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Famous Vegetarians - Tom Regan

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.

The Case for Animal Rights
by Tom Regan
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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 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 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 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.



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