My Participation in “The Conversation”

There is an interesting project called The Conversation: In Search of the New Normal. The project is described in part:

The Conversation explores visions of our future and questions of the good. If you rolled an audio documentary, dinner party, and digital humanities project into a giant media-burrito, this is what you’d get:

From April to December of 2012, Aengus Anderson traveled America and recorded long, unstructured conversations with a cross-section of thinkers and doers, from transhumanists to neoprimitivists, urban farmers to musicians. The resulting conversations were wildly diverse but unified by a few themes: critiques of the present, hopes for the future, and discussions of what each thinker considered “the good.” The results may not yield any existential answers, but you’ll hear thoughtful and often provocative discussions emerging from a cacophony of ideas.

Within each episode you will (almost always) hear genuine conversations rather than boilerplate monologues. At the same time, the project itself is a single conversation that spans episodes. This is because, unlike most interview series, Aengus told the thinkers about each others’ ideas. This gives The Conversation a self-referential quality that grows richer as the series progresses.

I was one of the people that Aengus Anderson interviewed. We discussed animal rights, nonviolence, morality as a general matter, etc.

The interview can be accessed here.

After the interview was over, Anderson and his colleague, Neil Prendergast, discussed my interview. I responded to their comments here.


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan!

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2013 Gary L. Francione

A Note on “I Can’t” vs. “I Choose”

Many vegans say, “It’s not that I can’t eat animal foods; I just choose not to.” They get concerned that it’s negative to say that there is something they “can’t” do.

Although I understand this, it really does not make much sense.

Yes, of course I could choose to eat, wear, or use animal products. But as a vegan, I choose not to do so. But that is because I believe that there are moral principles and rules that constrain my behavior and obligate me not to do so. For example, as I am a moral realist, I regard the principle, “it is morally wrong to kill another sentient being in the absence of a true conflict or compulsion,” as expressing a proposition that is true. So I really can’t choose to use animal products if I accept those moral principles (and the rules that I derive from them) as true and regard them as providing reasons for my actions.

I think that the root of the problem is that some vegans want to avoid the notion that there are moral truths that require that we act in certain ways. They want veganism to represent some non-binding expression of “compassion” or whatever. But as I see it, we are required morally to be vegan. It’s not a matter of choice in the sense of saying that there is no right answer and it’s a matter of individual option to choose to be “compassionate.” There is a right answer. Animal use is wrong morally. Therefore, I “can’t” choose to do it as long as I want to adhere to those moral principles.

Therefore, when I say I choose not to eat, wear, or use animals, that means that my choice is constrained by moral principles that rule out animal use. I choose not to do it because moral principles obligate me to do so. The choice to exploit is not an option because of other things I believe. If I care about morality, I can’t make the choice to exploit nonhumans.

Doing the right thing because one chooses to act in accordance with a moral principle that requires the right thing is consistent with saying “I choose to x” and “I can’t choose to do not-x.” My point is that either locution is fine. To the extent, however, that the distinction reflects a rejection of moral realism, which rejection is rampant in the “movement,” that troubles me. Whenever I am asked, I always say that I choose not to exploit because of my moral beliefs, that preclude me from acting differently. I always promote the notion that this is a matter of moral truth. Otherwise, it’s just dismissed as a mere opinion or an aesthetic judgment, which is, as far as I am concerned, not the case.

In sum, it appears to me that “don’t say can’t” is an attempt to market veganism as some sort of optional “compassionate” lifestyle rather than as a moral baseline. But if animals have moral value, then veganism is the only rational response to to respect that moral value and constitutes a moral obligation and not an optional lifestyle choice.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

© 2013 Gary L. Francione