Animal rights groups are always trying to pursue others to go vegan.

One argument goes like this:

Animals want to live, and they have the right to live, thus we should not harm animals as that will make them suffer -------[1]

One issue I see concerning [1] is that the same argument can be used by those who want to continue to eat meat, fish etc (or want to avoid eating plant-based foods):

Plants want to live, and they have the right to live, thus we should not harm plants as that will make them suffer ----------[1.1]

People who advance this argument may position themselves as plant lovers, but not necessarily so.

The above logic [1] can be generalized as:

X wants to live, and X have the right to live, thus we should not harm X as that will make X suffer -------------[*]

By regressing all the way down the food-chain, people may end up taking positions as

microbe lovers" to conclude that "human should not eat at all"--------------[#]


  1. Is the infinite regress I outlined above logical?
  2. If 1 is false,what is my error in the reasoning?
  3. If 1 is true, then what kind of X can arrest the infinite regress in [1] so that people are unable to rebutt by using [1], or ending up with unrealistic conclusions such as [#]?
  • 1
    An infinite regress is where the validity of one proposition (A) depends on the validity of another (B), and the validity of B depends on C, infinitely down the line. This isn't an infinite regress. It isn't even infinite. The argument is based on many unsupported premises relating to free will, consciousness, animacy, being alive, having a nervous system, and existing, and their relationship to rights (right to ___ needs to be justified as well).
    – user6726
    Jun 12, 2015 at 15:49
  • Translation of a quote seen on a graveyard: "Now we eat them [the animals], then the worms will eat us." -- So there is some justice, perhaps ...
    – Drux
    Jun 14, 2015 at 15:27
  • I have often had similar thoughts (though it is really a slippery slope, not an infinite regress), until I realized that we can't kill microbes and other small unicellular creatures by eating them. That leaves us only with plants and animals. As for plant and animal lovers, research the Jains, who go to incredible extremes.
    – Cicero
    Jun 14, 2015 at 18:55
  • There are Breatharians, who survive only on air. Meditators can reach a state where they temporarily stop breathing.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 13, 2022 at 1:20

4 Answers 4


Obviously this is not a reduction to infinite regress, it is a "slippery slope" fallacy.

Theoretically the proponent of the original argument would fully accept eating an animal that had lived out a full life in relative natural comfort, but sees that animals are not farmed that way, and considers the way they are farmed to involve torture of some sort. Killing them too early, keeping them too constrained, etc.

There are people who go that far with plants, for instance the Jain. Since the plants entire goal in life seems to be to grow up and spread seeds, thwarting that may constitute 'torture' of a plant. But they will still eat what falls naturally from a plant if it does not prevent the plant from reproducing. (They will eat the fruit, as long as they seeds get fertilized, and they will consume the vegetation of annual species, but they will not harvest it alive.)

There is no one who has a notion of what it means to torture bacteria. So there is no parallelism here.

  • People have been consuming yeast for a long time.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 13, 2022 at 1:22

To believe that "all animals, which want to live, have the right to live", is not the same as believing "For all X, if X wants to live, it has the right to live".

The reason why there doesn't need to be a generalization is that animals have characteristics, e.g. an ability to feel pain, or other aspects of sentience, that plant do not (necessarily) share, even if you accept that "plants want to live" in some sense. More generally all you need is some feature that animals have, and plants et al. don't and claim that that feature is relevant for determining whether that class of living entities "has a right to live".

  • I could say that plants have a right to live, in the sense of the species rather than individuals. Since animals farmed for meat are not exterminated (which would be a poor business practice) you could say that is why people allow eating animals. They don't plan to eat all of them... If feeling pain is the issue, we could make their life and death painless, but some would still say it is wrong.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 13, 2022 at 1:29

You cannot use the argument to extend to things which are incapable of suffering. So if the capacity to suffer is interpreted as the capacity to feel pain, then the argument cannot be applied to plants, microbes, and the like, since they cannot feel pain.


In my own experience, it is impossible to make any statement or construct an argument that cannot be refuted. In other words, someone can always refute any statement or argument that you make, either logically or otherwise. And therefore, the infinite-regress problem cannot be solved by arguments and appeals to reason.

  • 1
    You should check out some of the highly-voted posts on Meta, especially this one. Instead of citing yourself and your own experience, better to cite someone else, and why they said to construct an argument is impossible. (Is it because ultimately everything relies on axioms? Because logic itself isn't reliable?) Sep 30, 2015 at 20:20
  • @JamesKingsbery - Yup, read this link. Thanxaton. Will try to bear this in mind. Sep 30, 2015 at 21:09

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