both look at non-human animals as victims of humanity and conclude that humanity should change its relationship with other animals to make it fairer. So, both led to two social movements, the Animal Rights Movement (sometimes referred to as AR Movement) and the Veganism Movement (normally referred to as the Vegan Movement), which overlap greatly because they broadly aim for the same outcome.

The difference, though, is that the animal rights philosophy aims to make this change through the legal system (granting recognised legal rights to non-human animals), while the veganism philosophy aims to make it through individuals’ change (helping people to become vegans who can then change institutions and policies). Therefore, it seems to me that veganism fits better the description of a transformative socio-political movement and animal rights fits better the description of a justice movement (although both descriptions can apply to both movements).

Veganism has a very well-defined future paradigm it calls “the vegan world”, and the veganism movement has been put in charge — by itself — to create it. By veganising every possible product and situation vegans are building the vegan world one step at a time, and once it is built, they will have to maintain it forever. This is a very specific idealistic final goal. On the other side, the final goal of the animal rights movement is animal liberation, which should be the consequence of granting legal rights to all non-human animals and applying them. SOURCE…


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