If Veganism Is Not a Choice: The Moral Psychology of Possibilities in Animal Ethics

by G Gordon Worley III1 min read20th Jan 20201 comment

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I've noticed the described phenomenon of "moral impossibility" in myself in that, for example, certain animal products don't seem like food anymore, and asking if I'd like to eat them would be like asking if I'd like to eat a metal pipe or fiberglass insulation. That is, rather than presenting a choice, it produces a category error.

Simple Summary: Discussions about the ethics of buying and consuming animal products normally assume that there are two choices equally available to moral agents: to engage or not to engage in such behaviour. This paper suggests that, in some cases, the experience of those who refuse to participate in animal exploitation is not a choice, but a reconfiguration of their understanding of what animals, and the products made out of them, are. Such reconfiguration involves not seeing animals as something to eat, wear, control, etc. Hence, it is not always correct to speak of veganism as a choice: the reason being that, sometimes, the opposite does not present itself as a possibility.
Abstract: In their daily practices, many ethical vegans choose what to eat, wear, and buy among a range that is limited to the exclusion of animal products. Rather than considering and then rejecting the idea of using such products, doing so often does not occur to them as a possibility at all. In other cases, when confronted with the possibility of consuming animal products, vegans have claimed to reject it by saying that it would be impossible for them to do so. I refer to this phenomenon as ‘moral impossibility’. An analysis of moral impossibility in animal ethics shows that it arises when one’s conception of ‘what animals are’ shifts—say through encounter with other animals. It also arises when individuals learn more about animals and what happens to them in production facilities. This establishes a link between increased knowledge, understanding, and imaginative exploration on the one hand, and the exclusion of the possibility of using animals as resources on the other. Taking moral impossibility in veganism seriously has two important consequences: one is that the debate around veganism needs to shift from choice and decision, to a prior analysis of concepts and moral framing; the other is that moral psychology is no longer seen as empirical psychology plus ethical analysis, but the contents of psychological findings are understood as being influenced and framed by moral reflection.
Keywords: moral psychology; veganism; moral possibilities; imagination; decision-making; fact and value; ought implies can

Panizza, S. If Veganism Is Not a Choice: The Moral Psychology of Possibilities in Animal Ethics. Animals 2020, 10, 145. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010145

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