The wolf and the lamb

I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it. — M.K. Gandhi, The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism

I was intro­duced to the prin­ci­ple of non-vio­lence by the books of Gand­hi and Tol­stoy. These authors made it clear that liv­ing non-vio­lent­ly meant that they did not eat meat. After I had been veg­e­tar­i­an for a few years, I began to feel like a hyp­ocrite because I still ate the prod­ucts of the ani­mals who spend their life locked-up. That’s when I became vegan.

In this post I want to go back to that first prin­ci­ple of non-vio­lence. Gand­hi used the word ahim­sa, which means not to injure (him­sa):

A votary of ahim­sa there­fore remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is com­pas­sion, if he shuns to the best of his abil­i­ty the destruc­tion of the tini­est crea­ture, tries to save it, and thus inces­sant­ly strives to be free from the dead­ly coil of him­sa. He will be con­stant­ly grow­ing in self-restraint and com­pas­sion, but he can nev­er become entire­ly free from out­ward himsa.


So far about the moral­i­ty of human-ani­mal rela­tion­ships. But today I also want to look at a ques­tion that was asked below my post Pre­cious life: What are the rules between ani­mals? As humans we can dream about a non-vio­lent world, but that will always be lim­it­ed to our own food chain. Every­where in nature, vio­lence is com­mon­place (see The Self­less Gene). For many peo­ple this is prob­a­bly not a prob­lem, but I find it hard to rec­on­cile this real­i­ty with my ideals.

David Pearce, a British sci­en­tist, has the same prob­lem. He there­fore pro­posed to put an end to pre­da­tion by either mak­ing preda­tors go extinct or genet­i­cal­ly “repro­gram­ming” them. He did this in the arti­cle Repro­gram­ming Preda­tors. Pearce belongs to the school of tran­shu­man­ism, a phi­los­o­phy that wants to use tech­nol­o­gy to ele­vate mankind above the restric­tions of nature. We have to read his bizarre idea with­in this phi­los­o­phy. It assumes that “On almost every future sce­nario, we’re des­tined to “play God“ ‘. In such a sce­nario, all nature in the world will be com­pa­ra­ble to a small nature reserve, where doing noth­ing in response to suf­fer­ing is also a choice.

LionnessFloris van den Berg calls pre­da­tion “per­haps the most dif­fi­cult issue in ani­mal ethics”. He cites a num­ber of rea­sons why ani­mals do not have to adhere to the moral rule not to kill. The most impor­tant is that car­ni­vores need meat for sur­vival. That’s why there is no cat food with­out meat as an ingre­di­ent. Preda­tors are also part of ecosys­tems that rely on them.

Many philoso­phers say that ani­mals are moral patients, but not moral agents. Ani­mals do not act from a choice between good and evil. But that does not mean that we should remain indif­fer­ent to the suf­fer­ing caused by them. Van den Berg agrees with Pearce to the extent that he will not stand by if he can inter­vene in a situation.

But I think the way in which Pearce wants to inter­vene is dan­ger­ous. His idea is too sim­i­lar to his­tor­i­cal errors like the attempts to ‘repro­gram’ homo­sex­u­al peo­ple. I do not believe in the future sce­nario of the tran­shu­man­ists and I think that as human­i­ty we should prac­tice humil­i­ty. Let’s change the world by start­ing with our­selves. The wolf and the lamb can always fol­low our good example.


  • M.K. Gand­hi, An auto­bi­og­ra­phy: The sto­ry of my exper­i­ments with truth
  • Floris van den Berg, De vrolijke veganist
  • Pic­ture of lion­ness: Hanay