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The moral status of animals and their rights are controversial topics that regularly provoke debates among philosophers. The question is whether it is morally appropriate to use animals for food while causing suffering during the process of raising them in the context of the meat industry. If animals are sentient, they can be perceived as subjects for moral concern, and they can have a moral status that prevents people from treating animals as objects or resources for satisfying their needs, because animals feel pain and suffer (Vaughn 496).
This reasoning is often used by vegetarians and vegans in addition to the fact that some cultures and religions promote vegetarianism as a morally appropriate way of living. Although representatives of many cultures eat meat despite their vision of animals’ moral status, specific aspects associated with religion, ethnicity, traditions, and other cultural features lead some people to become vegetarians or vegans and to support animals’ rights because of their personal ideological views or beliefs.
Ethical Issues Associated with Vegetarianism and Veganism
When people choose to become vegetarians or vegans, they often explain their decision with reference to ethical concerns and the idea of sentience. Vegetarianism is defined in this context as a person’s refusal to eat meat and all products and dishes where meat is used, but they can eat eggs and dairy products, as well as fish in some cases. Veganism is associated with a lifestyle where a person does not use any products or goods that can be produced using animal-related materials.
They do not eat meat, eggs, or dairy products, and they do not wear clothes made of fur and leather, among other materials (Prisco 123). The significance of acknowledging the concept of sentience in this context is the fact that vegetarians and vegans accept the idea that animals are like humans when they feel something. Therefore, it is impermissible to kill these beings for food or for satisfying humans’ needs without taking animals’ rights and experiences into account.
In comparison to vegetarians, vegans are inclined to protect animals’ rights in the most active forms, and by avoiding animal-related products, they demonstrate respect for sentience as it is found in all living and feeling creatures. Still, the problem is that, even accepting their specific lifestyle as morally right and opposing “tyranny of human over nonhuman animals,” both vegetarians and vegans can act unethically in relation to people who are close to them (Vaughn 495).
In declaring the moral status of animals and their rights, vegetarians and vegans can violate the rights of their family members and friends while prohibiting their children from eating meat and other animal-related products, or while condemning their friends for not sharing their ideas. These ethically controversial situations can lead to health problems in children, unstable situations in families, and personal conflicts (Wells). Moreover, when vegetarians and vegans become activists protecting animals’ rights, their opposition can take aggressive forms, leading to unethical decisions.
Differences in Cultures and the Moral Status of Animals
It is important to note that vegetarianism or veganism can become not only the personal choice of an individual, but also a prescription for whole communities because of certain cultural and religious views. In this sense, Jainism is a religion that prohibits its adherents “from harming even the simplest of life forms,” and it is “deeply ascetic” (Srivastava). Not only Jains but also Buddhists accept the idea of nonviolence, and a lifestyle without eating any meat is followed by many adherents.
Hindus also keep vegetarian diets in many cases because of the vision that vegetarianism can be associated with spiritual life. In Judaism, there are debates regarding killing and eating animals, and these religious and ethical issues historically resulted in developing a range of rules and principles under which killing and eating animals can be permissible (Srivastava). For their part, Muslims do not consider vegetarianism as required for their religious practice in most cases.
However, the position of Christians requires further analysis because they are allowed to eat meat according to the modern Christian tradition, but they were vegetarians during the Middle Ages (Srivastava). According to Oppenheimer, more Christians are becoming vegetarians today because of reinterpreting the Bible and focusing not only on the religious but also on the ethical aspects of killing animals for food. Thus today, “animal welfare is a lively topic among Christians in the United States and England” (Oppenheimer).
When it comes to vegetarianism or veganism, it is possible to state that the moral status of animals is different in various cultures and religions, and representatives of diverse traditions have their specific arguments to explain or protect their position, because there are cases when their choice needs to be supported by rational argument when vegetarianism affects people’s health or social relations.
The suffering of animals is viewed in many religions and cultural traditions, including aboriginal cultures and Hinduism, as an evil that should be avoided because animals are not inferior to people in their rights. As a result, people who share such views believe that vegetarianism is an appropriate behavior associated with their vision (Armstrong and Botzler 54-56). Vegetarianism related to religious views is often a collective action that reflects a community’s vision regarding animals’ rights.
However, the alternative view is that vegetarianism associated with philosophical or ethical ideas is usually an individual action that demonstrates a person’s reaction to the issue of animals’ moral status, but it can rarely affect the situation from a utilitarian perspective. If a person becomes a vegetarian or a vegan to influence the actions of the meat industry, it is almost impossible to expect significant results from this initiative in terms of protecting animals’ rights and decreasing the number of livestock animals killed for food annually (Wells). Still, for many cultures, the focus on animals’ moral status is an everyday reality that has deeper roots than the ethical interpretation of this problem.
Different aspects associated with religion, ethnicity, cultures, and traditions can cause people to become vegetarians or vegans. As a result, they not only support animals’ rights, but they also develop certain ideological views or beliefs that can explain their positive vision of the moral status of animals from the perspective of sentience. However, it is also important to note that vegetarianism and veganism are not a choice for all people who support the idea of animals’ rights.
Therefore, many people continue to eat meat even when they view animals’ needs and emotions as significant and worthy of moral consideration because they believe that their individual actions cannot change the situation. Moreover, one must admit that vegetarianism and veganism are difficult choices for many people because of associated ethical issues that are related to the acceptance of this lifestyle in society.
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Armstrong, Susan J., and Richard G. Botzler, editors. The Animal Ethics Reader. 3rd ed., Taylor & Francis, 2016.
Oppenheimer, Mark. “Scholars Explore Christian Perspectives on Animal Rights.” The New York Times. 2013. Web.
Prisco, Carlo. The Right to Vegetarianism. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Srivastava, Jane. “Vegetarianism and Meat-Eating in 8 Religions.” Hinduism Today, 2016. Web.
Vaughn, Lewis. Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. 4th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.
Wells, Thomas. “Does the Utilitarian Argument for Vegetarianism Add Up? On the Incoherence of Peter Singer.” ABC. 2014. Web.