The Stoic Link to Animal Rights

Typically I think about Stoic practices in terms of achieving tranquility — which is its primary purpose.  However, Stoicism also was from its earliest days concerned with making the world a better place. Along those latter lines, I have recently found that having a Stoic mindset has driven me to look closely at the treatment of animals, in particular the eating of them. How has Stoicism contributed to my finally understanding that I must make a sea change with respect to animals? Because at the heart of Stoicism is reasoned and independent thinking.  Stoicism requires thinking for yourself and not basing your views of yourself or other parts of existence on the opinions or dogma of others.  If you cannot face a situation and at least attempt to reason it out for yourself, sublimating emotion, applying logical and rational tools to determine the best course, then Stoicism is a nonstarter for you.

When I heard an undeniable voice asking me to consider what eating animals involves, the Stoic approach to life urged me to think it through; it would not allow me any longer to shrug off my concern, but rather encouraged me to question whether eating animals was really the acceptable act that custom and mercenary motives like us to think it is.  For all the many years that a concern for animals rattled around in the back of my mind, not until I became a Stoic did I bring it out to the light and reckon that I am not a slave to the accepted idea that animals are to suffer, die, and be eaten. This result of Stoicism is mine alone, perhaps, as there has been (I would imagine) many a Stoic who did not question the treatment of animals and many people who became vegans without any Stoic ideas per se.

Once having arrived on the right side of the question, I had recourse to another Stoic approach. Seneca wrote about facing the disgraceful and cruel state of the world, considering how not to fall into despair about humanity.  For him, the question arose after happening upon the forum where an endless and brutal slaughter of man and beasts counted as entertainment for the hordes. He wrote that one should neither cry nor laugh in denigration, but stay away from the masses as much as possible. Perhaps those barbaric spectators at least did not profess any virtues they did not have.  Most bacon eaters today would run in horror at the screams of the pigs, much less the sight of their suffering and fear, as those creatures that are smarter than golden retrievers die to provide a side order at breakfast.

Also, in keeping with my literary bent, I relished finding support among great writers, as well as philosophers.  I was thrilled to read that Shelley was a vegetarian. How did such an original being happen upon the earth, an atheist and vegetarian in the 18th Century!  In addition to Shelley advocating a “vegetable diet,” there are other notables who have summed up the heart of the matter. I have typed a few below because who doesn’t love a good quote?  In parting, let me suggest: consider the pig, his intellect and affectionate personality — nobody needs bacon.

To be a vegetarian is to disagree – to disagree with the course of things today… starvation, cruelty – we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it’s a strong one.

― Isaac Bashevis Singer

It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation, that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion; and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust. . . .By all that is sacred in our hope for the human race, I conjure those who love happiness and truth to give a fair trial to the vegetable system!
— Percy Bysshe Shelley

Vegetarianism serves as the criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of humanity is genuine and sincere.
— Leo Tolstoy

Animals are my friends-and I don’t eat my friends.
— George Bernard Shaw

Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.
— Ben Franklin

But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun and light and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”
— Plutarch

In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be, but now we cannot stand the thought of slaughterhouses. And it is impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig. I can still remember as a boy the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughterhouse.
— H G Wells – A Modern Utopia

Wilbur burst into tears. “I don’t want to die,” he moaned. “I want to stay alive, right here in my comfortable manure pile with all my friends. I want to breathe the beautiful air and lie in the beautiful sun.”
E. B. White Charlotte’s Web

21 thoughts on “The Stoic Link to Animal Rights

  1. No vegetarian civilization has ever existed. I know that vegetarianism make a philosophical argument but growing and physically working people suffer physically, muscle and frame, when they go veggie, and few last long. I have seen the effects. They cannot grow muscle. Pregnant ladies cannot grow strong fetuses. Some non-working people do last veggie; all your quotes are from non-working people. Epictetus says animals are there to serve man, and man is here to serve each other. I am not going to gamble with my physical body to support your ideology. What you do is none of my concern. Stoically, I do not care what you do.

    • this is so untrue. The WHO has stated pregnant women can not only be vegetarian but fully vegan and have healhy children. There have been vegetarian cultures and there is a vegan city in india. You need to research your opinions because they are not fact based.

    • I can’t tell if you’re a troll or not.

      My entire ancestry has been vegetarian. I have been vegetarian since birth. In high school, I was the 2nd fastest runner, and was the best perseverance runner. I am now a full vegan.

      Visit “OhSheGlows.com”. This woman has been vegan for years, and recently had a child, who is perfectly healthy, happy, and hitting all her ‘milestones’. She was vegan throughout her entire pregnancy, and is raising the child vegan.

      Before taking a stance, research BOTH sides of the debate. Pretend that you are a proponent of each side. Once you have thoroughly educated yourself, THEN form your opinion.

      That is the scientific way.

    • I was an omnivore for 55 years and have been a vegan for 2. I am healtheir now by every measure. I recently changed my morning exercise from a workout on an eliptical machine to floor exercises and weights, and I gained muscle, just as I did when I was a meat eater. Like any diet — any — you need to put a little thought into it, that’s all.

      In my view the main point of stoicism isn’t not caring, it’s applying reason and, secure in your reasoned understanding of the universe, avoiding that which upsets you. Most of your reply does not display reason, but dogged conservatism.

  2. That no vegetarian society has not existed is not an argument that it couldn’t and many socieities have existed with diets very different from what you have described as necessary. What we eat is cultural more than heathful. I am not a nutritionist, but I think you are misinformed about the importance of meat. There are manyy cruelty -free ways to get protein, calcium, everything one needs, which I know you would find if you looked into it. Thanks for reading.

  3. I have several questions that I would like to address and ordered a book yesterday to get more of the vegan perspective. My questions, among others are as follows. What are the conditions for cage free chickens? I would think that the free-roaming life is fine, but I simply don’t know what it is like to lay eggs.. Are we mistreating them in having them do so? How do I really avoid leather, at least having it in my life as of now. I can decide not to buy leather jackets, purses or shoes very easily, but what about the interior of my car, the seats on the airplane–leather is everywhere. I can find a milk substitute when I drink coffee at home, but what about elsewhere? None of that means that I can’t go in that direction, which I am (just bought my first almond milk which has more calcium than cow’s mild and tastes good), am skipping the cheese and butter, but am challenged by the presence of butter in baked goods. However, that I will not reach perfection doesn’t mean that doing something has no meaning. I would rejoice if at least one animal species was spared–and as I wrote, I would like to see the slaughter of pigs end becasue they are intelligent sociable animals, seem to be the vicitms of particulalry cruel treatment, and add nothing even arguably to anyone’s diet.

    • Hello.
      Simply put, we can live without animal products, and that’s why we should. The question isn’t whether we cause suffering to animals, the question is how much.
      Even if there’s a possibility of producing dairy and eggs with the least harm and we are able to buy it, we should stick with veganism to encourage others.
      Yes, you have to give up a lot of things and make sacrifices. And you need a good reason, discipline and willpower for this.
      You can’t avoid harm at all, but you can decrease it when it’s possible—that’s the idea of veganism.
      If you would like to know if cage-free or whatever chickens do suffer, visit http://vegansidekick.com/guide
      Thank you for your attention.

    • >what it is like to lay eggs.. Are we mistreating them in having them do so

      The problem with eggs is cruelty for the hens. They are not kept in good conditions for the most part. Also, since make chicks won’t grow up to lay eggs and we don’t really eat rooster meat, they separate the chicks by sex when they are still tiny and the male chicks are ground up alive.

      >How do I really avoid leather, at least having it in my life as of now.

      This is a hard one. I have grandfathered in the leather I own because I can’t afford to sell my car, etc. I’ve also bought one leather item since I became a vegan, but I think that will be my last.

    • Laura, I commend you for taking this step to veganism…aligning your actions with your highest beliefs and values! I recommend checking out this link to learn more about the cage-free eggs. The term is yet another euphemism to cover up the torture these beautiful animals go through. Super easy/quick read! Or, you can just scroll all the way to the bottom and see a picture describing it in a few seconds 🙂
      http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/think-you-know-free-range-and-cage-free-chicken-think-again/

      As far as the leather question, I too have asked and still struggle with this a lot. I think as you mentioned, doing your best is all you can really ask of yourself. There are the straightforward ways of avoiding buying leather, wool, silk, down, and any other animal-derived products. As you find out though, there are so many materials that use these. You can do it though! And you will feel so much better for it. I wish you joy, peace, and happiness in your V journey! I think you will find it is one of the best decisions you will ever make for yourself, the animals, and the earth.

      Much aloha from Hawaii!
      – Angela

  4. i agree that one can care about and advocate for animal rights without being vegan. And people become vegan for environmental or dietary reaons I would suppose. However, there frequenlty is a link between those two, which is explained in a book I would recommend to everyone, “The Bond” by Wayne Pacelle, the director of the Humane Society of the United States. It is not limited to explaining how a person decides to become vegan. It is a very well written exploration into the intersection of our lives with animals.

  5. Animal rights lmao.
    Usually people are selective of what animal has the right and which one doesn’t. See if the animal becomes a pest to humans….then its ok to kill it usually, or if it isn’t cute. You don’t see people lining up to save the Guinea worm.

    Eating animals is part of life. Look at what we put people through (mostly immigrants) to farm all our vegetables. Someone or something is always paying a heavy price on both ends.

    • Eating animals is not part of my life or that of many people. We can always question what has always been done. Slavery was a given for thousands of years and so accepted that even great minds like Seneca didn’t question it. A basic Stoic notion is to determine what we can and cannot control–take action on the former and let go of the latter. I can control what I eat (and very easily these days) and I can take certain actions to promote my interests. People do have different interests, such as favoring some animals over than others, but we don’t all have to support the thing. Noboday can support all the good causes. My original point is that Soicism plants the idea of thinking for yourself. I believe factory farming interests have been doing the thinking for me about animals and handing out their decisions as the only way to be. There are always market forces–factory farmers lose, then family farms and vegetable farmers win. Farm workers — no doubt an area needing improvement.

    • That means we need to raise the working conditions of farm workers… It doesn’t mean we should stop eating vegetables.

      We don’t factory farm the Guinea worms in inhumane conditions. We don’t deprive them of sunlight, cram them into tiny spaces their entire lives, or maim/torture them without euthanasia.

      If anyone is doing that, they are crazy.

  6. Thank you Laura, for your blog. We will always meet resistance, but people can’t help it. People are raised in families and communities that think a certain way, and it is difficult for people to look at the SCIENCE behind vegetarianism/veganism, if it conflicts with how they were raised. The same goes for religious extremism.

    I understand that yours is a philosophical stance, more than health-inspired. But every voice for animal rights is immensely valuable, especially in this digital age, when one person can reach millions.

    Thank you for this article!

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