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Ethics of Vegetarianism: Human Interest Vs Animal Interest

Published: 13th Sep, 2021


Many of us consume meat and to maintain the balance of demand-supply, animals are being raised. For centuries the people are divided about the merits and demerits of vegetarianism, but there is another dimension to it, which deals with the Ethics of Vegetarianism.


  • Eating animals is often criticised on the grounds of ecology and health, but in this article, we shall be touching upon the Human-Interest Vs Animal-Interest.
  • Less than a billion humans are vegetarian and have a dietary consumption pattern that excludes meat.
  • They are various reasons for them being vegetarian: because it’s healthy, their parents make them vegetarian, because they don’t have a taste for the meat.
  • But there are some, who are vegetarian on moral grounds.


Arguments for moral vegetarianism

  • Contemporary arguments for moral vegetarianism are based around the wrongness of producing meat and move to conclusions about the wrongness of consuming it.
  • But the argument fails to bind the two ends of the narrative.
  • Moral vegetarianism is the view that it is morally “wrong” to eat meat.

They are two moral problems that arise due to eating animals:

  1. Wrongness in raising animals for self-consumption, and
  2. Wrongness in doing the same process, if carried out humanely.

Do Animals Have Rights?

  • Rights are meaningless without the corresponding duty. Every being who bears rights has a corresponding duty that needs to be discharged towards others who have rights.
  • To exercise rights, requires a rational mind, competent enough to differentiate between right and wrong to be held responsible for its actions.
  • It is argued that can animals be expected to understand rules laid by humans?
  • In ancient times people used to punish the animals for wrongs committed by them, but as the reasoning for rationality evolved, it is realised that punishing animals was wrong. It was also taken into account they are incapable of comprehending.
  • At present, legal safeguards are in place to penalise pet owners for causing damage due to negligent handling of their pets. It requires going further deep to understand the nature of rights that animals bear.

Laws and constitutional provisions that Protect Animals in India

  • The Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 - Section 428 and 429 of the IPC provides for punishment of all acts of cruelty such as killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless of animals.
  • Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960
  • the Wildlife Protection Act 1972
  • Article 51-A (g): It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.
  • Article 48-A poses a duty on the state to protect, safeguard and improve the forests and wildlife of the country.

Nature of Animal Rights and how to look at it?

  • The principle of equality does not necessarily require subjecting animals and humans to equal or identical treatment.
  • On the contrary, it requires equal consideration of interests. It is very important to make this distinction while talking about animal rights. It must be noted that we can only give equal consideration where we have similar interests.
  • An example of similar interests could be: All animals can suffer from pain as humans do. So, we are morally obligated to consider all of it while considering their rights.
  • If we assume that a similar quantum of pain is being felt by the animals, then the status of the animal should be one of equality.
  • Only prejudice gives us an excuse to deny others the rights that we expect or reserves for ourselves.

Animal Rights and Personhood:

  • Legal personhood is the capacity to possess at least one right, and in the eyes of the judiciary, the one who possesses at least one legal right is a legal person.

Animal rights pyramid

  • Animal personhood is meant to fill the void in the workings of animal rights. The point of conferring legal personhood on animals is to protect them from humans.
Additional Information: The High Court of Punjab and Haryana is the second High Court in India to confer personhood to animals after the High Court of Uttarakhand. In so doing, the Court acknowledged that the concept of legal personhood has evolved with scientific discovery, evolving standards of morality, and human experiences to not only include all humans, but also nonhumans. The court has recognized all animals in the animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic species, as legal entities.

Human Interests versus Animal Interests:

  • Even if many of us don’t believe in animals having rights, still it cannot be denied that animals have certain important interests that should not be violated.
  • Then arises the conflict between the human interest in eating meat and the basic animal interest of staying alive. And it is found that human interest has not got enough weightage, because we don’t need to eat meat to stay alive.
  • Whereas the animal interest to stay alive is classified as basic, because if they cease to live the rest of other interests also get ceased. It's a clear violation of animal’s rights.

Violated Rights:

  • The moment we accept that animals have rights, then the act of raising and killing them for food is morally wrong.
  • Irrespective of how humanely the animal has been treated, it will a moral wrong to raise them for killing and consumption.

Violated Interests:

  • As we have discussed that even the most humane of the rearing practice cannot violate the most basic of animals- of staying alive.
  • Modern agricultural practices often leave animal interest unattended. For example: to eat a natural diet; to live in its habitat; to remain free from pain and fear, etc.

Arguments against eating Animals:

1. Rights-based argument:

  • It makes non-violation of rights as its basis. It does not give weightage to the consequences of eating animals.
  • Raising animals for consumption and using them as a mean to gratify human, that does not treat them respectfully as ends in themselves. Therefore, animal eating is wrong.
  • Those who respect rights and accept the same for animals should be vegetarian.

2. Consequentialist Argument:

  • It is based on the outcomes of action and only concerned with the consequence of eating animals. An action can be good or bad depending on the outcome only.
  • Raising and killing animal is cruel and will result in goodness in the world.
  • If everyone is vegetarian, then there will be no demand for meat. If the demand ceases to exist then the total goodness of the world will be higher.

3. Virtue Argument:

  • It considers the motivation and character of a person as an important factor to decide if the act is good or bad.
  • Virtuous people exhibit virtues as they have traits like kindness; generosity; and compassion.
  • People who participate in animal cruelty, and behave selfishly are far from being virtuous people.


The dichotomy of right or wrong view of meat is unproductive, the black and white strategy hasn’t gotten many people to become a vegetarian. It is crucial to advance the research on plant-based and cellular meat, as it has unrealised prospects to reduce the suffering of animals.

No rights can be absolute. Like human rights, overseeing animal rights is a must. Finding a middle ground between the interests of animals and the safety or well-being of humans is important.  Animal abuse has to stop.The intellectual superiority of humankind cannot be the criteria to supersede the living rights of another species. The co-existence of all life forms is essential to prevent an imbalance in our ecosystem.


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