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Animal rights
Olive baboon1.jpg

Notable activists
Greg Avery • David Barbarash
Mel Broughton • Rod Coronado
Barry Horne • Ronnie Lee
Keith Mann • Ingrid Newkirk
Heather Nicholson • Jill Phipps
Craig Rosebraugh • Henry Spira
Andrew Tyler • Jerry Vlasak
Paul Watson • Robin Webb

Notable writers
Carol Adams • Jeremy Bentham
Steven Best • Stephen Clark
Gary Francione • Gill Langley
Mary Midgley • Tom Regan
Bernard Rollin • Richard Ryder
Henry Salt • Peter Singer
Steven Wise • Roger Yates

Notable groups/campaigns
List of animal rights groups
Animal Aid • ALDF • ALF • BUAV
GAP • Hunt Saboteurs • PETA • PCRM
Sea Shepherd • SPEAK • SHAC

Animal liberation movement
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
Animal law • Animal testing
Bile bear • Blood sport
Covance • Draize test
Factory farming • Fur trade
Great Ape research ban • HLS
Lab animal sources • LD50
Meat • Nafovanny • Open rescue
Operation Backfire • Primate trade
Seal hunting • Speciesism

Britches • Brown Dog affair
Cambridge • Pit of despair
Silver Spring monkeys
Unnecessary Fuss

Animal rights films
Behind the Mask • Earthlings
The Animals Film
Peaceable Kingdom • Unnecessary Fuss

Books and magazines
Animal rights books
Animal rights magazines
Animal Liberation
Arkangel • Bite Back
No Compromise

Related categories
ALF • Animal testing
Animal law • Animal rights
AR movement
Livestock • Meat

Related templates
Rights • Animal testing
Agriculture • Fishing

Speciesism is the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership. The term was created by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder in 1973 to denote a prejudice against non-humans based on physical differences that are given moral value.[1] "I use the word 'speciesism'," he wrote in 1975, "to describe the widespread discrimination that is practised by man against other species ... Speciesism is racism, and both overlook or underestimate the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against."[2]

The term is mostly used by animal rights advocates, who argue that it is irrational or morally wrong to regard sentient beings as objects or property. Philosopher Tom Regan argues that all animals have inherent rights and that we cannot assign them a lesser value because of a perceived lack of rationality, while assigning a higher value to infants and the mentally impaired solely on the grounds of being members of a specific species. Others argue that this valuation of a human infant, a human fetus, or a mentally impaired person is justified, not because the fetus is a fully rational human person from conception, nor because the mentally impaired are rational to the same degree as other human beings; but because the teleological and genetic orientation of any human being from conception is to develop into a rational human being and not any other creature, and because all humans have an implicit origination from two genetically human beings, and hence, both a primary genetic orientation and primary origination as the reproduction of other human beings, even if in a not fully developed state or if partially impaired.[3] In this view, anyone who is born of human parents has the rights of human persons from conception, because the natural process of reproduction has already been initiated in biologically human organisms. Peter Singer's philosophical arguments against speciesism are based on the principle of equal consideration of interests. Some philosophers and scientists argue that speciesism is an acceptable position as a form of human supremacy.



Some philosophers and scientists defend Speciesism as an acceptable if not good behavior for humans. Carl Cohen, a Professor of Philosophy at the Residential College of the University of Michigan, writes:

I am a speciesist. Speciesism is not merely plausible; it is essential for right conduct, because those who will not make the morally relevant distinctions among species are almost certain, in consequence, to misapprehend their true obligations.[4]

Jeffrey Alan Gray, British psychologist and a lecturer in experimental psychology at Oxford, similarly wrote that:

I would guess that the view that human beings matter to other human beings more than animals do is, to say the least, widespread. At any rate, I wish to defend speciesism...[5]

A common theme in defending speciesism tends to be the argument that humans "have the right to compete with and exploit other species to preserve and protect the human species".[6]


Gary Francione's position differs significantly from that of Singer, author of Animal Liberation (1975). Singer, a utilitarian, rejects moral rights as a general matter and, like Ryder, regards sentience as sufficient for moral status. Singer maintains that most animals do not care about whether we kill and use them for our own purposes; they care only about how we treat them when we do use and kill them. As a result, and despite our having laws that supposedly protect animals, Francione contends that we treat animals in ways that would be regarded as torture if only humans were involved.

Richard Dawkins touches briefly on the subject in The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, elucidating the connection to evolutionary theory. He compares former racist attitudes and assumptions to their present-day speciesist counterparts. In a chapter of former book entitled "The one true tree of life", he argues that it is not just zoological taxonomy that is saved from awkward ambiguity by the extinction of intermediate forms, but also human ethics and law. He describes discrimination against chimpanzees thus:

Such is the breathtaking speciesism of our Christian-inspired attitudes, the abortion of a single human zygote (most of them are destined to be spontaneously aborted anyway) can arouse more moral solicitude and righteous indignation than the vivisection of any number of intelligent adult chimpanzees! [...] The only reason we can be comfortable with such a double standard is that the intermediates between humans and chimps are all dead.[7]

Dawkins more recently elaborated on his personal position towards speciesism and vegetarianism in a live discussion with Singer at The Center for Inquiry on December 7, 2007.[8]

What I am doing is going along with the fact that I live in a society where meat eating is accepted as the norm, and it requires a level of social courage which I haven't yet produced to break out of that. It's a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery. Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery.

David Nibert seeks to expand the field of sociology "in order to understand how social arrangements create oppressive conditions for both humans and other animals". He compares speciesism to racism and sexism.[9]

Some have suggested that simply to fight speciesism is not enough because intrinsic value of nature can be extended beyond sentient beings, termed the ethic of "libertarian extension".[10] This belief system seeks to apply the principle of individual rights not only to all animals but also objects without a nervous system such as trees, plants and rocks.[11]

Ryder rejects this in writing that "value cannot exist in the absence of consciousness or potential consciousness. Thus, rocks and rivers and houses have no interests and no rights of their own. This does not mean, of course, that they are not of value to us, and to many other painients, including those who need them as habitats and who would suffer without them." [12]

Great ape personhood

Great Ape personhood is a concept in which the attributes of the Great Apes are deemed to merit recognition of their sentience and personhood within the law, as opposed to mere protection under animal cruelty legislation. This would cover matters such as their own best interest being taken into account in their treatment by people.[13]

Animal holocaust

David Sztybel holds that the treatment of animals can be compared to the Holocaust in a valid and meaningful way. In his paper Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust? using a thirty-nine-point comparison Sztybel asserts that the comparison is not offensive and that it does not overlook important differences, or ignore supposed affinities between the human abuse of fellow animals, and the Nazi abuse of fellow humans. The comparison of animal treatment and the Holocaust came into the public eye with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' "Holocaust on your Plate" exhibit. Sztybel equates the racism of the Nazis with the speciesism inherent in eating meat, or using animal by-products particularly those produced on factory farms.[14] However, even among the supports of the concept of speciesism as a critical tool, such comparisons are not always supported. Y. Michael Barilan writes that speciesism is not the same thing as "Nazi racism" because Nazi racism extolled the abuser and condemned the weaker and the abused. He describes speciesism as the recognition of rights on the basis of group membership rather than solely on the basis of moral considerations.[15]




A painting of the Trial of Bill Burns, showing Richard Martin with the donkey in an astonished courtroom, leading to the world's first known conviction for animal cruelty, a story that delighted London's newspapers and music halls.

(Rev.) John Tuohey writes that the logic behind charges of speciesism fails to hold up, and that, although it has been popularly appealing, it is philosophically flawed. Tuohey claims that, even though the animal rights movement in the United States has been influential in slowing and in some cases stopping biomedical research involving animals, no one has offered a clear and compelling argument for the equality of species[16]. Nel Noddings has criticized Peter Singer's concept of speciesism for being too simplistic, and failing to take into account the context of species preference as concepts of racism and sexism have taken in to account the context of discrimination against humans.[17] Some people who work for racial or sexual equality have said that comparisons between speciesism and racism or sexism are insulting,[18] for example Peter Staudenmaier writes:

The central analogy to the civil rights movement and the women’s movement is trivializing and ahistorical. Both of those social movements were initiated and driven by members of the dispossessed and excluded groups themselves, not by benevolent men or white people acting on their behalf. Both movements were built precisely around the idea of reclaiming and reasserting a shared humanity in the face of a society that had deprived it and denied it. No civil rights activist or feminist ever argued, “We’re sentient beings too!” They argued, “We’re fully human too!” Animal liberation doctrine, far from extending this humanist impulse, directly undermines it. -Peter Staudenmaier[19]

Although Camilla Kronqvist sympathizes with Singer’s aims, she does not accept his arguments. She writes "To say that our morality rests on attending to somebody’s pleasure and pain, also seems to be a pretty crude description of what it is to be a moral being." And concludes "I also find it highly unlikely that a polar bear would care for my interests of leading a long, healthy life if it decided to have me for lunch, and I wonder if I would have time to present it with Singer’s arguments when it started to carry out this intention."[20] Singer responds that that fact that animals are not moral agents does not prevent them from being moral patients, just as humans who are not moral agents remain moral patients, so that their ability to be harmed remains the characteristic taken into consideration.

Some more radical opponents of the idea of speciesism believe that animals exist so that humans may make use of them, be it for food, entertainment or other uses. This special status conveys special rights, such as the right to life, and also unique responsibilities, such as stewardship of the environment.[citation needed]

Carl Cohen argued that racism and sexism are wrong because there are no relevant differences between the sexes or races. Between people and animals however, there are significant differences, and they do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and as such have no rights.[21] Animal rights advocates point out that because many humans do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and yet have rights, this cannot be a morally relevant difference.

Objectivists argue that giving more rights to animals means taking rights away from thinking beings who are, unlike animals, capable of creating value. Animal rights advocates respond by pointing out that not all humans are capable of "creating value" by this definition of value, so if "creating value" were the morally relevant characteristic, it would still not track along the lines of species alone. Conversely, any definition of "creating value" that included all humans would include many animals as well.[citation needed]


Some believers in human exceptionalism base the concept in the Abrahamic religions, such as the verse in Genesis 1:26 "Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” " Animal rights advocates argue that dominion refers to stewardship and does not denote any right to mistreat other animals, which is consistent with the Bible.[22] Buddhism, despite its reputation for respect for animals, explicitly accords humans a higher status in the progression of reincarnation.[23] Animals may be reincarnated as humans, but only humans can reach enlightenment.[23] Felipe Fernández-Armesto writes that early hunter-gatherer societies such as the Innu [24] and many animist religions lacked a concept of humanity and placed non-human animals and plants on an equal footing with humans.[25]


See also: Animal experimentation

Others take a secular approach, such as pointing to evidence of unusual rapid evolution of the human brain and the emergence of "exceptional" aptitudes. As one commentator put it, "Over the course of human history, we have been successful in cultivating our faculties, shaping our development, and impacting upon the wider world in a deliberate fashion, quite distinct from evolutionary processes.[26] Constance K. Perry asserts that the use of 'non-autonomous' animals instead of humans in risky research can be based on solid moral ground and is not necessarily speciesism.[27]

See also



  1. ^ Ryder, Richard. "All beings that feel pain deserve human rights", The Guardian, August 6, 2005.
  2. ^ Ryder 1975, p. 16. Thirty years later, Ryder later wrote that he prefers the word "painient." In a piece for The Guardian in 2005, entitled, "All beings that feel pain deserve human rights", he wrote, "Our concern for the pain and distress of others should be extended to any 'painient'—pain-feeling—being regardless of his or her sex, class, race, religion, nationality or species. Indeed, if aliens from outer space turn out to be painient, or if we ever manufacture machines who are painient, then we must widen the moral circle to include them. Painience is the only convincing basis for attributing rights or, indeed, interests to others" (Ryder 2005).
  3. ^ Benedict Ashley, Albert Moraczewski The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Summer, 2001, Vol.1 No.2
  4. ^ C. Cohen (1986) The case for the use of animals in biomedical research, The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 315, No. 14.
  5. ^ J. A. Gray (1980) In defense of speciesism, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 13 No. 1.
  6. ^ D. Graft (1997) Against strong speciesism, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol.14, No. 2.
  7. ^ Dawkins, Richard (1996) [1986]. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-393-31570-3. 
  8. ^ Richard Dawkins - Science and the New Atheism, December 7, 2007.
  9. ^ Humans and other animals: sociology's moral and intellectual challenge David Nibert. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. Year: 2003 Volume: 23 Issue: 3 pp. 4–25.
  10. ^ 1999 The Puzzle of Ethics. London: Harper Collins. Vardy, P., and P. Grosch
  11. ^ IN NEED OF NEW ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS FOR TOURISM? Andrew Holden. Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 94–108, 2003.
  12. ^ (Ryder 2005)
  13. ^ Should apes have human rights?
  14. ^ Sztybel, David Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust? Ethics & the Environment - Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 2006, pp. 97-132
  15. ^ Speciesism as a precondition to justice Y. Michael Barilan, MD, MA. Politics and the Life Sciences Article: pp. 22–33
  16. ^ Fifteen years after “Animal Liberation”: Has the animal rights movement achieved philosophical legitimacy? Journal of Medical Humanities. Volume 13, Number 2 / June, 1992. John Tuohey
  17. ^ Comment on Donovan's "Animal Rights and Feminist Theory" Nel Noddings Signs, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), pp. 418-422
  18. ^ The ethics of speciesism
  19. ^ Ambiguities of Animal Rights Peter Staudenmaier COMMUNALISM: International Journal for a Rational Society ISSUE 5 | MARCH 2003
  20. ^ Speciesism – Arguments for Whom? Camilla Kronqvist. Ethics, Agency & Love.[1]
  21. ^ The case against animal rights, Carl Cohen
  22. ^ See, for example, Scully, Matthew. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. St. Martin's Griffin, 2003. Also see Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, and Jonah 4:11: " “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” "
  23. ^ a b The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals, by Paul Waldau. American Academy of Religion, Academy Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  24. ^ The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers By Richard B. Lee, Richard Heywood Daly
  25. ^ Ideas that changed the world Felipe Fernández-Armesto. human exceptionalism . Page: 138
  26. ^ Starr, Sandy. What Makes Us Exceptional?. Spiked Science
  27. ^ A Compassionate Autonomy Alternative to Speciesism Constance K. Perry Volume 22, Number 3 / June, 2001 Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

Further reading

External links


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