Some animals are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat other animals to survive.
As a vegan with 2 cats, this is a subject I’ve thought a lot about.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but perhaps I can shed some light on this topic.
No Carnivores Have Moral Agency
As far as i know, no obligate carnivore is quite intelligent enough to have moral agency.
This is one of the most important differences between humans and other animals. We can empathize with others, understand how our actions affect others, and make a judgement on what we feel is morally correct.
Even though cats and other carnivores have intelligence, they do not have this capability.
A cat has no notion of right or wrong. It sees a mouse or bunny and it tries to attack them on instinct alone.
They can’t empathize and understand the pain they will cause in others.
While it’s not a settled topic, many philosophers argue that you need to understand why something is bad in order to be a bad person. If a child steals a cookie, you do not say they are a “bad” person, they just lack the understanding of why their behavior was wrong.
In the same vein, it seems unfair to say carnivores are inherently bad, because they lack the understanding of the consequences of their actions. They’re not good or bad, a cat’s just a cat, a lion is just a lion.
Should We Accept Nature?
My cute, innocent little fluff balls want to kill mice, and that’s rather conflicting as a vegan.
What I’ve found myself coming back to over and over again is one thing: nature is cruel.
These animals didn’t ask to be obligate carnivores, but killing other animals is critical to their survival.
At this point, there are basically 2 types of vegans (I’m just making these names up by the way):
- “Naturalists” – These are your more “hippie” types of vegans. They believe that it’s not a human’s place to interfere in nature, that everything is part of a balanced ecosystem.
- “Technologists” – Humans have moral agency plus the technology to shape nature. Just as we have used technology to improve lives through houses, farming, and countless other things, we can use it to reduce cruelty in nature.
I fall into the second group. I understand that nature is cruel, and I accept it. I accept that it had to be that way for life to evolve. But I also think if we have the ability to reduce suffering, we should.
I think many would agree with that viewpoint.
Where it gets even more complicated is how would we do that?
Should we force vegan diets on them? No, that would be a form of cruelty in itself.
Should we kill all obligate carnivores (cats, snakes, sharks, etc.)? No, that doesn’t seem very vegan like.
Should we neuter all (or as many as we can) carnivores and reduce their population over time? Maybe, but that seems difficult since most are wild besides house cats.
Should we put them all in controlled environments to control what they can do? (Given our track record with zoos, I don’t think many vegans would think this is a good idea).
This is where I’ll refer back to the beginning – I don’t have all the answers. None of those seem like particularly good options for a vegan to support.
In Summary: How Do Vegans Feel About Carnivores?
Vegans may not like the actions of obligate carnivores, but it’s also hard to blame them. There’s no malicious intent behind killing other animals, just a need and instinct.
If anything, you’ll find that most vegans don’t like nature itself.
Perhaps we can change it, but doing it effectively isn’t easy either.
For now at least, I think most vegans should focus on getting humans to reduce the suffering they cause, and then maybe we can shift our focus to obligate carnivores.