Vegetarianism, Sentimental or Ethical?



In this paper, I provide some evidence for the view that a common charge against those who adopt vegetarianism is that they would be sentimental. I argue that this charge is pressed frequently by those who adopt moral absolutism, a position that I reject, before exploring the question if vegetarianism might make sense. I discuss three concerns that might motivate those who adopt vegetarian diets, including a concern with the human health and environmental costs of some alternative diets, a concern about inflicting pain on animals, and a concern with the killing of animals. While I argue that vegetarianism does not make sense in some situations, I hope that this paper shows that there are many good reasons why the adoption of vegetarian, and—even more so—vegan diets might be appropriate in some situations. In carving out this position, I focus primarily on the question whether a morally relevant distinction between the killing of plants and the killing of animals should be made. I engage primarily with the views of two of the most prominent authors on this issue, arguing that neither Peter Singer nor Tom Regan provide a satisfactory account on the ethics of killing nonhuman organisms. Two views are challenged in particular, the view that relatively simple animals such as molluscs, as well as plants, lack awareness, and the view that animals without a preference to continue living stand to lose little or nothing by being killed. I provide some evidence to support the claim that many share my view that it is more problematic to kill animals than to kill plants, before analyzing why some suppress the negative feelings they associate with killing animals. By exploring these issues I hope to shed some light on the issue of whether the feelings of those who adopt vegetarianism are sentimental or make sense, and to stimulate reflection amongst those with an interest in food ethics.


Animals Diet Ethics Food Rights Veganism Vegetarianism 



This paper contains data from the “Deliberating the Environment” project, funded by the “Science in Society” program of the Economics and Social Research Council (grant number: RES 151250014). I also thank the anonymous reviewers who stimulated reflection by commenting on a previous version of this paper, and those who invited me to present and commented on earlier versions by participating in meetings organised by the North Shields Probus Club, Café Culture at Newcastle, the Newcastle Ethics, Legal, and Political Philosophy Group, and VegNE.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Health and SocietyNewcastle UniversityNewcastle-upon-TyneUK

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