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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 5, 2018

Environmental Vegetarianism: Conflicting Principles, Constructive Virtues

  • Daniel Mishori EMAIL logo


This Article contemplates the environmental argument in favor of vegetarianism or veganism, while reviewing its historical development and relevance to the current environmental debate. Today there is an apparent synergy between ecological ethics and animal rights discourse; nevertheless, this presents an inherent paradox. Whereas the moral, environmental and health arguments advocating for vegetarianism and veganism seem to reinforce one another, conflicts may also arise between them. Under certain conditions, the environmental stance may lead to different and perhaps even contradictory attitudes about the raising of livestock and the permissibility of animal-based food. Therefore, this Article first addresses the affinities and conflicts between both versions of non-anthropocentric ethics: biocentrism (individual animals’ rights and welfare) and ecocentrism (intrinsic value of nature and ecosystems). It then examines the historical development and creeds of environmental vegetarianism, and reviews the debates on the precise impact of animal-based food products on the environment. It suggests that recent estimations of the negative impacts underlying the argument for environmental vegetarianism depend on currently unsustainable (and utterly unethical) practices of factory farming and industrialized agriculture. These facts could change if such destructive methods were halted and replaced by sustainable practices which, perhaps, may sometimes tolerate or even require livestock and the ecological services it provides in order to grow sustainable plant-based food. However, many activists still hold both biocentric and ecocentric values, and see them as different facets of their non-anthropocentric intuitions. In order to account for such intuitions, the paper shortly explores two concepts: the mixed society (of both humans and domesticated animals) and virtue ethics. A mixed non-anthropocentric ecological society might not be strictly vegetarian (e. g., semi-vegetarian or even carnistic) and still be environmentally sustainable. In such a sustainable society, caring for nature and non-human animals are considered righteous, even virtuous, and “biophilic” intuitions could be respected and even reinforced, without being committed to strict ethical biocentric principles. Virtue ethics could provide ways to communicate different non-anthropocetric intuitions in such an ecological mixed society, where moral values and intuitions regarding both individual animals and holistic nature is respected, even if certain dilemmas and conflicts between non-anthropocentric ethical positions still prevail.

Published Online: 2018-1-5
Published in Print: 2017-1-26

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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