Tom Regan (b 1938)
Richard Ryder (b 1940)
Peter Singer (b 1946)
"All animals are somebody - someone with a life of their own." Tom Regan
Among Tom Regan's many books is The Case for Animal Rights
(1983). Translated into several languages it made him a public name. Regan, an American advocate for animal rights and an emeritus professor of philosophy, asserts that animals have intrinsic value (a value in themselves irrespective of any value to human needs) because they have feelings, beliefs, preferences, memories, expectations, and so on. He calls animals with such features "subjects of a life" because "what happens to them matters to them." He says "All animals are somebody - someone with a life of their own. Behind those eyes is a story, the story of their life in their world as they experience it." Regan sees the animal rights movement as part of the human rights movement and maintains that animals who are a subject of a life should have similar rights to life as humans.
Regan's position clashes with his contemporary, Peter Singer (see below). Singer argues that subjective human preferences can occasionally outweigh the interests of animals. To avoid this, Regan counters that it is better that animal rights are based on intrinsic value. Regan says this will thwart people putting their own interests before animals whenever it suits them, prevent exploitation of individual animals for the greater good (of humans), and stop morality being an exclusively human club.
Among Regan's books on animal ethics are: All That Dwell Therein: essays on animal Rights and environmental ethics
(1982); Defending Animal Rights
(2001); and Empty Cages: facing the challenge of animal rights
Richard Dudley Ryder, British animal ethics philosopher and animal welfare campaigner, was a psychologist who experimented on animals but now speaks out for animal rights.
Ryder denounces utilitarianism because it justifies the exploitation of some animals if there is a net gain in happiness for the majority of other animals (that is humans in practice). Instead, he advocates his philosophy of painism: that all animals who feel pain should be worthy of rights and that moral worth should be based on reducing the pain of individuals (for more see Painism, in Supplementary 1: Philosophy).
He coined the term speciesism
in the 1970's, popularised by Singer (below) in his book Animal Liberation
, and coined painism
in the 1990's to describe his ethical philosophy.
Ryder's books include Victims of Science
(1975), on the use of animals in research; Animal Revolution
(1989), on the recent history and development of animal rights; Painism
(2001), on the moral theory of painism; and Putting Morality Back Into Politics
Australian ethicist and professor of philosophy, Peter Albert David Singer, first took part in a public demonstration for animals in his twenties while at Oxford University. The protest was held in the street against factory farming and featured caged paper-mache hens and a stuffed calf in an imitation stall.
Peter Singer is widely credited with inaugurating the modern animal rights movement through his book, Animal Liberation
(1975), which questions the human treatment of animals. It is the book for which he is most well-known to the public - its second edition was translated into over 17 languages, including Chinese, Korean and Hebrew. The book gave the animal rights movement a philosophical basis and, along with Singer's status as a reputable philosopher, awoke interest in academic circles that set off a chain reaction of thought and publications about animal ethics and animal liberation.
Singer believes that our treatment of animals is one of the foremost ethical issues of today. He says toleration for the mistreatment of animals is a prejudice that, like sexism and racism, does not have a rational basis, and failure to take into account animal suffering is to be guilty of speciesism.
Singer's ethical philosophy is practical, following Utilitarian principles: the best solution to a moral problem is the one with the best likely consequences for the majority concerned. Hence, you may be morally justified if you cause relatively little harm to a few beings to minimise a greater harm to more beings. Thus, you might experiment on (but not kill) some humans or animals to save the lives of many more humans or animals; but it would be wrong to kill or cause severe pain to the many to save a little distress to the few.
Although Singer argues in Animal Liberation
that we should not give greater preference to the interests of humans over animals, he also argues that some individuals are more valuable than others and deserve higher priority in moral disputes. In Singer's view, a sentient animal, a subject of a life, like a rat, has a higher priority to life as he has more to lose than a non-sentient being, like a worm. Similarly, a being who is more sentient, like a chimpanzee, has more to lose than a being who is less sentient, like a rat.
Among his many activities, Singer is a founder member of the Great Ape Project that is trying to influence people to confer on the great apes the same basic rights as humans. And Singer sets an example to us all: he does not just lecture about ethics, he gives away a fifth of his income to good causes.
Singer's many books include: Practical Ethics
(1979 ); Animal Factories
, with James Mason (1980); The Expanding Circle
(1981); In Defence of Animals
, editor (1985); Applied Ethics
, editor (1986); Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the animal rights movement
(1998); One World: ethics and globalization
(22002); In Defense of Animals: the second wave
, editor (2005); The Way We Eat: why our food choices matter
, with Jim Mason (2006); and over 300 articles on ethics.
(1) Giving Voice to Animal Rights
. The Satya Interview with Tom Regan, Kymberlie Adams Matthews. (Accessed online February 2007.)
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