Dateline: Animals’ Agenda, Dec 1986
INTERVIEWED BY PATRICE GREANVILLE
A wide-ranging discussion with Tom Regan, wherein the author of The Case for Animal Rights speaks about the future development of the animal liberation movement as a force for social change, and as a focus for resolving the
great ethical dilemmas facing humanity as it enters the 21st century.
Religion, because of its concern for ethics, would seem to be a natural field to take animal rights, but its response so far has been tepid, non-committal or even hostile. Is that correct?
I don’t think it’s altogether an accurate assessment. In fact, once the religious community sees what the issues are, once we do our job as representatives of the
animals and present a fair depiction of the issues, I find that the religious community
responds very strongly and very favorably. I’m not saying, of course, that we’re going to see mass veganism sweeping Christianity. But I think they see the relevance of the issues we raise to their faith, and they’re challenged to respond. It’s a matter of growth, process, change.
I asked you that question because religions, particularly the Judeo-Christian beliefs, are usually repositories of what we might call a very sturdy anthropocentrism. In fact, the liberal denominations-in a world fraught with so many abuses of humans-now stand out for their “super humanism;’ if you want to call it that; while those on the right are proud of their speciesism. On that basis, how do you see an approach to the religious community?
I think the religious community is not homogenous. Not everyone out there has
the same views about all the same things. In fact there’s as much diversity, probably
more diversity in the religious community than in the animal rights community.
And anyone involved in the animal rights movement knows how diverse we are and
how much disagreement there is. So, yes, we should expect to find people who profess to speak for the faith accepting and defending practices abhorrent to us. But
at the same time, there’ll be just as many; and hopefully more, among the religious
who will see their faith as wanting the same kinds of changes that the secular
wing of the animal rights movement wants. In fact, I don’t want to separate
‘them’ and ‘us’. What I say is that we need some sort of solidarity with these people.
And the change is going to come from within that community rather than from
the outside. Hence, all we can do, as active animal rights supporters, is present
the issues to that community. Don’t expect that the church is going to respond
with one voice. On the contrary, there will be many voices, as my film, We Are
All Noah shows.
We should be flexible, then…
My view is that we should never take an uncompromising position. It goes back to finding common ground. When I’m asked, ‘Are you against all animal research?”, I say, “Yes, I am:’ Then they say, “Well, I can’t follow you that far:’ So I say, “Well, how about cosmetics testing; how about the LD-5O tests?” “Well, no, I’m against that:’ I say, “OK, let’s just work on that:’ So, the answer is not to have an uncompromising position right upfront. We mustn’t say, “You have to join me all the way to join me part of the way.” Let’s raise consciousness incrementally to get people to act on what they see is right and feasible in their immediate experience…
As a professional philosopher, I’m sure you have reflected many times on the intimate linkage that seems to exist between humanity’s attainable level of morality and technological prowess. In fact, some thinkers maintain that the intuitive road to morality is secondary or false. . . and that the only reality in this field is shaped by the extent we understand nature. . . what is sometimes called the “realm of necessity:’ Do you think, therefore, that as humanity advances technologically we’ll be able to aspire to a much higher morality?
I’m not an opponent of technology. I think technology does increase our range
of choices. It does offer us the opportunity to grow spiritually and morally.
The question is, how do we direct it? How is technology going to be used? Are we
going to develop a technology to further subjugate those which we already have
power over or to liberate them and us? The most desirable path, of course, is to
find in technology ways of liberating ourselves from this kind of dominant relationship
we have with the rest of creation.
As real problems of ecological destruction…overpopulation, political unrest, nuclear war, terrorism (retail and wholesale), whatever, keep pressing on humankind, more and more people are beginning to realize that the world needs an entirely new ethic toward nature. Do you have any suggestions, besides those embodied in your Culture and Animals Foundation, on how to accelerate the process?
The first axiom of activism is that people are busy and when you show up with some new cause, it’s very difficult for them to fit it into their agenda. So you have to have a kind of tolerance. It’s not like the church, for example, hasn’t been doing anything-there’s the sanctuary movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-Nicaraguan-intervention movement. There’s a lot of stuff that the religious and progressive political communities are doing that a lot of people aren’t doing, so let’s be sure to give credit where credit is due. But how we accelerate the process, I’m not sure. The
message I try to get to people is that it’s not an “either/or” proposition; either
work to bring a sense of the importance of animals into your life or do something
else (i.e., work against nuclear war, apartheid, or in the sanctuary movement).
It’s rather an “and/both” proposition. The way we make this idea clear to them is by talking about the details of their life—what sort of shampoo they are using, what toothpaste, what detergent (i.e., are they products of animal suffering,
ingredients or testing?) If you’re going to tell me you can’t fight apartheid and
change your brand of toothpaste I don’t understand that. So our great strength
lies in the concreteness of our challenge. It’s enormously difficult to work against apartheid in a meaningful way as an isolated individual. But we can give someone
something explicit and attainable to do they can be activists with a dollar bill. So
one test of how we succeed is how people spend their money-especially in this
country. Now, as for this question of how we “accelerate” the process. . .I’d say, ‘Go
to the mountain. Don’t wait for it to come to you: Go where they’re meeting; don’t
call a meeting and ask them to come because they’re going to be too busy. You
go to where they’re meeting and get onto their agenda and make the challenge as
detailed and concrete as you can. And make clear to all that they don’t have to
forego all other activities.
The manner in which we present ourselves to others, the way we couch our arguments, therefore, may be as important as the moral substance contained in
our vision. . .
Yes, definitely. One of the things that those of us who speak for the animals have to be mindful of is how we appear to the world because if we appear as losers, sulkers and complainers, bitter and so on, there aren’t many people who are going to want to be with us. That’s the mindset of our society. And so the change we’re working on, which is a sign of our own maturity, is to go from our adolescence-a period of rejection and rebellion, denial and negation and so on-to be affirmers rather than deniers, be for things rather than against things, positive rather than negative. Say ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ all the time. And we want to celebrate the beauty, the dignity, the integrity of the animals, and not just spout a steady diet of complaint. We’ve got to help the public see that the people who are on the cutting edge of doing the visionary work in the movement are self-actualized people who are making something creative with their lives. For each of us-at one point or another-the great
challenge is to recreate who we are, not simply accept who we are in terms of what culture, the environment or genetics have given us. The great challenge is to take what we’ve been given and to rearrange it and to make something new out of all those things. I think that there are people on the cutting edge of the movement who are the role models of that, who are self-actualizing, creative, talented, gifted, committed and who have given their lives meaning and value by making soemthing of it. Now those people are the ones you want to be around.
There have been some thinkers over the centuries who have thought that profound
structural changes must occur in society on a very broad general front before true specific changes can take root at lower levels. Can any kind of revolution occur in one country and not in the whole world, for example? It seems we have a similar question facing us. Can we hope to have real progress for animals before sweeping structural improvements occur in the fabric of contemporary society?
My view is that within my limited time, talent, energy I don’t think I’m going to
be able to bring about these large structural changes. So what I have to do is
work in the existing structure and try to make whatever progress I can there and
leave it to the next generation to try to do more. As mentioned earlier, within our
civilization and structure there is an issue of how people spend their money. Are
they spending it on cruelty-free products? If so, we’re making progress. We need to
outline the connection that animal rights issues have with the larger picture. The
idea that animal liberation is human liberation is fraught with tremendous meaning because the way out of our own bondage and current predicaments is not possible without helping the animals.
You mention the church as a fertile ground for education. But the same can be said for other realms of action, other movements, like feminism, for example. Is it fruitful, in your opinion, to try to form theoretical and practical alliances with movements which, like our own, are engaged in expanding the frontiers of moral and political “enfranchisement?”
Sure, I think that it’s both necessary and desirable to forge those kinds of alliances. We’re a social movement, a human potential movement. The big job at hand for many of the big and small group leaders is how to get people in the movement. Forging alliances like the ones you mention is one of the ways-blacks, gays, native people, feminists, etc. . . the peace movement, the radical ecologists, the Green Party. In some ways I think it would be tremendously desirable for some of the leading groups in our movement to meet with the heads of the major organizations struggling for social justice, and try to work out where and how we can forge those alliances. I’ve talked with people in the Green Party in England and they’re very receptive. They want to forge cooperation.
That, of course, doesn’t prevent us from appealing also to other constituencies which may not be so clearly organized, and which are apparently being passed over…
Exactly. There are many neglected constituencies that we need to get out there
and talk to – the religious community is just one. The artistic community is another-
not just show biz-but they’re important too. I’m talking about the creative people who often set the tone for an entire cultural period, and entire outlook on life and events. The choreographers, TVshow writers, poets, popular musicians. We have a very narrow definition of activism-it’s debating a researcher and that’s it. But there is a cultuml activism that we should begin to cultivate. Also, the chances of receptivity are much greater.
Go give a lecture to a bunch of biology majors, and then go give the same lecture
to a bunch of art majors. The difference is profound-the art majors are sympathetic
to our viewpoint. So why aren’t we out there talking to the art majors instead
of just the biology majors?
The next constituency I want to reach is the elderly. We’ve never done anything
with the elderly, always the young people. And this country is becoming grey at the temples.. .What do we do with them? They’ve become like animals in our culture. We put them in homes and wait for them to die. We shelter them, we warehouse them. So if there are people whose lives are going to enable them to empathize with the plight of animals, it’s the elderly who have seen the ephemeral qualities of beauty, and many of whom now feel powerless in regard to the larger society. Yet they have leisure time, they’re looking for meaning and growth. We need to try to figure out, not in an exploitative way, how to take our concerns to them so they enhance their own lives.
Let’s pause for a moment to ask a rather personal question. How did you become an animal rights person?
Two main things—one intellectual, one emotional/experiential. The intellectual thing was that my wife and I were heads of a small group called North Carolinians Against the War, we were in the anti-war movement. At the time, it seemed that the way to make my activism respectable was to combine it with scholarship and research, so I did research on non-violent conflict resolution and pacifism. In the course of doing that I naturally read Gandhi. Gandhi simply said to me, ‘Look, would you like to limit the amount of violence in the world?’ I said, ‘Yes’. ‘Well, what are you eating?’, he asked. Wow, I’d never thought about that—I was as blind as everyone else on that issue. I didn’t see the fork as a weapon of violence. I saw the gun as a weapon of
violence but not the fork. And so it was Gandhi who lifted the scales off my eyes.
That was an important intellectual thing.
But, experientially, we were away and came back from vacation and our dog had
been killed that day, hit by a car. It was an accident, but it plunged the family into
tremendous grief. And I came through that realizing the contingencies of one’s
life. It was like I realized in a flash that there was something about the boundlessness
of what I was trying to feel that couldn’t be contained by that one dog…it reached out to all dogs, all cats—and of course, all cows and pigs, and all the rest.
But it was that experience. Philosophy can lead the mind to water but only emotion can make it drink. Maybe it’s a combination of the two things. In my case it was both an intellectual and an experiential/emotional process.
I’ve seen other people go through similar experiences—the sudden realization of our fellowship with others—it’s a very powerful jolt to the heart.
Yes, and again, this is related to the more general thing we’re talking about.
The animal rights movement is providing an opportunity for people to take control
of their lives. This is so vital- not in some flimsy ephemeral way-but in the details,
and in the larger implications. . . I keep coming back to this-the details of your
life-that’s what you have control of. You can’t easily control nuclear power but you
have control of the details of your life. Also, within the peace movement, within
the religious community. . . what I like to hammer away at is that there will be no
peace in the world until there’s peace in your home. You’re not going to change
the structure of the world if you’re not willing to change your life. Who is kidding whom? And there’s no peace in your home so long as you keep consuming products directly related to the suffering of animals.
You were talking about reaching out to students, and new fields of mass education. What sense do you get in your travels around the country about the receptivity of college students? Because they are obviously a crucial constituency. They have a lot of free time for activism.
The next five years are really crucial for the success of the movement, because if
we fail to radicalize the college students I think well have to sit back and really
ask, ‘Where are we going with this movement?’ I think the kids have to be fed up
with all this conspicuous consumption. They have to be ready to chuck it. They’ve
got to be ready to go back to some sense of alternative meaning of life other than
having a BMW and the latest Sony stereo. This is a great opportunity, then, and
what we should be doing in a cooperative manner, not in a competitive way, is to
be preparing well-conceived, well-staffed presentations for college campuses.
Is there any possibility in the near future, say, in the next five years, of having university chairs devoted to the subject of a new global ethic, one that stresses the sacred interconnectedness of life? We, of course, see the urgency in this.. .
Sure. Here’s my experience with universities. If somebody puts up the money, they’ll do it. If you want to create these chairs and you have the money, there will be universities knocking one another over to get it.
You raise the idea that the animal rights movement is the movement for the 21st century. Considering the myriad of problems plaguing humanity today, do you
really see a possibility to make animal rights the centerpiece of attention? In
other words, why should animal rights be the 21st century’s preeminent movement?
We are trying to affirm the notion of the liberation of the person – taking control of
our lives, assuming more responsibility for ourselves. You can grow in a positive
way, in a life-affirming way, a self-affirming way, and the passage from where you are now to where you can be must pass through the problem of how we relate to animals.
My view is that the animal rights thing has tended to be very negative-don’t do
this, don’t do that. I’ve been doing it myself. I’m for protest, for direct action,
for all those things. But, I’m for something positive, too. This is part of a larger
attempt to bring forth the full-flourishing of the human being, and that’s what we’re
for and to do that we must be against the mechanized, routinized, institutionalized
exploitation of animals.
You mentioned once that the process of attaining a mature ethic, a true reverence for life, could be substantially helped by focusing first on our respect for animals. Are you saying that animal rights could be the bridge, the philosophical anchor for this moral breakthrough?
Our movement is one that begins with the animals, but it doesn’t end with the
animals. That’s what we’ve got to begin to see. To have respect for the beauty and
dignity and integrity of animals; to regard them as having a life of their own and so
on, is the beginning of wisdom. This is not one more big ego trip, one more passing fad. On the contrary, what comes out at the end of this is this sense of who we are.
Are you talking about what the Chinese, the Buddhists, called ‘the strength that comes from becoming one with the universe’? The peace of no longer being an isolated fragment of life?
There is this possibility of understanding oneself through empathy with
the other; and this is very close. But what we wish to emphasize is that there is a
sense of fulfillment of human life that is impossible to achieve without going through
the door of respect for animals. with all this conspicuous consumption.
You have just published a new book, Animal Sacrifices, and also done work on a new video tape. Could you give us an idea of what the Culture and Animals Foundation is? What are its main goals?
The main objective of the foundation is to try to find those creative, gifted people
out there who care about animals, in order to support their work. We need to
realize how artistic our culture is, how painting, poetry, fiction, drama, sculpture-
all these things speak very powerfully to us. Ask yourself this: when was
the last time you read a poem that celebrated vivisection? The answer, of
course, is “never:’ When was the last time you read a poem that celebrates the
animals? Well.. .why aren’t we doing something with that? Now, when I do a
presentation, I work poetry into it because poetry is a sort of secular Bible.
People listen differently because language is being purified—the impact of poetry is
Yes, poetry can always have a tremendous impact. But in the U.S. poetry itself is not as popular as in other countries. People don’t generally fill great halls to hear a poet read his latest creations. I’m afraid that in the U.S. pop music is where it’s at.
Yes, and that’s an important point to keep in mind. Much of the growth of the
movement may happen as a result of trickling down into popular culture. But
I’m also talking about ‘high’ culture. Usually we’re outside the theatre protesting
people walking in with their fur coats. We need to be in the theatre. The
question of animal rights must be on the stage, in the gallery, in the concert hall.
What do you say to those people who say nature doesn’t have the sense of compassion that we humans attribute to our moral destiny? Nature—they claim—is
blind; it has created murderous food chains and many other terrors, and we have no duty to rise above its inscrutable arrangements. . .
This goes back, I think, to the acceptance of limitation on human growth, and
the problem of human self-actualization and fulfillment. It’s what Sartre would
call bad faith, to attribute my lack of integrity and self-discipline to nature. ‘It’s
nature’s fault that I’m like this.’ It’s bad faith. Nature gives us, you might say, the
canvas. Your past is the paints, you’re the artist—what do you do with what you’ve
got? The bottom line, as I see it, is that a full human life is not possible without
respect for animals—so that’s the first thing we put on the canvas.
Do you see the ‘lion and the lamb’ finally lying down together?
Not in my lifetime.
Not even in the 21st century?
Yes (chuckle), maybe in the 21st century. Of course, the symbolism there is probably too strong for what we’re prepared for right now.
Professor Regan’s current activities center around The Culture and Animals Foundation, which can be contacted at 3509 Eden Croft Drive, Raleigh, NC 27612. A powerful animal rights introductory tool, ‘We Are All Noah,” is available for purchase through the foundation in various formats.
“All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, the animals are our equals.” — Peter Singer
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE IN 1986.
Additional materials follow.
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
[buy US] 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
Human beings and animals have benefited from toxicity tests on animals. 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.
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, if it is unjust 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.