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This paper examines, identifies, compares and severalises the disadvantages and advantages of the views and ethical systems of the three leading academic paladins in the field of animal welfare and animal rights?

Animal Welfare and Animal Rights

Regan -  Singer  - Ryder

Jud Evans

We observe them as they direct their lances towards the doctrine that animals were put on earth for the benefit of humankind. We will look at the theories and Weltanschauung of Peter Singer, Tom Regan and Richard Ryder in their commendable crusades to promote a more humanistic and empathetic treatment of animals. The paper will conclude by identifying which of the theorists represented is nearest to the author's own position.

       As a life-long vegetarian who has never tasted meat in seventy-two years, and as a veteran campaigner for animal rights, the author is somewhat dismayed at the philosophical and ontological metaethical naivety, and the divisiveness and concomitant tensions generated in the public mind as a result of two of the advocates, namely Singer and Regan, claiming the existence of an intrinsic 'value' or natural inhesion of 'rights 'in animals. For me it detracts from the reasoning whereby they arrive at their valuable conclusions, for though the writer disagrees with the reification of intrinsicality by which route they arrive at their conclusions, I agree with many of their determinations and prescriptions regarding the treatment of animals.

      Such will be the note on which I begin this essay and such will be the same spirit with which I finish it. It has been my personal experience that an appeal to people's pragmatically enlightened self- centeredness, incipient anthropocentrism and natural appreciation of the fruits of instrumentality can do a better job of attributing value to flora and fauna than any transcendentalist fantasy does.

      Naturally I include the higher apes and members of our own human species in this denial and repudiation of 'intrinsicality' as an entiative 'property,' 'essence' or existential 'condition,' and I will develop this dialectical remonstrance later.. But first to address the substance of the essay question itself, and take a look at the main protagonists and their contending ideas.

Peter Singer - Prophet of Sentience

On approaching Singer we encounter the utilitarian stance which he developed in the sixties, when appeals to 'rights for all' was de rigour. His call was for an ethical system that would no longer be human- centred and specieist, which believed was just as loathsome as any other form of discrimination.. Holding to a consequentialist preoccupation with the secondary sequellas of actions, he advocated the maximum pleasure and minimum pain for the greatest number principle, and was no doubt influenced by Bentham's thought-provoking question: 'Can they suffer?'

In practical terms this would mean moral agents aggregating by means of a 'hedonic or felicitic calculus' the pain and/or pleasure quotient across the congeries of participants in some cross-species community of sentient moral patients, and establishing laws and policies based upon the outcome most likely to increase pleasure and limit pain for the greatest number of individuates.

Historically the Benthamite formulation referred specifically to humankind. Singer's seminal contribution was to elaborate and extend this anthropocentric humanitarian concern to include animals. His moral system incorporates a strict hierarchical infrastructure.

Sentience for him is the mental ability for basic consciousness - the capacity to feel or perceive, and to sense pain, not necessarily incorporating the ability of self-awareness, with the arbitrators of this property being the professional zoologists and neurophysicists. In the resultant zoological pyramid of sentience and sensibility humans and the great apes are placed at the top of a stratified gradation, with the lower animals and insects at the bottom with the whole structure supported upon the entablature of his restricted model of circles considerability. The prognostication regarding notions of the awareness of others and joint attention abilities in the higher apes on which his notions are based is not encouraging, as Warwick Fox recently pointed out in a well researched lecture at UCLAN. [2]

Tom Regan and the Subject of a Life

For the animal welfarist and abolitionist Regan there must be 'a cessation of the use of animals in science, a dissolution of animal agriculture and a total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping.' [3] For Regan like Singer and Ryder too the circle of considerability does not extend to the environmemt and biosphere, although all three manifest a respect for the ecology that we have come to expect from all those that are active in this field. The qualifying criterion of being considered inherently worthy, or to be in possession of the magic ingredient of having 'intrinsic value' is to be 'the subject of a life.' This Reganist 'esteem for life' approach was epitomised by the Christian doctor Albert Schweitzer and his spiritualistically derived notions of reverence for life. Schweitzer has a modern secular philosophical following. In some ways Tom Regan is a recipient of the good doctor's humanitarian inheritance. In stark contrast to this, Ryder's benchmark is not so much the nature of an entity's life, but the answer to a simple question: Can it feel pain?' In a breathtaking leap of metaphysical imagination and ontological ingenuousness Regan enthymemically attributes properties and abilities of self-interest to animals which they prudently harness in the maintenance of their entiative continuance, a crude abuse of personification and anthropomorphisation which would have put my old English master into an epileptic fit, for in itself the notion implies a human-style cognizance of a putative 'futurity.'

Fox pertinently observes: [4]

'To say that living things have an interest of some kind or on some level in maintaining their own existence, is to suggest that they actually "strive," "aim," or "desire" (or some such equivalent) to maintain their own existence.'

Richard Ryder and Painience

At this third juncture in our explorative review of animal welfare ideas we turn to the grizzled old campaigner of Animal Rights himself - British psychologist and coiner of the name 'Specieism' itself - Richard Ryder, who created the neologism 1970 because of the bad name which had attached itself to 'rights,' incorporating a negative implication in Britain entailing imagery of the work-shy and scroungers and 'the world owes me a living' brigade. Ryder prudently opted to call his brand of moral opposition to animal cruelty 'painism,' because it underscored any individual's susceptibility to suffering. [6] Ryder explains his adoption of 'painism' thus:

'If we are similar psychologically and physically then why not morally? If we share these to a degree, with other animals, then the morality that flows from this will also be similar.' ibid.

In the same talk Ryder makes it clear that a Singerian utilitarian-style 'aggregation' is out:

'But the aggregation of the pains and benefits of many individuals I consider to be meaningless. Pain, in its broadest sense is what matters morally; it underlies all other moral criteria. Our prime concern should be for the individual who suffers most.' ibid.

Contrasts and Comparisons

Components of each contrastive approach have much merit, and they share a common pioneering anti-specieist outlook, but we still need to examine the good points in each system and offset them against the drawbacks. Nobody can doubt the importance of Singer's ideas regarding the necessity of radical change in the way animals are perceived and treated. In many cases the maximum pleasure/minimum pain formula works well. Triage is a utilitarian-like system used by emergency personnel to allocate restricted medical assistance so as to treat the maximum number of patients according to a utilitarian style model, but there is always a tendency to select an extreme counter-intuitive examples [ like Callicott's sociopath and the baby example ] when any theory is being hostilely criticised. Compared to the advantages of his system, the underlying shortcoming of his brand of utilitarianism lies in its almost Kantian inflexibility . We can compare this Singerian rigidity with the very strict but more pragmatic and more flexible approach of Ryder in these matters.

Regan's zealotry is of another type - the abrupt abolition of huge swathes of age-old traditions human agrarian society and animal husbandry. Likewise with Singer, there seems to be no room for tractability and compromise when the confrontation looms with disgrunted farmers and egg-producers. In Singer's brave new world, the non-specieist fireman won't think twice when faced with the decision of whom to rescue first from a burning building - a healthy young Chimp or a human in a state of coma from which she is unlikely to recover. The chimpanzee is carried to safety first. As with Regan and Ryder - painless death is acceptable, but Singer goes further, in that for him it is quite permissible to painlessly terminate the lives of certain types of physically and mentally disabled people. In a Singerian world one would think twice about going in hospital for a simple operation, for one's body might be cannibalised whilst one was under anathestic and its organs re-distributed around the ward to ensure the survival of the 'deserving majority.'

A madman attacks a baby - what do we do? Kill the sociopath or let him kill the neonate? That is only the beginning of this roll-call of counter-intuitivity, for our whole existence would be dominated by this constant utilitarian introspection and decision-making as to an entity's rung on the ladder of psycho-physicality, together with the unceasing aggregating of individuals and groups in unending juxtapositioning of social scenarios and inter-species judgemental conundrums. My belief is that a Singerian world would be a Huxlian dystopia - a cold, frightening world of cold pragmatism, and ruthless utilitarian efficiency. Should our felix domesticus be deprived of the pleasure of killing mus musculus, or should a kitchen-floor drama be left to bloodily resolve itself in the manner of the world of natural predation outside, in which for both Singer and Regan animals would be left alone to: 'Carve out their own destiny,' as Regan puts it?

Another feature of Singerian utilitarianism is the so-called 'negative utilitarianism.' which requires us to promote the least amount of evil or harm, or to prevent the greatest amount of harm for the greatest number. The focus here is on minimising pain rather than maximising pleasure for animals. As with Singer, for Regan painless killing is acceptable, and indeed and discounting pain by placing less emphasis on providing pleasure is the name of the game. Whilst for Ryder the pain of the individual is paramount, transacting the agony of one individual against that of another is valid act.


I am by far attracted to Ryder, the man who confessed that he coined the term Specieism partly to avoid having to use the word "rights," whose more worldly approach appears to me to be altogether more pragmatic and sensible, and potentially productive for the success of the movement mainly because it encapsulates the genuine aspirations of the utilitarian and rights positions without invoking their orphic claims to some mysterious myth of intrinsicality of 'rights' or 'value' as being metaphysically 'resident' in animals, as an a priori state of grace of which it is only a matter of time before we more cognisant members of the higher species become respectfully aware. 'Intrinsicality' is plainly instrumentality tricked out in metaphysical masquerade, for the attriibution of instrinsic properties to another entity, is merely a recognition on behalf of the attributant that the simple presence of the attributee is cognitively or physically pleasurable.

As Ryder points out:

'I believed, first, that people too often spoke of "rights" [7] as if they had some independent existence - this seemed irrational to me. The essential qualification for rights is, therefore, Painience - the capacity to suffer pain or distress of any sort.'

As for me, though many thinkers still persist in clinging to the general belief that intrinsic value is itself so obvious that it lets them go immediately to the question of what can or should be described as having intrinsic value, there is a growing understanding and unanimity of respect for our environment and other species which can flourish without the need to accept the dubious claims of the intrinsic value of animals.

That which is important is not by which philosophical journey or the itinerary by which we arrive at our reformist conclusions, but the need to arrive and change the personal praxis of our people and the shape of the public policies wereby we interact with the animals which need our protection. I have no doubt that gradually there will be a convergence between the pragmatic wing of animal rights and the metaphysical approach, for whether animal worth and value and rights be intrinsically present or extrinsically attributed history is certainly on the side of the animals as well as the angels.


[1] en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Speciesism

2] Fox Warwick. 'Mindreading,' Joint Attention, Language and Harm: Cognitive Capacities and Moral Obligations. Lecture. UCLAN. 03.11.2005.

[3] Tom Regan. The Case for Animal Rights.

[4] Fox, Warwick. A Critical Overview of Environmental Ethics. World Futures 46 (1996) 1-21.

[5] Op cit 36. quoting Singer's 'Practical Ethics.' 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press 1993, p. 279.

[6] Ryder, Richard. DARWINISM, ALTRUISM AND PAINIENCE - In a Talk presented to Animals, People & the Environment 19.06.1999 http://www.ivu.org/ape/talks/ryder/ryder.htm

[7] op cit.