Vegetarianism is a practice that can be motivated by the law – defined as the “set of rules that govern the conduct of man in society, social relations”, in the obviously context of the law considering as necessary the rights of animals.
Vegetarianism (or the prohibition of killing/eating an animal), as a norm to be enforced by law, has existed since antiquity, with, in India, the edicts of Emperor Ashoka (v. 304 BC). J. – C. – 232 BC), in Gujarat, the laws of the king Jain Kumarrapala (1143-1172), and, in Japan, the laws promulgated (in 676 AD) by Emperor Temmu for example, but also in Europe during the pre-Socratic era, with, in particular, Pythagoras and Empedocles:
“Cicero critically compares the two philosophers Pythagoras and Empedocles when he reports that in their eyes, all the living enjoying the same right, it was necessary that the same sanctions strike the homicides and those who kill animals: the men […] do not only form a community with the gods, but with the beasts […] – by virtue, says the Skeptic Sextus Empiricus, of a ‘spirit that penetrates, like a soul, the entire cosmos.'”
– Élisabeth de Fontenay, Le silence des bêtes, la philosophie à l’épreuve de l’animalité, p.66.
In passing to the philosophers of the twentieth century, there are the Italian law philosophers Martinetti, and especially Goretti. In 1926, Piero Martinetti published La psiche degli animali (The psyche of animals), in which he emphasized that animals possess intelligence and consciousness and, in general, an interior life, as is evident from “attitudes, gestures, physiognomy “; this inner life is “probably very different and far” from the inner human life, but it “also has the characteristics of consciousness and can not be reduced to a mere physiological mechanism”. In 1928 Goretti goes beyond this point of view, and asserts that animals are true “subjects of law” and that the animal has a “moral conscience” and a perception of the legal. In this way, he anticipated the questions of bioethics and ethology; despite the originality and innovative nature of Cesare Goretti’s theses, his work has been entirely neglected in the debate on animal rights and in studies of ethology.
“One can not deny to the animal, although vague, the use of the category of causality; similarly, it can not be ruled out that the animal, participating in our world, has an obscure sense of what property or obligation may be. Innumerable cases demonstrate how the dog is the guardian jealous of the property of his master, and how he participates in its use. Although unknown, this vision of the external reality must function in him as something of his own; it is only for the civilized man that it is about sophisticated structures. It is absurd to think that the animal that renders service to its master acts only according to its instinct. […] The dog feels, obscurely and meaningfully, this report for services rendered and exchanged. Of course, the animal can not understand the concept of what is the property, the obligation; it is enough for him to show outwardly to make use of these principles, which in him still function in an obscure and sensible way.”
– Cesare Goretti, L’animale quale soggetto di diritto, 1928
Today, the American philosopher Tom Regan, a professor at North Carolina State University (and president of the American Society for Value Inquiry in 1993), is famous for defending vegetarianism and animals under the law; in the first place, he draws support, to develop his theory of law, on the consideration of the mental life of animals, considered according to their degree of complexity, and comes to this assessment:
“T. Regan’s conclusion is that some animals have a mental life that is complex enough to have a proper experience of their well-being. In other words, they have a mental life that is complex enough for them to be important to them.”
– Jean-Yves Goffi, Droits des animaux et libération animale, Si les lions pouvaient parler, essais sur la condition animale, under the direction of Boris Cyrulnik.
In doing so, the consequences of this point of view lead to consider the animal as such as a rights holder:
“The beings who are the subjects of a life have an inherent value. Only the language of rights is capable of expressing the requirement not to inflict damage on them without compelling reasons. […] One is the subject of a life when one is able to manifest a mental life complex enough to be interested in his well-being […]. It follows that animals are subjects of a life and that they are rights holders, even if they do not know it.”
– Jean-Yves Goffi, op. cit ..
The obligations imposed by such a conception of law go beyond the practice of vegetarianism:
“Tom Regan considers as unjustifiable practices or institutions such as hunting, fishing, meat feeding, circuses, zoos, intensive farming. […] It includes in the same condemnation the experiment on the animal from a medical or biological perspective […]. It admits of transgression to the principle of (non) harm only in carefully defined cases of self-defense … Being the subject of a life […] is enough to confer rights and to justify the protection of the person. the owner of these rights, even before anything has been said about what makes life worth living. The public power must impartially protect these rights, independently of any conception of good and evil.”
– Jean-Yves Goffi, op. cit ..
This point of view is shared (but expanded to include all sentient sentient beings and not only animals with complex cognitive abilities) by New Jersey State University law professor Gary Francione, who writes:
“The animal rights position maintains that all sentient beings, humans or nonhuman, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others. Our recognition of the one basic right means that we must abolish, and not merely regulate, institutionalized animal exploitation — because it assumes that animals are the property of humans. Just as we reject racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia, we reject speciesism. The species of a sentient being is no more reason to deny the protection of this basic right than race, sex, age, or sexual orientation is a reason to deny membership in the human moral community to other humans. We recognize that we will not abolish overnight the property status of nonhumans, but we will support only those campaigns and positions that explicitly promote the abolitionist agenda. We will not support positions that call for supposedly “improved” regulation of animal exploitation. We reject any campaign that promotes sexism, racism, homophobia or other forms of discrimination against humans. We recognize that the most important step that any of us can take toward abolition is to adopt the vegan lifestyle and to educate others about veganism. Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to one’s personal life and the consumption of any meat, fowl, fish, or diary product, or the wearing or use of animal products, is inconsistent with the abolitionist perspective. We recognize the principle of nonviolence as the guiding principle of the animal rights movement.”
This relation to the law is therefore intended to be a conception of justice concerning human or non-human beings for the benefit of all; thus, in the introduction to Vegetarianism, a way of life, by Dudley Giehl, Isaac Bashevis Singer writes:
“as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is ouly one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la Hitler and concentration camps a la Stalin . . . all such deeds are done in the name of ‘social justice’. There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.”
According to the jurist and philosopher Valéry Giroux the coherence of law and morality requires the extension of fundamental rights to all sentient beings. The fundamental rights in question are: the right not to be tortured, the right not to be killed and the right not to be enslaved or exploited.
These rights are based on the specific interests they protect. Respectively, they are based on the interest in not suffering, the interest in living and the interest in being free.
In Britain, on November 15, 2017, a law is passed that defeats the animals of most of their rights and especially the recognition of their ability to feel pain. This law will be effective at the time of the official exit of the country from the European Union.