Teaching Children Not to Harm Others: Who Counts as “Another”?

Gary L. Francione
5 min readJun 12, 2021
Are we others or are we just things? (Photo by Christina Maiia on Unsplash)

“I take my veganism very seriously. I certainly hope that my kids will be vegans. I intended to educate them about the immorality of animal exploitation, and I hope that they will make the right choice. But I cannot impose my beliefs on them, and force them to vegan. I will support whatever choice they make.”

I hear something like this just about whenever I am in a group of vegans. It is a very common sentiment expressed by even the most thoughtful vegans. Joaquin Phoenix, who is clearly a committed vegan, expressed it in a recent interview. This view is not only commonly expressed by vegans; it is commonly accepted by vegans as a position that cannot be challenged or criticized. After all, you can no more “force” your children to be vegan than you can “force” them to believe in God or to accept your political views. All you can do is to educate kids as well as you can, hope they make the right decision, and support whatever decision they make. There is nothing more to say.

Or is there?

I would suggest that this view rests on a confusion between beliefs and actions that directly result in harming others. There is a difference between, for example, the belief as to whether God exists or whether deficit spending is a good idea or not, and, say, engaging in killing or assaulting another. With respect to actions that harm others, we do take the position that not only can we “force” our views on our children; we consider that we must do so, at least to the extent of what happens in our houses.

Whether or not a person is a vegan is more than a matter of what the person believes; it is a matter of what the person does. A person who is not a vegan is participating directly in the suffering and death of sentient nonhumans. In my view, that is simply not analogous to believing or not believing in God or deficit spending.

If your child is bullying other children, you do not take the position that you cannot “force” your child not to be a bully and that you will “support” your child in whatever decision they make. Although part of the reaction here is that your child’s bullying others may end up in a criminal prosecution of your child or a lawsuit against you for your not exercising due care to supervise your children, I think…

--

--

Gary L. Francione

Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Lincoln.