Jordi Casamitjana, the vegan who helped to make ethical veganism a protected class in Great Britain, discusses which are the five core principles of the philosophy of veganism

I already knew it was.

Before I started to build my legal case which, after two years of litigation, ended up with an Employment Judge in the city of Norwich, in the east of England, ruling in 2020 that ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, I already knew that it was. I knew it was not just a fashion among the trendy teenagers; I knew it was not just a diet for the health-aware joggers; I knew it was not just a lifestyle for the conscientious citizens; I knew it was not just a social movement for the progressive revolutionaries. I knew that, in addition to all these, it was first and foremost a fully fletched philosophy for everyone, and those who hold it and take it seriously would have very strong beliefs about it which would act as ethical imperatives in their lives. I knew all that because I had been an ethical vegan for almost 20 years then, and I held veganism as the main philosophy that guided my behaviour and attitude.

What I did not know is that the law in the UK has a very specific term for those strong beliefs that are not of a religious nature. It calls them “philosophical beliefs”, and at least in the UK, those who firmly and sincerely hold some of them (and a judge would decide which ones, following very specific criteria) are protected from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation like those who hold religious beliefs. So, when I discovered that this is what the Equality Act call the type of beliefs I had, I knew I would win my legal case because I had plenty of evidence to support my claim that my former employer had discriminated against me, had harassed me, and had victimised me for being the ethical vegan I was.

However, during the campaign to raise funds for my case (I had to crowdfund for it as I could not afford my lawyers) I found myself trying to defend veganism as a philosophical belief not only from my litigation opponents (who, by the way, after I presented over 1,200 pages of evidence, finally accepted it was)  but from fellow vegans who said things like “veganism is not a belief, it’s a fact!”

You see, many of these confused the noun “belief” (which means a conviction, to be certain about something) with the verb “to believe” (which normally means to have an opinion on something or loosely accept it is true without the need of proof). When my case become public, many fast-typing journalists, looking for sensationalism, tried to corrupt my story by claiming I was trying to get veganism to be recognised as a religion, so these argumentative vegans, after reading these articles, assumed that “philosophical belief” meant a type of “religious belief” that leads to faith, rather than to evidence-based reasoning. Therefore, what they were trying to say is that veganism is not a faith-based religion like a cult or something like that — which I agree and I have written about it — but they misunderstood what philosophical belief in the context of the Equality Act means (essentially, a non-religious conviction).  

Ethical veganism (which is another way to say “true veganism” as ethical vegans are the ones who follow the official definition of veganism to the full, not just one aspect of it — such as the diet) is indeed a philosophical belief, and as such it involves a series of non-religious convictions regarding a particular philosophical world view based on ethics, all held together in a cogent manner and formalised by many thinkers through decades of history. 

However, if you are an ethical vegan and I would ask you to list the most important non-religious convictions associated with veganism (in other words, the most important principles of this philosophy) would you know which ones would they be? Perhaps different vegans may come up with a different list, but if veganism is the coherent philosophy it claims to be, most vegans should come up with the same core principles, even if, afterwards, each could generate a variety of secondary principles, which may be only applicable to particular types of veganism (as there are several types of vegans). I believe that there are five core principles of veganism that all vegans hold as firm convictions — or at least they should if they had the opportunity to learn about what veganism means.  

In this article, I will describe what I believe are these five core principles of veganism applicable to all true vegans, which would be better called “axioms” from a philosophical point of view. 

What is an Axiom?

Socrates, ancient greek philosopher by Anastasios71 via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1027476298)

An axiom (also called self-evident truth, postulate, maxim, or presupposition) is a statement that is accepted as true without the need for proof. In philosophy, axioms are often used as the starting points or foundations of arguments or theories. The word comes from the Middle French axiome, which in turn comes from Latin axiōma (fundamental proposition), which in turn comes from the Greek axíōma, which means  “honour, honoured status, prestige, that which is reasonable (though not demonstrated to be true), self-evident principle.”

Different philosophical schools may have different sets of axioms that they use to support their views. For example, rationalists may use axioms such as “Nothing can be and not be at the same time” (Aristotle, 350 BCE), or “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes, 1637) to justify their beliefs. Empiricists may use axioms such as “All knowledge comes from experience” (Locke, 1690) or “The simplest explanation is the most likely one” (Occam, 1320) to guide their reasoning. Part of the philosophical debate is to challenge or question the validity of certain axioms or try to derive them from more fundamental principles.

Axioms are not necessarily true in an absolute sense, but rather relative to a specific context or framework (they may be true for the people of particular groups, or within the rules of particular systems, but not necessarily outside them). For example, in mathematics, an axiom is a basic assumption that defines a system of logic or geometry. In religion, it may be an article of faith (for instance, in Christianity, there are the axioms of “God exist” or “Jesus Christ was the Son of God”, or in Islam that “the Holy Qur’an is the Word of God”). In a democracy, an axiom could be “all valid votes count” or “elections must be fair.” In the game of chess, an axiom could be “the queen can move in any direction in a straight line on the chess board, but it cannot jump above other pieces.” If anyone working on a mathematical problem, following a particular religion, participating in a democratic election, or playing chess as in the examples shown above, does not believe that the axioms I mentioned in each case are true, problems would inevitably ensue. However, none of these axioms must be believed to be true outside the systems and communities I mentioned and insisting that they are absolutely true is what often will lead to trouble (the term “axiomatic”, meaning self-evident or unquestionable, is often used in this context).

Axioms are not normally proven within the system but rather accepted as given. However, they can be tested or verified by comparing them with empirical observations or logical deductions. Some axioms may have been proven empirically and are now believed by the majority of people (who may call them “facts”), so they may be regarded as universal truths — but they are still axioms as the number of people who believe they are true is irrelevant to the definition of axiom. Time may play a role regarding when an axiom has become such “truth” (for instance, the axiom that the Earth is roughly a sphere was by no means universal before the Middle Ages, but thankfully, it is now —well, almost).

In other words, axioms are statements that are assumed true within a group or system. So, which are the more important axioms within veganism, and therefore which are the most important statements all vegans assume are true?  

One way to look at this is to see if we can detect such axioms in the official definition of veganism of the Vegan Society, which created the word “vegan” in 1944, but not until 1988 finalised the following definition:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

The Axiom of Ahimsa 

Statue of lord Mahavira by Harshit Srivastava S3 via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1683249124)

The most important axiom of veganism, which I think is at the very core of the philosophy and precedes in time and importance all other axioms, is what I call “the axiom of ahimsa”, as this is an ancient Sanskrit word that means “do no harm” (or sometimes is translated as the principle of “nonviolence”). This concept is not only crucial for veganism but it has also become a very important tenet of many dharmic religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and especially Jainism) for millennia. This is the form I think this axiom could take: 

VEGANISM’S FIRST AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF AHIMSA 

“Trying not to harm anyone is the moral baseline”

In other words, ahimsa, doing no harm (or wishing to “do no harm”, to be more precise), applied not only to humans but to everyone else who can be harmed (such as the rest of animals) is the minimum we all can do to be considered moral people. This shows us that the philosophy of veganism is, essentially, a philosophy of ethics, as ethics are the moral principles that govern people’s behaviour, and this axiom establishes the most basic moral conduct all vegans must undertake at all times (try not to harm anyone).

This axiom is not explicitly expressed in the official definition of veganism, but it is implicit in it as it is the “why” underpinning its meaning. The reason for “seeking to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals” in the definition is that not doing so will harm them. It makes some other assumptions that will be covered in other axioms (such as animals suffer and exploitation harms), but once applied, this sentence could be written as “seeking not to harm those who can be harmed”, and as ahimsa is the wish to no harm, it can be further simplified as simply “apply ahimsa in all situations” (the word “exclude” directs us to “all situations”, but the definition doubles down on this later on by saying “used for food, clothing or any other purpose”). 

The term “trying” in the axiom reflects the “seeking to exclude” and the “as far as possible and practicable” terms in the definition, as in a carnist world, and considering how even vegan food is produced, is almost impossible not to contribute to some harm — but as long as one genuinely tries as much as one can, within one’s possibilities and practicability, one can aim to be a “perfect vegan” from a philosophical point of view.   

This axiom appears more clearly in other more simplified definitions of veganism, such as the one the renowned American Professor Gary Francione has used, which is “veganism is the moral baseline” — as he presented at the World Vegan Summit II in Berkley, California, in 2016. 

However, I believe that ahimsa could be applied in different scopes — and I choose to apply it in the widest possible scope. It could be applied to oneself (not harming your body), to your friends and family (not harming your “tribe”), to all human beings (not harming people), to all sentient beings (not harming animals), to all living beings (not harming life), or to all natural entities (not harming the environment). Not all vegans use it with the same scope, though. Some new health pre-vegans may only use it with the minimum scope, and some eco-ethical-frutarians with the maximum scope, but I think the minimum scope all ethical vegans used (and therefore all true vegans) is the “sentient being” scope. Why do I think this? Because the official definition specifically mentions animals (which are the sentient beings on this planet, and which include humans), rather than just humans. Animals are the focus of the entire definition, which tells us the minimum scope we should apply ahimsa, but it does not tell us the maximum scope, so as long as we include all animals, we can continue expanding ahimsa as much as we like (and this is why I added the “moral baseline” in the axiom as this shows that is the “minimum” moral position, not the average or even the maximum). 

Another way to look at this axiom is by viewing the application of ahimsa to all sentient beings as what characterises veganism and sets it apart from most ahimsa-based philosophies and religions (not from all, as the Jain religion also applies ahimsa to all sentient beings, and so does the philosophy of Sentientism). Based on this axiom alone, it could be said that veganism is the secular manifestation of ahimsa applied to all sentient beings. 

This axiom explains why the magazine of the American Vegan Society was titled “Ahimsa” from 1960–2000, and why ethical vegans are peaceful people who, if involved in direct action activism, it is always non-violent — or should be.

The Axiom of Animal Sentience

Insect closeup By pitaksin via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 698811769)

I have been using the terms “sentient being” and “animal” almost as synonymous, but they are not quite the same concept. There could be sentient beings who are not animals (such as from another planet, a type of Artificial General Intelligence created by humans, or, perhaps in the distant future, some plants or fungi may evolve towards sentient forms — none of this has been detected yet), and there could be animals who are not sentient (the sea sponges are proto-animals that have not developed a nervous system yet to be sentient). Therefore, veganism has an axiom that deals with this issue as people could have different views about who is sentient or not. This is the form I think this axiom could take: 

VEGANISM’S SECOND AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF ANIMAL SENTIENCE 

“All members of the Animal Kingdom should be considered sentient beings”

The Animal Kingdom is a scientific term that includes all vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and the six classes of what people call “fishes”) and many invertebrates (insects, arachnids, molluscs, myriapods, annelids, echinoderms, cnidarians, etc.). As mammals, we humans are included, but plants, fungi, algae, bacteria, and other microorganisms are not.    

Note that I used “should be considered” because from a practical point of view, all true vegans consider that all animals are sentient, including those whom they never heard of, and including any that humanity has yet to “discover”. As over 99% of the species of the Animal Kingdom discovered so far are composed of sentient beings (which means that they have the capacity to have positive and negative experiences by processing information with their nervous systems — obtained from their senses perceiving their environment — and they can act accordingly by moving their bodies) except for the aforementioned sea sponges, ethical vegans “assume” that either all the undiscovered species also are sentient, or if they are not, they should be treated as if they are — just in case. This means that the “should be considered” allow us to consider sea sponges as sentient as far as how we should behave in their presence is concerned, even if we are pretty sure they are not (therefore, ethical vegans do not use sea sponges either). This axiom is a perfect example to show axioms are statements of belief, rather than of objective truth, as vegans would believe it even if they are not zoologists or psychologists with expertise in assessing sentience, and would believe it even for animals they never heard of or are yet to be “discovered” by science.  

However, if we look at the official definition of veganism, the term “animal” is used instead of “member of the Animal Kingdom”. All members of the Animal Kingdom are animals, but are all animals members of such a kingdom? Strictly speaking, they are, but different types of vegans may have a more nuanced interpretation of the concept of “animal”. I have written an article about “The Meaning of ‘Animal’ in Veganism”, in which I speculate that although animal rights vegans interpret the term animal as members of the Animal Kingdom, other types of vegans may have a wider interpretation. For eco-vegans it may be extended to any living or natural entity, for spiritual vegans it may be extended to any “being” of any sort, and for social justice vegans it may be extended to “the other” (anyone not belonging to the dominant supremacist group). In any case, “members of the Animal Kingdom” are included in all interpretations, because this axiom states that all are sentient beings, so they all can be harmed. 

By merging axioms one and two we can have the statements, “Trying not to harm any animal is the moral baseline”, or “no member of the Animal Kingdom should be harmed because they all should be considered sentient beings”, which I believed all ethical vegans would agree with — and yes, this also include oysters and mussels, whose sentience I have written about.

This axiom explains why vegans don’t consume honey, as they care as much about bees as they do about cows, and they do not even consume red food that was coloured by carmine, a pigment that is made by boiling and grinding up cochineal beetles.

The Axiom of Anti-Exploitation

Chinese farmer works in a rice field By Hung Chung Chih via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 84473548)

Axioms one and two tell us what we should not do to animals (harming them) but do not tell us what constitutes harm. It may be obvious to anyone that killing, injuring, or directly hurting an animal is “harm” (we can lump all these under the term “cruelty to animals” if such harm could have been prevented and was not done for the animal’s wellbeing — as in the case of veterinary treatment), but are there other more subtle forms of harm that are less obvious? Yes, they are, and to deal with them veganism created the third axion. This is the form I think it could take: 

VEGANISM’S THIRD AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF ANTI-EXPLOITATION 

“All exploitation of sentient beings harms them”

In my book “Ethical Vegan” I explain how I interpret what exploitation is:

“Animal exploitation is any use of any animal for profit, social gain, ritual, leisure, work or subsistence in which the animal is not a willing participant, or has been physically or psychologically coerced to participate. It is any human action on animals which violates their body autonomy (the right to govern what happens to their body) and their informed consent (permission given after understanding the implications of the action) if the animals are still capable of making positive choices about their lives. Exploitation carries an inherent element of unfairness, as it can also be defined as the action or fact of treating someone unfairly to benefit from their work or existence.”

This axiom is also a good example to show axioms are statements of belief, as vegans would be against the exploitation of animals even on types of exploitations they know little about it or new ones that may be developed in the future (for example, vegans have protested against the creation of the first octopus farm in the world even before it has been built). 

This axiom can be clearly seen in the official definition of veganism, which states that vegans should “seek to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” This is what would set apart vegans who not only do not eat animal products but neither use leather or wool, from vegetarians whose philosophy may only be affecting their diet. And this is probably the axiom that most non-vegans would most likely not believe in, because many would be participating, directly or indirectly, in one or various forms of animal exploitation. 

This axiom also fits well one of the shortest — but most to the point — definitions of veganism I have seen, ideal for T-shirts: “against all animal exploitation”. The famous animal rights activist Ronnie Lee often wears this T-shirt — I also have it. 

This axiom will allow us to apply the right kind of vegan gatekeeping to spot those who claim to be vegan but are not. Some people claim to be from types of vegans who allow certain forms of exploitation, such as beegans who exploit bees, veggans who exploit hens, or ostrovegans who exploit bivalves, but I do not consider them vegans because they do not believe in axiom three —I and I think most ethical vegans would agree with me.  

By merging axioms one, two, and three we can say statements such as, “Trying not to exploit any animal is the moral baseline”, or “No member of the Animal Kingdom should be exploited because this will harm them.” In his written judgement in which he  ruled ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief in Great Britain, Employment Judge Postle wrote a paragraph that perfectly captures the first three axioms: “Ethical vegans could be said to be moralistically orientated and opposed to all forms of exploitation of all animals and to embody genuine philosophical concern for all sentient life.”

This axiom explains why ethical vegans don’t wear wool, even if it can be obtained from sheeps who will not be killed, or why they don’t ride horses or visit zoos , as these are forms of exploitation. 

The Axiom of Anti-Speciesism

social exclusion concept with a pink rubber duck By Yiorgos GR via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 655152559)

You could say that axiom one to three cover the core of what veganism is, and I would not disagree. But I believe that there is a fourth core axiom that adds another form of harm vegans avoid that is not necessarily covered by the concept of exploitation. Perhaps not directly exploiting sentient beings, but treating them unfairly, without respect or proper consideration, and with negative prejudice, may still cause harm to them, and if it does not, it may harm you when you recognise that such treatment was immoral. The key concept that covers all these moral wrongdoings is “discriminating against”, and axiom four deals with it. This is the form I think this axiom could take:

VEGANISM’S FOURTH AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF ANTI-SPECIESISM 

“Not discriminating against anyone is the right ethical way”

The term “speciesism” created to describe all types of discrimination against “the other”, whoever that other may be, is very handy to summarise this axiom, which could be rephrased as “vegans should be anti-speciesists.” In 1971, Richard D. Ryder, the prominent British psychologist and member of the Oxford Group (a group of intellectuals who began to speak out against factory farming and animal research), wrote in the book “Animals, Men and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-humans” the following: “In as much as both ‘race’ and ‘species’ are vague terms used in the classification of living creatures according, largely, to physical appearance, an analogy can be made between them. Discrimination on grounds of race, although most universally condoned two centuries ago, is now widely condemned. Similarly, it may come to pass that enlightened minds may one day abhor ‘speciesism’ as much as they now detest ‘racism’.” Ryder was the one who coined the term “speciesism”, a form of discrimination based on species membership. However, although many people use it to strictly mean discriminating against because of being of a particular biological species, the way I interpret it includes any other type of discrimination, as I believe what Ryder was doing was to “expand” on the concept of “racism” beyond “race” — and therefore I do not limit that expansion and I include any infra and supra group of animals beyond species (Class, Family, Genus, Species, Sub-species, race, population, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc, etc.). 

I do think all ethical vegans believe they should be anti-speciesist (hence this is the fourth axiom), but I interpret this to mean also anti-racist, anti-misogynist, anti-homophobe, anti-islamophobe, anti-ableist, anti-transphobe, anti-colonialist, etc. Social justice vegans perhaps understand better this axiom, by realising that the idea was to “expand” the anti-discrimination approach to maximise its ethical impact. For this reason, I formulated it using the term “anyone”.  

By merging all the four top core axioms we could say, “trying not to hurt, exploit, or discriminate against any animal is the moral baseline”, or “No member of the Animal Kingdom should be exploited or discriminated against because this will harm them and they all should be treated ethically”.

This axiom explains why vegans avoid speciesist language such as using the pronoun “it” for an animal or saying “I own a pet”, instead of the veganised version “I live with a companion animal.”  

The Axiom of Vicariousness

Monks of Theravada Buddhism By Marie Shark via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 755295712)

For some time, I have considered that the four axioms mentioned above were the only ones universally believed by all types of ethical vegans, and therefore they were the core axioms, or the principal pillars, of veganism. But recently, I reconsidered. The last part of the official definition of veganism, and the history of why the Vegan Society was created in 1944 (as a splinter group from the Vegetarian Society when this failed to allow a group of vegetarians who did not consume dairy products to have a dedicated page in its magazine) made me realise that there was another one. 

The fifth axiom is also believed by all ethical vegans (and I would say, many dietary vegans as well) and has to do with not only avoiding direct harm but also indirect harm. Eating an animal someone else killed for you is as bad as killing the animal yourself, and ignoring the harm others do to other sentient beings as if that has nothing to do with you is not a morally justifiable attitude. For vegans, engaging others to exploit animals and harm them on our behalf, or consuming the products of such harm, is still harming and exploiting, so I call this the axiom of vicariousness, and I think it could take this form:

VEGANISM’S FIFTH AXIOM: THE AXIOM OF VICARIOUSNESS 

“Indirect harm to a sentient being caused by another person is still harm we must try to avoid”

The term “vicarious” means experiencing something through the activities of other people, rather than by doing something yourself. In law, vicarious liability means assigning liability to an individual or entity who did not actually cause the harm but who has a specific superior legal relationship to the person who did cause the harm. This most commonly comes into play when an employee has acted in a negligent manner for which the employer will be held responsible. I recently realise that this is precisely why we vegans do not buy and then consume animal products even if we were not the ones farming the animals, slaughtering them, or processing their flesh or secretions. If we did buy them and consume them, we would see ourselves as having a vicarious liability for the harm someone else did to them, as by being the “customers” to the “service providers” that provide to us such products, we created a specific superior moral/legal relationship with them. They do the harming because we, customers, pay them to do it for us, so we are vicariously guilty of their “sins”.  The reasons vegans do not buy animal products or use services where animals were exploited is not to reduce the “supply” by reducing the “demand” (this is a narrow-minded “capitalist” approach we often have believed) but because, otherwise, we would be complicit of the harm the exploitation cause — it’s a philosophical reason, not an economic reason.   

This may be a somehow obscure axiom most vegans may have never tried to articulate, but without it, our lifestyle would be quite different. It would be like the lifestyle of many Buddhists who interpret ahimsa very differently than the Jains and vegans do. In an attempt to find the “middle way” between the asceticism of the Jains and the extravagant life of the Brahmins, Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha), who was living around five centuries before the Common Era in the Kingdom of Magadha, interpreted the abstinence of killing other sentient beings that come from ahimsa in a very non-vicarious way. Some schools of Buddhism state that he said that you can eat meat if you did not kill the animal and the animal was not expressly killed for you. So, for such Buddhists (often from the Theravada tradition) if people give you meat they already had before they saw you coming begging for food, you can eat it. This approach is precisely what vegans do not do, so in this regard, we are much closer to Jains (who would never eat meat in any circumstance) than to some Buddhists (and I say some because there are vegan Buddhists too).   

This axiom is absent in an explicit form in the official definition of veganism, but I think it can be seen implicitly in this sentence: “In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” The “partly” concept suggests a certain level of indirectness that I believe reveals the existence of the fifth axiom in the minds of those who wrote the definition, but the concept was not fully expressed in it. I believe that the fact that the pioneers of the Vegan Society took the consumption of eggs and dairy as seriously as the consumption of meat, suggests that they did not buy the idea that the harm has been removed once you do not kill the animals but use them in other ways. I think they introduced the vicarious liability approach by stating that any indirect harm also matters, and any distance put between the person harming the animals and the consumer of a product obtained without killing the animal (such as milk or wool) does not matter either, as the harm experienced by the sentient being is what needs to be avoided. 

I think this is what made veganism a social movement because taking that thought to its logical conclusion leads us to want to stop the harm done in the first place, not only not participating in it. We feel that we are all vicariously liable for all the harm caused to others, so we need to change the current world and build The Vegan World to replace it, where ahimsa will dominate all interactions. Donald Watson, one of the most well-known founders of this new vegan social movement in 1944, said that veganism was about ”opposing the exploitation of sentient life” (opposing it, not just avoiding it or excluding it), and this movement was “the greatest cause on Earth.” Therefore, when the fifth axiom joined the other four, veganism as the revolutionary transformative socio-political movement we know today was born. 

This axiom explains why vegans do not buy products that have been tested on animals even if there are no animal ingredients in them, and why many vegans are animal rights activists campaigning for the abolition of many activities involving non-human animals (such as the use of any non-human animal in circuses, bullfighting, hunting, or the use of non-human animals in advertising). 

Know Your Axioms and You Could Build Anything

Child playing with lots of plastic toys By Tomsickova Tatyana via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 355574741)

There may be other axioms that all vegans believe in, but I think the five axioms I described are the “core” axioms, as they are the most important and the ones that define the “essence” of the philosophy. They could be seen as the pillars that hold it together, but because I believe their importance increases from axiom one to five, I think they can be better illustrated as a five-floor pyramid, with the axiom of ahimsa at the base. This hierarchy of axioms also reflects the “difficulty” in manifesting each axiom. For instance, pre-vegans, “embryonic vegans”, and “rooky vegans” may be able to apply the first and second axioms without difficulty but may be struggling to master the fourth and fifth. 

If these core axioms of veganism lead to the creation of an international community of vegans building the vegan world where no sentient beings will be harmed, we better learn how to build stuff well, as an entire world is the biggest and most complex thing one can attempt to build. And when you want to repair something or want to build something that works to replace something else that does not, knowing the axioms of your systems is essential. I learn this from another vegan who, being a systems engineer, knows how to build anything. 

Dr Sailesh Rao is a systems engineer from India who, after emigrating to the US and becoming part of the Intel team, worked on the internet communications infrastructure for twenty years. During this period, he led the transformation of early analogue internet connections to more robust digital connections that also ran ten times faster. But then, when discovering the current climate and ecological crises, he decided to change systems and began working on the problems of planet Earth. He became vegan and founded the non-profit Climate Healers. I had the privilege to interview him for another article, and he is the one who pointed my attention to the importance of knowing your axioms (the pillars and assumptions of your systems) if you want to change systems. He said this regarding the axioms of the current world humans civilisations have created: 

There are three pillars of the current system. The system is based on consumerism, which is what I call ‘greed is good’ rule. It’s a false axiom of consumerism, which says that the pursuit of happiness is best accomplished by stoking and satisfying a never-ending series of desires. It’s an axiom in our civilisation because you routinely see 3000 ads every day, and you think it’s normal. The second is the false axiom of supremacism, which is that life is a competitive game in which those who have gained an advantage may possess, enslave, and exploit animals, nature, and the disadvantaged, for their pursuit of happiness. This is what I call ‘the might is right’ rule. The third pillar is the false axiom of global hunger, because without global hunger you cannot get people to do some of these dirty jobs that no one would like to do — like slaughterhouse work, and people raising animals for food in the villages. They are not doing it because they want to do it, they’re doing it because they have to”.

He then explained what the new axioms of the new system would need to be if we want a vegan world: “Then I said, ‘okay, what are the correct pillars of an infinite game sustainable system?’, and it turns out they are almost the exact opposite of the pillars of the current system. It has to be based on looking for happiness within ourselves, the ‘true axiom of inner peace,’ which is that the pursuit of happiness is best accomplished by seeking it within ourselves. I call this the ‘yoga pillar’. The second pillar is ‘the true axiom of unity,’ which is that all life is one family in which we each bring our unique skills to give all we can, receive all we need, and to become all we are. This is the Vitality code rule of Dr Shelley Ostroff — a lot of my work is based on other people’s work because I’m a synthesiser. This is the ahimsa rule, which is non-violent behaviour towards others. It comes from the recognition that you’re respecting all life, that they all belong in this infinite game. The third pillar is ’the true axiom of Food Healers’, which is that healthy whole foods plant-based vegan meals have to be freely available to every human being on the planet, and that’s one of the main purposes of community, to ensure that your members are fed healthy meals — this is what you do in any family. That third pillar is the most powerful way to switch from the old model to the new model.”

You see, knowing your axioms matter because if they are the fundamental pillars of whatever you are looking into, they are the “essence” of it. If you don’t know what they are, you cannot reinforce them if you want to keep your system as it is, or replace them if you want to change it.

I want to keep the integrity of the philosophical belief I helped to protect, because otherwise it may be diluted away. And I want to build the vegan world with the pillars that make the philosophy of veganism strong. To do that, I need to know the core axioms of veganism and understand them well.

I thought I already knew which ones they were until I tried to find them and discovered new ones.

But now I do.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.