I’m a vegan, and someone recently asked me whether I ate honey, and if not, why not. I wasn’t sure what to say, because I don’t eat honey, but I’m not sure I have good reason not to.
I take myself to have good reason not to eat fish, mammals, and birds or related animal products on the following grounds:
(1) These animals are sentient, i.e., they can have positive or negative affective responses to stimuli.
(2) Ceteris paribus, I prefer states of affairs in which sentient creatures don’t suffer (that’s them negative affective responses I was talkin’ about).
(3) Animal agriculture, including the production of eggs and dairy products, causes a great deal of suffering.
(4) I don’t think that the fact that I used to enjoy eating animal products gets me past the ceteris paribus in (2).
Therefore, I eat other things now (plants and salt, mostly).
In the case of honey, I’m not sure I have the same kind of reason, because I don’t know whether bees and other insects are sentient. They don’t have brains, but they have rudimentary nervous systems and seem to respond aversively to certain harmful stimuli, etc., but it’s tough to say. I currently give them the benefit of the doubt, but if I liked honey more, I might not.
So there you have it; “Peter Singer for one,” you might say. Unlike Singer, I don’t think that everyone has a duty or reason to maximize utility, so I don’t assume that everyone has the same reasons I have for eschewing animal products.
That said, I’m curious to know why others don’t take themselves to have similar reasons to mine. It seems to me that most people would agree, on reflection, that they don’t like the idea of animal suffering and would prefer that it weren’t so prevalent. I doubt most people think that their current gustatory practices provide them with irreplaceable benefits. So what gives?
One possible response would be to reject the desire/liking/pro-attitude-based model of reasons implicit in the above, and I guess that’s probably too big a topic to tackle in a thread that’s ostensibly about honey.
But if you’re on board with a compatible theory of reasons, you might say either (A) that the considerations I’ve presented above don’t actually constitute good reason — not even a “single-serving” good reason, just for me — not to eat animal products, or (B) that I have reason to be a vegan but that you don’t because of some relevant difference in your psychology and/or other parts of the world, e.g., you don’t believe that animals are sentient, you don’t mind when animals suffer, you think that farmers are nice to their little animal buddies, and/or you really, really like eating animals.
There’s also (C) I’m already a veg(etari)an, but my reason is much better than yours, (D) Shit, you’re right, I do have a reason!, and (E) all the considerations you cite apply to me, but some consideration you’ve neglected outweighs them.
What do you think? (Yeah, you guessed it, this isn’t really so much about honey …)