Vegetarianism and The Golden Rule
Vegetarianism is an important concept philosophers should practice. There is a contradiction when one calls himself a religious or spiritual person yet eats animal flesh. It’s like being a nutritionist and smoking. If a philosopher doesn’t practice love and compassion to all of God’s, or natures, or evolution’s creatures, then he is preaching a misleading philosophy.
For one, eating animal products clearly violates The Golden Rule. It was John Locke who enforced the meaning of The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule has appeared in virtually every religious doctrine, including the Bible, the Qur’an, the writings of Buddha, and the Kalpa Sutra (Jainism). The key element of The Golden Rule is to treat others with compassion. Yet, many humans do not live by The Golden Rule. It is common sense that humans do not want to be eaten, yet we look the other way when eating other animals.
Eating meat has become so normal and ritualistic in human nature, that humans have completely desensitized themselves to the act of eating animal flesh. The Golden Rule clearly states to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It does not say “do unto other humans.” There is no indication that The Golden Rule only applies to human animals, so therefore, we must apply it to all sentient beings. In Jainism’s Kalpa Sutra, The Golden Rule even elaborates further in order to fix room for error: “One should wander about all creatures as he himself would be treated.” Pythagoras, who lived centuries before Locke, had the right idea in mind.
Pythagoras was one of the first known vegetarian philosophers. Pythagoras believed in a form of reincarnation; that after death, the soul migrates into other bodies, including animals. Because of this, Pythagoras and his followers believed eating meat was a form both murder and cannibalism, and dedicated their lives to a vegetarian diet (Melchart 16). According to Philosophical Conversations, Xenophanes states that Pythagoras witnessed a crying puppy being beaten and spoke the words “Do not beat it; I recognize the voice of a friend.”
Philosopher and novelist Leo Tolstoy once said “man can live and be healthy without eating animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” Tolstoy has a point. Even if Humans did believe that non-human animals are inferior to them, it’s not necessary to eat them. Not only can man live healthy without eating meat, they can actually live healthier. So, essentially, we are killing animals when it’s not vital for human survival.
Aristotle tells us that “all men our rational animals.” Although many sources claim he was a vegetarian, his views still lie on a logical contradiction. For one, Aristotle claims that animals and plants exist for human use. This claim does not make sense considering plants and animals both habituated the Earth long before the advent of humanity. Aristotle’s view was much different than Pythagoras, who lived centuries before, and said “we should approach every animal without aversion, knowing that in all them there is something natural and beautiful.”
Aristotle’s claim that non-human animals are inferior to humans because of their inability to rationalize rests on a sound argument. For example, pigs are one of the most intelligent animals, right behind apes and dolphins. Humans are obviously the most intelligent. According to the Aristotelian view, apes are more important than pigs, and pigs are more important than cats. Yet, humans in the western civilization eat pigs and have cats as pets.
What would Aristotle say about mentally disabled humans who cannot rationalize? What about humans in permanent comatose states? Not only can the comatose not rationalize, they cannot speak nor move. Therefore, according to Aristotle, they are inferior to other humans who have the ability to rationalize. If that is the case, should we eat the comatose? The mentally handicapped? Alas, rating people on a scale of superiority according to the ability to rationalize is absurd.
Most philosophers support peace and non-violence. Immanuel Kant proposed the perceptual peace theory. The perceptual peace theory refers to a nation in which peace is distributed permanently. Many philosophers and thinkers, however, believe a peaceful nation cannot happen without the foundation of a vegetarian diet. According to animalfreedom.org, Kant believed that those who cause suffering to an animal are likely to cause suffering to other human beings as well. Several philosophers agree with Kant’s determination. Albert Einstein is once quoted saying “Our task must be to free ourselves . . . by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet,” and once again Pythagoras, who notes “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.”
Mahatma Gandhi, one of my favorite philosophers and activists of all time, and arguably one of the most influential, also concurs with Kant’s stance by saying “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” So, is it possible to have a peaceful nation without a universal vegetarian diet? Many philosophers will say no. But, of course, human civilization will never find out, because we would rather have the gluttonous taste of flesh than world peace.
These old men were wise; maybe it’s time their children started listening.