I became a vegan two years ago, mainly motivated by emotional distress at the thought of the pain and suffering that animals go through to be killed/farmed. Now I justify this decision to others for health/social reasons, because I don't know how to justify it morally. I instinctively feel that to eat an egg, whether or not the hen was free-range, or even if I just found it outside, would be inherently wrong, but I can't quite articulate why logically. I suppose if pressed I'd say that all sentient beings possess rights, or at the right not to be treated as property, and farming violates this right. Does this stand up to scrutiny?

I think it does. I'm convinced by your argument and feel guilty that I can't seem to make the step into being at least a vegetarian. I don't see any justification for killing and causing suffering to animals when it is relatively easy to find other more healthy sources of nutrition.

I can understand the concern that one might have about causing sentient beings pain--which may be a reason not to kill or slaughter animals--but it's not clear to me that one should go so far as to claim that all sentient beings have rights, or at least the right not to be treated as property--perhaps all sentient beings have a right not to be harmed, or subjected to pain, but it's not clear to me why all sentient beings have the right not to be treated as property. Hence it's not clear to me that this is indeed a good basis for the decision not to eat eggs. It seems to me that some other justification needs to be given for veganism.

I think less is more when it comes to explaining why it's wrong to use animals for food. Animals taste good, but that's too trivial a reason for imposing serious harm on them--suffering and death. (As I'm sure you know, in intensive farming laying hens suffer in many ways, and for each layer, a male chick is killed right off the bat. The layers wind up being killed when they stop producing eggs efficiently.) It really doesn't take any fancy talk about rights to see the problem--it's essentially a matter of balance. Great harms can only be justified by great goods--and the pleasure of egg-eating is not a great good.

If you were to make this argument, you might encounter a dismissive attitude that says animals don't count at all, so there's no need for balancing harms and goods. But that attitude is pretty superficial--people tend to give it up when you talk to them about their cats and dogs. No doubt they would taste good too. You might also encounter the thought that it must at least matter more how we treat people. I think you can concede that, and still make your case for veganism, as I argue in my recent book Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals (forgive the plug).

(Full disclosure: I think the case for giving up eggs is strong, but it isn't easy to do it. I have only made it as far as vegetarianism.)

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