Animal Rights

The Animal Rights position, by Dr Tom Regan

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 measured by how useful that person is in advancing the interests of other 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 the 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 reformed child labour, not reformed subjugation of women. In each of these cases, abolition was the only moral answer. Merely to reform absolute 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 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.


  • Ten Reasons for Animal Rights by Dr Tom Regan: article
  • Ten Reasons against Animal Rights and Replies by Dr Tom Regan: article
  • English and Speciesism by Joan Dunayer: article