Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irrational Reactions to Veganism: Appeal to Tradition

Examples of Appeals to Tradition in Regards to Veganism

"Raising animals and eating meat is what made us human. The human race hasn't come this far eating lettuce."

"The Inuit culture has always depended on eating meat. You can't ask them to change."

"We're meat eaters. End of story."

Simple Example to Demonstrate the Fallacy

"We have always believed that the earth is flat. No fancy math or satellite image is going to convince me otherwise!"


An appeal to tradition is pretty much what is sounds like--we have done this thing for a long time, therefore it is good and right to do this thing. The same goes for held beliefs. Because something has been believed for a long time, it is held to be true without any supporting proof.

Simple Rational Reaction to the Fallacy

Past actions and beliefs should not necessarily inform current actions and beliefs. Just because we have done something or believed in something previously, it doesn't mean we should continue to do those things or believe in those things.

Examination of the Reactions

Appeals to tradition are often not presented as such and are sometimes difficult to spot. They can also be used in conjunction with other fallacies such as an appeal to nature or consequences, and it is sometimes difficult to separate out the different ideas contained in one simple sentence.

1. Raising animals and eating meat is what made us human. The human race hasn't come this far eating lettuce.

The idea here is that a past benefit should inform our current position. You will often see this in conjunction with claims that our ancestors' brain growth was spurred by meat eating, or that animal rearing was necessary for the advent of vegetable farming. We do not need to address these claims at all. Right here, right now, we do not need to treat any animals as our property and have no need to eat anything but a vegetable based diet.

2. The Inuit culture has always depended on eating meat. You can't ask them to change. 

Let us concede that any number of cultures depended and continue to depend on animal use to maintain their state. That they do or did so does not tell us what is correct. Pick any number of cultures in history that depended on human slave labor. We would not support these cultures simply because of how they traditionally functioned. A culture or lifestyle that depends on the misery of others should not be supported simply for the sake of that culture or lifestyle.

3. We're meat eaters. End of story.

This is a very basic appeal to tradition. There is no justification sought other than the fact that people have eaten animals in the past and continue to do so. Pick any societal ill to demonstrate how this is fallacious thinking.


  1. I love this exploration of logical fallacies. I find myself relying on an understanding of logic to unravel some of the predominant defenses of the indefensible. My understanding is rudimentary compared to many (Logic 101) but even still, so many arguments crumble in the face of even one operational syllogism. :)

  2. I've yet to come across an argument against veganism that didn't rely on one or more logical fallacies. Still, many folks, especially those who consider themselves most rational and able to think critically, create the most elaborate, albeit ridiculous, arguments defend their choice to participate in animal exploitation.

  3. I wonder if the appeal to tradition in such arguments actually functions partly as a veiled appeal to nature? I know the naturalistic fallacy is well...fallacious, but omnivores often couch their opposition to veganism in terms of health: evolution 'designed' us to subsist on a diet incorporating some animal products as evidenced by omnivorism's cultural ubiquity, certain human physical traits, allusions to vitamin B12, omega 3 etc. Such arguments are somewhat less baseless than other attempts to present the natural as normative, as in many instances it *is* physically healthier to try and replicate certain ancestral norms (e.g. predominantly eating fruits and vegetables rather than excessively processed junk food, getting a reasonable amount of sunshine and exercise). Obviously, these arguments do nothing to support the assertion that eating animal products is moral or environmentally friendly, but many people seem to genuinely believe that long term veganism is a recipe for ill health (I disagree, but I think such arguments are not as simplistically fallacious/as likely to be offered in bad faith as pure appeals to tradition are, and it is worthwhile to counter them with the wealth of counter-evidence available.