Applying Utilitarianism Theory to Nonhuman Animals

Written by Alaina

If you ask an omnivore to picture a vegan, he or she might say they’re envisioning a sign held amongst a group of people on a sidewalk, and while we want to do the most good in our day to day lives, the question might be how do we get there? If we believe in the golden rule, or strive to uphold utilitarianism theory, then as vegans, we must strive to do the most good for the interests of others and only then can we arrive at the greatest net satisfaction. Utilitarianism theory is a philosophical view that can easily be applied to nonhuman animal advocacy. This notion “is said to be universalist, welfarist, consequentialist, and aggregative” (Singer, 2006). Since we are striving to rid nonhuman animals of not having human rights, and counteract our active opponents by occupying areas that oppress this marginalized group, considering utilitarianism theory is our best course of action.


Circus protest in Portland

As an activist, I oftentimes come across new information that I believe is worthy to share with the vegan community. I’d like to present a new idea and model of living a utilitarian lifestyle since it is coherent with a spectrum of how to approach advocacy for nonhuman animals. This spectrum reinforces that “Communities rarely win campaigns by overpowering the opposition — you win by shifting your target’s support out from under them and growing your community of allies” (Spectrum of Allies). Now, The Real Food Challenge provided a set of guidelines, but this new idea does NOT stem from the goals of this organization. I merely am employing that we use this theory, The Spectrum of Allies, and apply it to nonhuman animal advocacy.

Consider the chart below. As we see to the far left, we have active allies. In this category, we can group together people who are nonhuman animal advocates and vegans. As we go further right, we would see passive allies. This group includes those who are vegan and are not yet activists (but might be interested in becoming one!) Continuing to the right of the spectrum, there is the neutral zone (those who are not sure if they want to become vegan or do not know about it yet), to passive opponents that disagree with active allies yet do nothing about it. At the very end of the spectrum are active opponents. When I think about this category, I picture those that work in the animal agriculture industry, an owner of fur store, people actively contradicting posts about veganism online, and so on.

The Spectrum of Allies


Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich have written a guidebook to help nonhuman animal advocates. In the book The Animal Activists Handbook: Maximizing Our Positive Impact in Today’s World, Ball and Friedrich discuss the golden rule and have reminded us that today “Most ethical systems have become a list of do’s and (more often) don’ts” (Bruce and Friedrich, 2009). Ball and Friedrich also point out “From a rational and universal starting point, we can choose to author our life’s story, rather than following the narrative set for us by our genes and our culture (Bruce and Friedrich, 2009). Gaining rights for nonhuman animals focuses on social justice movements similar to what we have achieved for marginalized groups. However, this is with the exception that every prior social justice movement has been for human animals. Nonhuman animals have always been marginalized to every extent we can imagine and no species is exempt.

To sum everything up, using the utilitarianism theory in conjunction with the spectrum of allies will help enable us to occupy areas at a greater magnitude. Our presence will be seen and those who continue to marginalize nonhuman animals will not be able to ignore us. If you already identify as a nonhuman animal advocate, please strive to find others who will help us in this movement. If you are a vegan who has yet to identify as an activist, please consider joining us at a protest or leafleting event and consider this last fact. As a vegan, you can save up to a hundred or so lives every year, but as an activist, “for every 100 leaflets you distribute on a college campus, you’ll spare, by a conservative calculation, a minimum of 50 animals a year a lifetime of misery” (Cooney, 2013). In the references section below, I’ve added links to resources you can use if you are interested in becoming an activist. Let’s uphold the utilitarianism theory and live out our day to day actions to do the most good.




Ball, M., & Friedrich, B. (2009). The animal activists’ handbook: Maximizing our positive impact in today’s world. New York: Lantern Books.

Cooney, N. (2013, January 13). The Powerful Impact of College Leafleting (Part 1). Retrieved July 1, 2016, from

Singer, P. (2006). In defense of animals: The second wave. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Spectrum of Allies. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2016, from of Allies.pdf



 Resources to Join in Various Activism for Nonhuman Animals (Animal Action Network) (The Humane League – Denver)