Tom Regan is professor of Philosophy at North Carolina
State University. He is a prolific writer on animal liberation and animal rights
philosophy. The publication of his The Case for Animal Rights marked a major advance
in the philosophical underpinnings of the animal rights movement. This book brought
the discussion of animal rights to new levels of serious attention within scholarly
extracts from 'Animals' Rights: a Symposium'
We must realise that some people will find in our speaking of a subject such as
the rights of animals all the evidence they need to convict us of absurdity. Only
people can have rights and animals aren't people. So, the more we speak, in a
serious way, of animal rights, the more they will see us as supposing that animals
are people; and since it is absurd to suppose that animals are people, it's equally
absurd to think that animals have rights. That, for many, is the end of it.
Let us be honest with ourselves. There is little chance of altering the mental
set of those wedded to thinking in this way. If they are content simply to spout
their slogans ("Only people have rights!") as a substitute for hard
thinking, we will fail to change their minds by spouting ours or by asking them
to look beneath the words to the ideas themselves.
extract from 'The Case for Animal Rights'
Cruelty is manifested in different ways. People can rightly be judged cruel either
for what they do or for what they fail to do, and either for what they feel or
for what they fail to feel. The central case of cruelty appears to be the case
where, in Locke's apt phrase, one takes a "seeming kind of Pleasure"
in causing another to suffer. Sadistic torturers provide perhaps the clearest
example of cruelty in this sense: they are cruel not just because they cause suffering
(so do dentists and doctors, for example) but because they enjoy doing so. Let
us term this sadistic cruelty.
Not all cruel people are cruel in this sense. Some cruel people do not feel pleasure
in making others suffer. Indeed, they seem not to feel anything. Their cruelty
is manifested by a lack of what is judged appropriate feeling, as pity or mercy,
for the plight of the individual whose suffering they cause, rather than pleasure
in causing it; they are, as we say, insensitive to the suffering they inflict,
unmoved by it, as if they were unaware of it or failed to appreciate it as suffering,
in the way that, for example, lions appear to be unaware of, and thus are not
sensitive to, the pain they cause their prey. Indeed, precisely because one expects
indifference from animals but pity or mercy from human beings, people who are
cruel by being insensitive to the suffering they cause often are called "animals"
or "brutes", and their character or behaviour "brutal" or
"inhuman". Thus, for example, particularly ghastly murders are said
to be "the work of animals", the implication being that these are acts
that no-one moved by the human feelings of pity or mercy could bring themselves
to perform. The sense of cruelty that involves indifference to, rather than enjoyment
of, suffcnng caused to others we shall call brutal cruelty.
Laboratory animals are not a "resource" whose moral status in the world
is to serve human interests. They are thcmselves he subjeets of a life that fares
better or worse for them as individuals, logically independently of any utility
they may or may not have relative to the interests of others. They share with
us a distinctive kind of value - inherent value -- and whatever we do to them
must be respectful of this value as a matter of strict justice. To treat them
as if their value were reducible to their utility for human interests, even important
human interests, is to treat them unjustly; to utilize them so that humans might
minimize the risks we voluntarily take (and that we can voluntarily decide not
to take) is to violate their basic moral right to be treated with respect. That
the laws require such testing, when they do, does not show that these tests are
morally tolerable; what this shows is that the laws themselves are unjust and
ought to be changed.
One can also anticipate charges that the rights view is anti-scientific and anti-humanity.
This is rhetoric. The rights view is not anti-human. We, as humans, have an equal
prima facie right not to be harmed, a right that the rights view seeks to illuminate
and defend; but we do not have any right coercively to harm others, or to put
theni at risk of harm, so that we might minimize the risks we run as a result
of our own voluntary decisions. That violates their rights, and that is one thing
no-one has a right to do.
Nor is the rights view anti-scientific. It places the scientific challenge before
pharmacologists and related scientists: Find scientifically valid ways that serve
the public interest without violating individual rights. The overarching goal
of pharmacology should be to reduce the risks of those who use drugs without harming
those who don't. Those who claim that this cannot be done, in advance of making
a concerted effort to do it, are the ones who are truly anti-scientific.
Perhaps the most common response to the call for elimiiiation of animals in toxicity
testing is the benefits argument
1. Human beings and animals have benefited from toxicity tests on animals.
2. Therefore, these tests are justified.
Like all arguments with missing premises, everything turns on what that premise
is. If it read: "These tests do not violate the rights of animals,"
then we would be on our way to receiving an interesting defense of toxicity testing.
But, unfortunately for those who countenance these tests, and even more unfortunately
for the animals used in them, that premise is not true. These tests do violate
the rights of the test animals, for the reasons given. The benefits these tests
have for others is irrelevant, according to the rights view, since the tests violate
the rights of the individual animals. As in the case of humans, so also in the
ease of animals: Overriding their rights cannot be defended by appealing to the
general welfare". Put alternatively, the benefits others receive count morally
only if no individual's rights have been violated. Since toxicity tests of new
drugs violate the rights of laboratory animals, it is morally irrelevant to appeal
to how much others have benefited. Lab animals are not our Tasters. We are not
. . . Animals are not to be treated as mere receptacles or as renewable resources.
Thus does the practice of scientific research on animals violate their rights.
Thus ought it to cease, according to the rights view. It is not enough first conscientiously
to look for non-animal ~ternatives and then, having failed to find any, to resort
to using animals. Though that approach is laudable as far as it goes, and though
taking it would mark significant progress, it does not go far enough. It assumes
that it is all right to allow practices that use animals as if their value is
reducible to their possible utility relative to the interests of others, provided
that we have done our best not to do so. The rights view's position would have
us go further in terms of "doing our best". The best we can do in terms
of not using animals is not to use them. Their inherent value does not disappear
just because we have failed to find a way to avoid harming them in pursuit of
our chosen goals. Their value is independent of these goals and their possible
utility in achieving them.
. . The rights view . . calls upon scientists to do science as they redirect the
traditional practice Of their several disciplines away from reliance on "animal
models" toward the development and use of non-animal alternatives. All that
the rights view prohibits is that science that violates individual rights. If
that means that there are some things we cannot learn, then so be it. There are
also some things we cannot learn by using humaus, if we respect their rights.
The rights view merely requires moral consistency in this regard.
Veterinarians are the closest thing society has to a role model for the morally
enlightened care of animals. It is, therefore, an occasion for deep anguish to
find members of this profession increasingly in the employ of, or rendering their
services to, the very industries that routinely violate the rights of animals
- the farm animal industry, the lab animal industry, etc. On the rights view,
veterinarians are obliged to extricate themselves and their profession from the
financial ties that bind them to these industries and to dedicate their extensive
medical knowledge and skills, as healers, as doctors of medicine, to projects
that are respectful of their patients' rights. The first signatures in the "new
contract" involving justice and animals would be from those who belong to
the profession of veterinary medicine. To fail to lead the way in this regard
will bespeak a lack of moral vision or courage (or both) that will permanently
tarnish the image of this venerable profession and those who practice it.
That science that routinely harms animals in pursuit of its goals is morally corrupt,
because unjust at its core, something that no appeal to the "contract"
between society and science can alter.
extracts from 'All That Dwell Therein'
Both the moral right not to be caused gratuitous suffering and the right to life,
I argue, are possessed by the animals we eat if they are possessed by the humans
we do not. To cause animals to suffer cannot be defended merely on the grounds
that we like the taste of their flesh, and even if animals were raised so that
they led generally pleasant lives and were "humanely" slaughtered, that
would not insure that their rights, including their right to life, were not violated.
I cannot help but think that each of us has been struck, at one moment or another,
and in varying degrees of intensity, by the ruthlessness, the insensitivity, the
(to use [I.B.J Singer's word) smugness with which man inflicts untold pain and
deprivation on his fellow animals. It is, I think, a spectacle that resembles,
even if it does not duplicate, the vision that Herman calls to mind - that of
the Nazi in his treatment of the Jew. "In their behaviour toward creatures,"
he says, "all men [are] Nazis." A harsh saying, this. But on reflection
it might well turn out to contain an element of ineradicable truth.
...The human appetite for meat has become so great that new methods of raising
animals have come into being. Called intensive rearing methods, these methods
seek to insure that the largest amount of meat can be produced in the shortest
amount of time with the least possible expense. In ever increasing numbers, animals
are being subjected to the rigors of these methods. Many are being forced to live
in incredibly crowded conditions. Moreover, as a result of these methods, the
natural desires of many animals often are being frustrated. In short, both in
terms of the physical pain these animals must endure, and in terms of the psychological
pain that attends the frustration of their natural inclinations, there can be
no reasonable doubt that animals who are raised according to intensive rearing
methods experience much non-trivial, undeserved pain. Add to this the gruesome
realities of "humane" slaughter and we have, I think, an amount and
intensity of suffering that can, with propriety, be called "great".
To the extent, therefore, that we eat the flesh of animals that have been raised
under such circumstances, we help create the demand for meat that farmers who
use intensive rearing methods endeavour to satisfy. Thus, to the exteuL that it
is known that such methods will bring about much undeserved nontrivial pain on
the part of the animals raised according to these methods, anyone who purchases
meat that is a product of these methods and almost everyone who buys meat at a
typical supermarket or restaurant does this - is causally imphcated in a practice
that causes pain that is both non trivial and undeserved for the animals in question.
On this point too, I think there can be no doubt.
... Contrary to the habit of thought which supposes that it is the vegetarian
who is on the defensive and who must labor to show how his "eccentric"
way of life can even remotely he defended by rational means, it is the nonvegetarian
whose way of life stands in need of rational justification. Indeed, the vegetarian
can, if I am right, make an even stronger claim than this. For if the previous
argument is sound, he can maintain that unless or until someone does succeed in
showing how the undeserved, nontrivial pain animals experience as a result of
intensive rearing methods is not gratuitous and does not violate the rights of
the animals in question, then he (the vegetarian) is justified in believing that,
and acting as it is wrong to eat meat, if by so doing we contribute to the intensive
rearing of animals and, with this, to the great pain they must inevitably suffer.
And the basis on which he can take this stand is the same one that vegetarians
and nonvegetarians alike can and should take in the case of a practice that caused
great undeserved pain to human beings - namely, that we are justified in believing
that, and acting as if, such a practice is immoral unless or until it can be shown
that it is not.
Of course, none of this, by itself, settles the question "Do animals experience
pain?" Animals . . . certainly appear at times to be in pain. For us to be
rationally justified in denying that they are ever in pain, therefore, we are
in need of some rationally compelling argument that demonstrates that, though
they may appear to suffer, they never really do so. Descartes's argument does
not show this . . . how animals who are physiologically similar to man behave
in certain circumstances for example, how muskrats behave when they try to free
themselves from a trap - provides us with all the evidence we could have that
they are in pain, given that they are not able to speak; in the ease of the muskrats
struggling to free themselves, that is, one wants to ask what more evidence could
be rationally required to show that they in pain in addition to their cries, their
whimpers, the of their bodies, the desperate look of their eyes, and so on. For
my own part, I do not know what else could be required, and if a person were of
the opinion that this did not constitute enough evidence to show that the muskrats
were in pain, I cannot see how any additional evidence would (or could) dissuade
him of his skepticism. My position, therefore, is the "naive" one -
namely, that animals can and do feel pain, and that, unless or until we are presented
with an argument that shows that, all the appearances to the contrary, animals
do not experience pain, we are rationally justified in continuing to believe that
they do. And a similar line of argument can be given, I think, in suppoi-t of
the view that animals have experiences that are pleasant or enjoyable, experiences
that, though they may be of a low level in comparison to, say, the joys of philosophy
or the raptures of the beatific vision, are pleasurable nonetheless.
Moreover, ifit is urjust to cause a human being undeserved pain (and if what makes
this unjust is that pain is evil and that the human is innocent and thus does
not deserve the evil he receives), then it must also be unjust to cause an innocent
animal undeserved pain. If it be objected that it is not possible to act unjustly
toward animals, though it is possible to do so toward humans, then, once again~
what we should demand is some justification of this contention; what we should
walit to know is just what there is that is characteristic of all human beings,
and is absent from all other animals, that makes it possible to treat the former,
but not the latter, unjustly. In the absence of such an explanation, I think we
have every reason to suppose that restricting the concepts of just and unjust
treatment to human beings is a prejudice.
various extracts from 'In Defence of Animals'
What's wrong fundamentally wrong - with the way animals are treated isn't the
details that vary from case to case. It's the whole system. The forlornness of
the veal calf is pathetic, heart-wrenching; the pulsing pain of the chimp with
electrodes planted deep in her brain is repulsive; the slow, tortuous death of
the racoon caught in the leg-hold trap is agonizing. But what is wrong isn't the
pain, isn't the suffering, isn't the deprivation. These compound what's wrong.
Sometimes often - they make it much, much worse. But they are not the fundamental
The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources,
here for us - to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or
money. Once we accept this view of animals - as our resources - the rest is as
predictable as it is regrettable. Why worry about their loneliness, their pain,
their death? Since animals exist for us, to benefit us in one way or another,
what harms them really doesn't matter - or matters only if it starts to bother
us, makes us feel a trifle uneasy when we eat our veal escalope, for example.
So, yes, let us get veal calves out of solitary confinement, give them more space,
a little straw, a few companions. But let us keep our veal escalope.
Whether and how we abolish [the use of animals] are to a large extent political
questions. People must change their beliefs before they change their habits. Enough
people, especially those elected to public office, must believe in change - must
want it - before we will have laws that protect the rights of animals. This process
of change is very complicated, very demanding, very exhausting, calling for the
effort of many hands in education, publicity, political organization and activity,
down to the licking of envelopes and stamps. As a trained and practising philosopher,
the sort of contribution I can make is limited but, I like to think, important.
The currency of philosophy is ideas - their meaning and rational foundation -
not the nuts and bolts of the legislative process, say, or the mechanics of comillunity