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 circles.
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'
The Case for Animal Rights
by Tom Regan
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
- Human beings and animals have benefited from toxicity tests
- 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 their Kings.
. . . 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
. . 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
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
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 wrong.
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 organization.