The Philosophy of Animal Rights

by Tom Regan as published on Culture & Animals.org

“In memory of Tom Regan who passed last Friday, February 17th 2017.  There was an unbelievable crowd of critters waiting for Tom at the bridge; he was the voice for millions who had none.” ~ R.T.


“It is not larger, cleaner cages that justice demands in the case of animals used in science, for example, but empty cages: not “traditional” animal agriculture, but a complete end to all commerce in the flesh of dead animals; not “more humane” hunting and trapping, but the total eradication of these barbarous practices.”

The other animals humans eat, use in science, hunt, trap, and exploit in a variety of ways, have a life of their own that is of importance to them apart from their utility to us. They are not only in the world, they are aware of it. What happens to them matters to them. Each has a life that fares better or worse for the one whose life it is.

That life includes a variety of biological, individual, and social needs. The satisfaction of these needs is a source of pleasure, their frustration or abuse, a source of pain. In these fundamental ways, the nonhuman animals in labs and on farms, for example, are the same as human beings. And so it is that the ethics of our dealings with them, and with one another, must acknowledge the same fundamental moral principles.

At its deepest level, human ethics is based on the independent value of the individual: The moral worth of any one human being is not to be measured by how useful that person is in advancing the interest of other human beings. To treat human beings in ways that do not honor their independent value is to violate that most basic of human rights: the right of each person to be treated with respect.

The philosophy of animal rights demands only that logic be respected. For any argument that plausibly explains the independent value of human beings implies that other animals have this same value, and have it equally. And any argument that plausibly explains the right of humans to be treated with respect, also implies that these other animals have this same right, and have it equally, too.

It is true, therefore, that women do not exist to serve men, blacks to serve whites, the poor to serve the rich, or the weak to serve the strong. The philosophy of animal rights not only accepts these truths, it insists upon and justifies them.

But this philosophy goes further. By insisting upon and justifying the independent value and rights of other animals, it gives scientifically informed and morally impartial reasons for denying that these animals exist to serve us.

Once this truth is acknowledged, it is easy to understand why the philosophy of animal rights is uncompromising in its response to each and every injustice other animals are made to suffer.

It is not larger, cleaner cages that justice demands in the case of animals used in science, for example, but empty cages: not “traditional” animal agriculture, but a complete end to all commerce in the flesh of dead animals; not “more humane” hunting and trapping, but the total eradication of these barbarous practices.

For when an injustice is absolute, one must oppose it absolutely. It was not “reformed” slavery that justice demanded, not “re- formed” child labor, not “reformed” subjugation of women. In each of these cases, abolition was the only moral answer. Merely to reform injustice is to prolong injustice.

The philosophy of animal rights demands this same answer– abolition–in response to the unjust exploitation of other animals. It is not the details of unjust exploitation that must be changed. It is the unjust exploitation itself that must be ended, whether on the farm, in the lab, or among the wild, for example. The philosophy of animal rights asks for nothing more, but neither will it be satisfied with anything less.

10 Reasons FOR Animal Rights and Their Explanation

1. Rational
2. Scientific
3. Unprejudiced
4. Just
5. Compassionate
6. Unselfish
7. Individually fulfilling
8. Socially progressive
9. Environmentally wise
10. Peace-loving

10 Reasons AGAINST Animal Rights and Their Replies

1. Equating animals and humans
2. Rights: human vs animals
3. Vegetables vs Animals
4. Where to Draw Line
5. Experience Pain
6. Animals Respecting our Rights
7. Dominion Over Other Animals
8. Immortal Souls
9. Animal Overabundance
10. Other Problems

10 comments on “The Philosophy of Animal Rights

  1. Excellent points! No justification in my mind for humans treatment of animals. Its just brain washing the human race. Humans are the crueliest animals on Earth! And it must stop!

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  2. This issue is one of the last great hurdles for humanity to overcome, and though progress is being made, the eating of, experimentation on, and hunting/trapping of animals will be forever justified by the cunning of the humans. In my city, Los Angeles, entire restaurant menus are built around “foodies” consuming animal bodies in myriad ways and writing glowing descriptions of the eating. They posture and pose about the “humane” growing and slaughter of the individual animals in order to distance their consumption from the animals raised in industrial operations.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson –“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity”

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    • I agree, Icy – EVERYONE should read & comprehend this. WE all do. If someone doesnt understand that – what a sad, empty life they lead! Without the animals that have been in my life from the time I was little? Cant even imagine living without all of them..

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  3. Thank you for this tribute to the late Tom Regan–a great loss to our movement.

    See also the lengthy piece about Tom and his work by Merritt Clifton on the ANIMALS 24.7 website

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  4. Yes, we need a transformation of our relationships to the Rest of Life. This is so imperative today. It is possible! If we treat all beings with due respect, regardless their outward form or ways, they shall reciprocate!

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