The shifting moral baseline - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 03-13-2012, 09:02 PM
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I was just listing to a recording of Gary Francione's podcast in which he insisted on the importance of veganism as the moral baseline. I'll admit that most of his arguments made sense.

However, what Gary left out in his eloquent articulation of the need for a moral baseline is precisely where the baseline needs to be. Gary admitted in this podcast that it is not possible to eliminate all animal products from our lives (computers, cars, etc.)

So, suppose someone avoids all easily recognizable animal products in their food, but does not check, for example, if the Vitamin D in their groceries is of animal origin? Are they vegan enough for his moral baseline? Are they vegan enough to be a vegan? Why or why not?

If having a precise moral demarcation line is so important, then would it not also be important to spell out precisely where this demarcation line is located, and why it is there and not at some other location?

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#2 Old 03-13-2012, 09:09 PM
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I think the idea of "vegan enough" is completely arbitrary and nonsensical.

Unless he or she has completely disconnected from the world and lives in a hut in a forest on only food (s)he grows with fertilizer (s)he created him-/her-self, every single vegan is only as "vegan enough" as is practical for them and practicality is not always a clear or useful influence of moral baselines.

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#3 Old 03-13-2012, 09:37 PM
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Eugene, I think as a practical matter it would be very helpful if Francione took the time to explain where that baseline was and teach people how to get there. But that's not really his style.

Personally, I think people who don't double check the source of their vitamin D are "vegan enough." Same goes for bone char sugar. I think it's about eliminating the obvious animal products, not the hidden ingredients. Eventually if enough people get to that step where they avoid the obvious animal products then the hidden ingredients are going to disappear because it will no longer be inexpensive to obtain slaughterhouse byproducts. It will either be literally cost-prohibitive or animal byproducts will be so shunned by society that above-board businesses will not use them.

I would prefer if Francione spoke of veganism as morally neutral rather than as "the moral baseline." I think it makes more sense to simply place veganism in the center and explain that people can make choices that either harm or help animals but if they want to simply remain neutral choose veganism.
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#4 Old 03-13-2012, 09:44 PM
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Who framed this issue in terms of who, rather than what; you, or Francione?

It makes sense to define vegan philosophy, and since vegan philosophy is extremely simple, there really isn't much room to debate it. It also makes sense to define vegan practice, as determined by the philosophy.

What doesn't make sense is to try to figure out if other people are "vegan enough". You can only make this evaluation for yourself, because - given you have a clear understanding of vegan philosophy and vegan practice - you are the only one who can tell if you are doing everything you can, or copping out.

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#5 Old 03-14-2012, 05:09 PM
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I would think that the whole point of advocating a moral baseline is that it would be a demarcation which would be clearly delineated. If it is something subjective, and we each get to decide for ourselves where it is, then it wouldn't be much of a moral baseline.

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#6 Old 03-14-2012, 05:15 PM
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If it is something subjective, and we each get to decide for ourselves where it is, then it wouldn't be much of a moral baseline.

The definition of 'vegan' is neither completely arbitrary (someone who eats meat three times a day can't just decide that they're vegan -- or they can, but their usage won't be recognized), nor determined rigidly and perfectly. Like many words in human languages, it has a more stable core and then a periphery which is more dependent on the context and the speaker. I see no reason why that concept can't be placed as a moral baseline despite these very natural characteristics it has.

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#7 Old 03-14-2012, 07:06 PM
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That doesn't sound very Francioinian.

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#8 Old 03-14-2012, 08:05 PM
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I would think that the whole point of advocating a moral baseline is that it would be a demarcation which would be clearly delineated. If it is something subjective, and we each get to decide for ourselves where it is, then it wouldn't be much of a moral baseline.

What is unclear and subjective about the basic definition of veganism? It is a very clear stance against the exploitation of animals. Are you saying that the majority of vegans are too stupid to figure out for themselves what's vegan and what isn't?

It's pretty obvious that processed foods with animal derived vitamin D are not vegan foods. Why do you need someone else to tell you if you are or aren't vegan enough if you knowingly and willingly consume them? You can't figure that out for yourself? There's nothing subjective about knowing the difference between being truly unable to find a viable alternative to something you need, and telling yourself it's ok to buy your favorite not-vegan cereal because other people use computers and that's not vegan either.

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#9 Old 03-14-2012, 09:07 PM
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yeah i think veganism as a moral baseline is flawed. I also dont think it should b ea "baseline", veganism is not a value in itself, its a means to expresses our values (such as autonomy for other sentient life or reduction of suffer depending on ur philosophical approach)
Veganism might be a good rule in terms of rule utilitarianism (depending on how its practiced), but its by no means a universal baseline.

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#10 Old 03-14-2012, 09:11 PM
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and since vegan philosophy is extremely simple

Since when has it been simple, and since when has there been an agreed upon "vegan philosophy"?
Vegans take various different philosophical approaches to both veganism and animal rights

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#11 Old 03-14-2012, 09:23 PM
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Since when has it been simple, and since when has there been an agreed upon "vegan philosophy"?
Vegans take various different philosophical approaches to both veganism and animal rights

Veganism is a very simple stance against the use of animals for any purpose. Anyone who says it isn't doesn't get it.

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#12 Old 03-14-2012, 10:01 PM
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Veganism is a very simple stance against the use of animals for any purpose. Anyone who says it isn't doesn't get it.

Veganism is a description of an action, not a moral stance
again there is no monolithic "vegan philosophy" rather just many vegans taking various philosophical approaches to both the issues of animal exploitation/animal right and veganism (which are not the same issue)

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#13 Old 03-14-2012, 10:07 PM
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Veganism is a very simple stance against the use of animals for any purpose. Anyone who says it isn't doesn't get it.


For me, the subjective point is what that 'any purpose' means. The definition of 'exploitation' can vary from person to person.

The only example I can think of is this-

Puppy farms exploit the animals. There's no doubt in that. Most people, even some dog breeders, will be disgusted at puppy farms just because of the pure barbaric nature of them, especially in regard to the welfare of the aniamls. That is a definite example of exploitation.


Companion animals are chosen and taken in, by and large, so we can exercise the nurturing part of ourselves. That is 'using' the animal for a purpose. Admittedly, a purpose that comes from a good place, that I think has many positive aspects for both the animal and the human. But it's still a form of use, when you think about the needs it fulfills for humans. It's more of a foggy area of exploitation.


I replied to this before, but.....maybe I pressed a wrong button. I'd made a much clearer point then, I think :P
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#14 Old 03-14-2012, 10:54 PM
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Veganism is a description of an action, not a moral stance
again there is no monolithic "vegan philosophy" rather just many vegans taking various philosophical approaches to both the issues of animal exploitation/animal right and veganism (which are not the same issue)

I didn't call it a moral stance. And you are dead wrong that there is no agreed-upon definition of veganism. There is a very clear and simple definition of veganism you seem to be ignorant of, and therefore choose to dismiss by describing it as monolithic. And you needn't explain to me that veganism and AR are different issues. Veganism is still a stance against use of animals for any purpose, as defined by Donald Watson.

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#15 Old 03-14-2012, 11:14 PM
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For me, the subjective point is what that 'any purpose' means. The definition of 'exploitation' can vary from person to person.

The only example I can think of is this-

Puppy farms exploit the animals. There's no doubt in that. Most people, even some dog breeders, will be disgusted at puppy farms just because of the pure barbaric nature of them, especially in regard to the welfare of the aniamls. That is a definite example of exploitation.


Companion animals are chosen and taken in, by and large, so we can exercise the nurturing part of ourselves. That is 'using' the animal for a purpose. Admittedly, a purpose that comes from a good place, that I think has many positive aspects for both the animal and the human. But it's still a form of use, when you think about the needs it fulfills for humans. It's more of a foggy area of exploitation.


I replied to this before, but.....maybe I pressed a wrong button. I'd made a much clearer point then, I think :P

I would disagree that "for any purpose" is subjective, as a statement. It's pretty clear to me. Ideally, from a vegan perspective, it would be best if no animals were bred for human companionship, but other ethics must come into play for those who feel a moral obligation to help those animals who are in trouble right now.

I think people get the ideals mixed up with the practice, when they talk about shifting moral baselines and gray areas. It is definitely impossible for anyone to practice veganism 100% in the world in which we are living just now, but that needn't have any impact on what veganism is as a concept, or making veganism the minimum basic requirement, ie moral baseline, for those who are interested in pursuing animal rights advocacy. Maybe no one in the world is vegan at all. I don't see why that should change the definition of what veganism actually is, or cause us to abandon it for something less rigorous and easier to live up to.

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#16 Old 03-14-2012, 11:46 PM
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I would disagree that "for any purpose" is subjective, as a statement. It's pretty clear to me. Ideally, from a vegan perspective, it would be best if no animals were bred for human companionship, but other ethics must come into play for those who feel a moral obligation to help those animals who are in trouble right now.

I think people get the ideals mixed up with the practice, when they talk about shifting moral baselines and gray areas. It is definitely impossible for anyone to practice veganism 100% in the world in which we are living just now, but that needn't have any impact on what veganism is as a concept, or making veganism the minimum basic requirement, ie moral baseline, for those who are interested in pursuing animal rights advocacy. Maybe no one in the world is vegan at all. I don't see why that should change the definition of what veganism actually is, or cause us to abandon it for something less rigorous and easier to live up to.

So, in your definition of veganism, does that mean that a simbiotic relationship (where companionship with the animal is paid back, with good treatment and food) isn't 'right'? Only less wrong than a parasitic one (where we give nothing back)?

I hope this doesn't come across as combative. I'm asking only because there are parts of the vegan philosophy that really don't make sense to me, or maybe they're just not clear.
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#17 Old 03-15-2012, 01:08 AM
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That doesn't sound very Francioinian.

Who cares? Why should it?

In general, I've found that when it comes to veganism, you have some difficulty accepting features that are characteristic of human language in general (as distinguished from some arbitrarily created logical language, or a computer programming language).

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#18 Old 03-15-2012, 03:50 AM
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So, in your definition of veganism, does that mean that a simbiotic relationship (where companionship with the animal is paid back, with good treatment and food) isn't 'right'? Only less wrong than a parasitic one (where we give nothing back)?

The origin of all common livestock animals was a simbiotic one.

In return for eggs, wool, milk etc humans fed and protected their livestock for the majority of their natural lifetime. The final act being a much swifter death than would likely have befallen an animal past it's prime left to the tender mercies of mother nature.

When it comes to companionship replacing eggs, milk, wool etc this may be relevant: Humans may seek the companionship of animals but only animals carefully raised for the purpose will tolerate the companionship of humans.

Creating a dependancy is a form of exploitation. It is not a form of true simbioticism.
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#19 Old 03-15-2012, 05:26 PM
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What is unclear and subjective about the basic definition of veganism? It is a very clear stance against the exploitation of animals. Are you saying that the majority of vegans are too stupid to figure out for themselves what's vegan and what isn't?

It's pretty obvious that processed foods with animal derived vitamin D are not vegan foods. Why do you need someone else to tell you if you are or aren't vegan enough if you knowingly and willingly consume them? You can't figure that out for yourself? There's nothing subjective about knowing the difference between being truly unable to find a viable alternative to something you need, and telling yourself it's ok to buy your favorite not-vegan cereal because other people use computers and that's not vegan either.


You propose the scenario of having one particular cereal where you know for a fact that the vitamin D is of animal origin. However, the more general scenario is groceries when the vitamin D is of unknown origin, which is the scenario people are far more likely to face.

Also, even if we were to accept the proposition that possessing a home computer is required for functioning in modern society, there is the question of all other consumer electronics. I have never heard anyone make the claim, for example, that vegans should avoid buying Sony Playstations. Though, video game systems hardly fall into the category of unavoidable products.

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#20 Old 03-15-2012, 05:50 PM
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[QUOTE=Clueless Git;3122537
Creating a dependancy is a form of exploitation. It is not a form of true simbioticism.[/QUOTE]

Do you define the creation of dependancy as domesticating a kitten, rather than letting it live wild?
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#21 Old 03-15-2012, 05:52 PM
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Also, even if we were to accept the proposition that possessing a home computer is required for functioning in modern society, there is the question of all other consumer electronics. I have never heard anyone make the claim, for example, that vegans should avoid buying Sony Playstations. Though, video game systems hardly fall into the category of unavoidable products.

To be fair, no one should buy a Sony Playstation.
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#22 Old 03-15-2012, 06:09 PM
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Creating a dependancy is a form of exploitation. It is not a form of true simbioticism.

Do you define the creation of dependancy as domesticating a kitten, rather than letting it live wild?

To whatever degree you make something dependant then you create a dependancy.
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#23 Old 03-16-2012, 10:19 PM
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It's pretty obvious that processed foods with animal derived vitamin D are not vegan foods. Why do you need someone else to tell you if you are or aren't vegan enough if you knowingly and willingly consume them? You can't figure that out for yourself? There's nothing subjective about knowing the difference between being truly unable to find a viable alternative to something you need, and telling yourself it's ok to buy your favorite not-vegan cereal because other people use computers and that's not vegan either.

There was a time I'd agree with you there but now I disagree. I think being vegan has nothing to do with memorizing lists or animal-derived ingredients (or using technology to figure out if something's truly vegan). I think it's about eating, dressing, acting in a way that reflects a basic respect for animals by avoiding causing unecessary suffering and death as much as practical and possible.

Today, I accidentally bought two boxes full of nonvegan lentils. Whoops. I was careless (a bit stressed out, hungry, tired, whatever) and I thought they were vegan. Nope, they have cream in them. Now, after seeing that I can't really bring myself to eat them, but I'm not going to bother with returning them either. I gave them to a lacto-ovo vegetarian friend.

Crap happens. It happens all the time. Vitamin D that's not vegan... I'm sure I've eatin a ton of it. Oh well. Good thing I've handed out thousands of vegan leaflets to offset things
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#24 Old 03-17-2012, 05:41 AM
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Good thing I've handed out thousands of vegan leaflets to offset things

But how far do we take this philosophy? Suppose someone molests his children, but gives out a bunch of pamphlets against child abuse. Even if it can be proven that, from a utilitarian perspective, this person has done far more net good than most people, I would still say that he is a monster.

I am not saying that failing to research ingredients is the equivalent of molesting a child, but I do agree with the principle that there needs to be at least some moral baseline. The only question is where it should be.

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#25 Old 03-17-2012, 03:14 PM
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I'd say my moral baseline would be attempting to do the least harm and do the most good for the animals - to a realistic and feasible degree. How many animals does being 99.9% vegan realistically spare over being 99.1% vegan? We have to assume that 100% is a pipe dream. It would be literally impossible to never in any way, shape or form contribute to any cruelty whatsoever. What tangible positive net benefit would the herculean effort that would take possibly have on the lives of animals who need help?

Shouldn't the moral baseline be something tangible like that? Doing something to physically continue to reduce the profits of animal agribusiness? I know for a fact you believe in that because you put so much effort into it. Is your leafleting and fb ad campaign really about ensuring the world becomes more vegan? It doesn't seem that's your ultimate goal, but correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't it because you want to see the suffering and death inflicted on animals go away? I would hope that's what all of us want the most, even Francione. If not... well, then I don't understand what the inherent value of veganism even is. If veganism itself lacks the moral baseline of empathy and compassion we all felt from childhood - even those of us who were not raised vegan - then it's just an elitist title and a glorified spear waving contest.

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#26 Old 03-18-2012, 05:20 AM
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By "moral baseline", I am simply referring to the minimal standard of behavior we should expect from other animal rights advocates. For example, the president of one AR organization was forced to resign when it was discovered that she was using the group's funds to pay off her morgage. So, in this case, they had a moral baseline which stated that, at the very least, you can't steal from the group's treasury for personal use, and then expect to remain a member of the group and be allowed to continue to be an activist.

Different people can disagreee on where the location of the moral baseline should be. Gary Francione proposes that the moral baseline should be veganism. We might reject this proposal, but we would still have a moral baseline which says that certain behaviours, such as the one described above, are unacceptable, regardless of what good this person might otherwise be doing.

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#27 Old 03-18-2012, 10:11 PM
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To be fair, no one should buy a Sony Playstation.

Why?

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#28 Old 03-19-2012, 09:36 AM
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because the ps2 is backwards compatible
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#29 Old 03-19-2012, 11:32 AM
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I would prefer if Francione spoke of veganism as morally neutral rather than as "the moral baseline." I think it makes more sense to simply place veganism in the center and explain that people can make choices that either harm or help animals but if they want to simply remain neutral choose veganism.

i am definitely a fan of Gary Francione's construct of a moral baseline for veganism. it would be shameful, in fact wrong, if he neutralized the idea or played it in the center.
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#30 Old 03-19-2012, 11:41 AM
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The origin of all common livestock animals was a [symbiotic] one.

wrong. the history of livestock domestication, animal slavery and bloodsports is a cruel and bloody history unto itself.

just in case you missed it... you are espousing a rather dull and ordinary speciesist POV i.e. that animals are only here for our purposes and do not value their lives.
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