Essay on An Argument for Vegetarianism

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An Argument for Vegetarianism

ABSTRACT: In this paper I propose to answer the age-old reductio against vegetarianism, which is usually presented in the form of a sarcastic question ( e.g., "How do you justify killing and eating plants?"). Addressing the question takes on special significance in the light of arguments which seem to show that even nonsentient life is intrinsically valuable. Thus, I suggest that we rephrase the question in the following manner: When beings (who are biological and thus dependent on the destruction of other forms of life in order to sustain their own) evolve into societies of moral agents are they entitled merely to assume that they retain their license to destroy other life in order to sustain their own?
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I answer in the negative. I argue instead that such societies must continually earn that right by engaging in activity that makes up for and augments the values that they destroy.


The reductio has a venerable history going back at least as far as Solon (Sorabji 1993, 102), and it is still called upon, refuted, and otherwise alluded to by philosophers on all sides of the vegetarian issue.

Bertrand Russell once remarked of vegetarians that, "if they refuse to eat meat because of humanitarian principles, they should also refuse to eat bread," i.e. because we have to kill wheat in order to make it. (Harris 1972, 108)

It is pointed out that there is no clear line of demarcation between animals and creatures that cannot be subsumed under the concept of person, and our assertion must therefore include the rights of plants. (Nelson 1972, 151)

Animal liberationists put their ethic into practice (and display their devotion to it) by becoming vegetarians...(No one, however, has yet expressed, as among Butler's Erewhonians, qualms about eating plants, though such sentiments might be expected to be latently present if the rights of plants are next to be defended.) (Callicott
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