In recent years, two important but unrelated events have occurred in ethics. One is the return of moral philosophers to an interest in virtue ethics.

In recent years, two important but unrelated events have occurred in ethics. One is the return of moral philosophers to an interest in virtue ethics.1 The other is the interest in ethical veganism. I think that a virtuous approach to morality can be used in support of ethical veganism. One wonders why virtue ethicists seldom have contemplated this prospect. Apart from the already difficult task of articulating virtue ethics, it is also difficult to defend ethical veganism in a way that is satisfactory.

Some proponents of veganism suggest that we categorically abolish animal exploitation; they argue that using animals or insects as a source of food, clothing, and more, is immoral; and even that we should reject all products that have been experimented on animals—unconditionally. This position, which I call absolute veganism, faces the difficulty of justifying such a totalizing claim in the face, for example, of those who live in parts of the world where scarcity of plant food or other unfavorable factors leaves them with no other choice but to use animals to survive.

Furthermore, avoiding products obtained from animals or that have been experimented on animals is nearly impossible as almost everything has, including soya beans, even water. In addition, the very People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) state, ‘‘we would not oppose eating eggs from chickens treated as companions if the birds receive excellent care and are not purchased from hatcheries.’’2 The latter, however, may seem to demand too little.

Many vegans (including myself) would not eat eggs—even from chickens treated as companions. Another challenging aspect of ethical veganism is that the typical arguments offered in support of veganism do not seem adequate to justify becoming or staying vegans. For example, writes, ‘‘Veganism is the practice of minimizing harm to all animals, which requires abstention from animal products,
such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, lanolin, wool, fur, silk, suede and leather.

’’3 But we should not  become ethical vegans only because it may minimize harm, and I worry that ‘‘requiring abstention’’ from animal products may be the wrong moral attitude. The approaches to ethical veganism that I described, are vaguely based on flawed utilitarian or deontic concepts suggesting that, as a rule, we abstain from using animals or, as a utilitarian principle, we do what minimizes undesirable consequences. My argument is based on virtue.

I argue that a more conducive defense of ethical veganism is to consider it an expression of virtuous character, upon reflection and observation of the lives of animals and their objective moral characteristics. I believe that conducting a virtuous life may entail practicing veganism, not as an abstention or an attempt to maximize utility, but rather as an expression of good moral character, of what Aristotle calls ‘‘greatness of the soul’’.