This past week, I posted two essays: Moral Concern, Moral Impulse, and Logical Argument in Animal Rights Advocacy and Violent Imagery in Animal Advocacy.
The response I got was overwhelming and it’s only been a few days. I have received 52 emails (as of right now) asking questions about applying these ideas in concrete circumstances.
I will do a podcast on this topic as soon as I have a chance but, depending on how my work on various projects goes, that may not be for a week or two. I have not done a podcast for a while and this topic seems to be as good as any to have as the subject of one or two podcasts.
In the meantime, the point that I made in my essays is that if people don’t have what I call moral concern about animals (by which I mean a belief that at least some animals matter morally) and a moral impulse (by which I mean that they are motivated to follow through, to act on that belief so that they want to do the right thing, and not just think the right thing about the matter), then logic and rationality won’t matter very much.
But if someone does have moral concern and moral impulse, then we can use logic and rationality to get her to an abolitionist vegan position.
In other words, if someone says to me “I think that what Michael Vick did to those dogs was morally outrageous because it’s wrong to make animals suffer for no reason,” I can then use logic and rationality to demonstrate to her that our practice of eating animals and animal products is indistinguishable from using animals in fighting situations.
But if someone says, “I don’t care about what Michael Vick or anyone else does to animals. I don’t regard animals as having any moral value,” that person is unlikely to be interested in logical arguments about how she should discharge her moral obligations to animals. She does not recognize that she has any.
The good news is that most people do have some moral concern for at least some animals. Our challenge as animal advocates is to use logic and rationality to get people to see that their moral concern makes sense only if they extend it to all sentient beings and support abolition, both in their personal lives, in the form of veganism, and, as a social matter, in the form of of nonviolent vegan education.
And as for those who truly have no moral concern for animals, we cannot use logic and rationality to force them to feel differently; to “prove” that they ought to care. If they don’t care, they don’t care.
Although our challenge as animal advocates is to help people to see the implications of their moral concern about animals, it is irrelevant why people have that moral concern. What is relevant is that they have moral concern. That’s what we need to identify and that’s what serves as the predicate, or base, of our using logic and rationality to demonstrate that veganism is the only coherent response to a felt recognition that animals matter morally.
So when someone says, “I think that what Michael Vick did to those dogs was morally outrageous because it’s wrong to make animals suffer for no reason,” the response is not to ask, “Why do you think that?” and then proceed to argue with the person because you disagree with the source of that person’s moral concern.
For example, if someone says, “I think that what Michael Vick did to those dogs was morally outrageous because it’s wrong to make animals suffer for no reason,” your job is to get her to see that her moral concern requires that she stop consuming or using animals altogether, and to encourage others to do otherwise.
You do a disservice to animals if, in that situation, you say, “And why do you think that?,” and she replies, “Because I am a Buddhist and see the interconnectedness of all life,” and you proceed to tell her that she is an idiot, or that she is irrational, for believing in Buddhism because you are an atheist and “scientist” and don’t believe in Buddhism.
Similarly, if the basis of your moral concern for animals is your Buddhism, your job is not to convince someone else, whose source of moral concern may be completely different, such as her reading the poetry of Byron, an atheist (or at least a tormented one), or her having a relationship with her dog, to become a Buddhist. What matters is the two of you share a moral concern. Why you do is irrelevant. All that is relevant is that you do.
If a person says that the source of her moral concern for animals is that she grew up on a farm that had animals and, although her family exploited animals, one day the penny dropped and she recognized that she had kinship with nonhuman animals but she is unsure about what to do as a matter of practical action, our job is to discuss with her how her sense of kinship should lead to veganism and support for the abolition of exploitation. Our job is not to criticize her because her sense of kinship with nonhumans developed in a situation that we regard as morally objectionable.
I talk a great deal about nonviolence as a source of moral concern about issues involving humans and nonhumans. I think it fair to say that many people share with me a belief in nonviolence as an important and foundational moral value irrespective of whether they see it as connected with a particular religious or spiritual tradition. Many embrace nonviolence as a purely secular concept. Indeed, it is precisely because nonviolence is a moral value embraced by many despite whatever else they may believe that it provides a common framework with which to address many issues. I never discuss nonviolence in any particular metaphysical or spiritual context when I discuss animal ethics because it’s not helpful or relevant. If you and I share a common moral concern–our belief in nonviolence–why we do so is irrelevant. What is relevant is that our common belief is the background of our moral concern for violence against animals. From that shared moral concern, we can reason to important moral conclusions about veganism and abolition.
I repeat: We should not care why people have concern for animals; what matters is that they have that concern. Their reasons for why they have concern for other animals–human or otherwise–only matters when it limits their concern, not when it expands it.
If you have a question you would like me to consider, submit it on our Contact page.
If you are not vegan, please go vegan. It is easy and better for your health and for the environment and, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.
Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
©2012 Gary L. Francione