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Speciesism - Index
The Origin of Speciesism
Speciesism vs. Inalienable Rights
Speciesism is the act of treating an individual, not according to its
characteristics (such as the ability to suffer), but according to the
species to which the individual belongs.
In the past, there have been a number of definitions of what
constitutes a different species. Today it is defined genetically. To
defenders of speciesism, this raises the following questions:
1. Why should rights be granted on the basis of genes?
2. If rights should be based on genes, why should the line be drawn
at species rather than race, order, phylum, or kingdom?
3. Like genes that determine one's eye color, skin color, etc., which
gene determines rights?
Basing rights on species is arbitrary. It is no more rational than basing
rights on the pigmentation of skin or on gender, which are also determined
I look at the term "species", as one arbitrarily given for the
sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other...
The Origin of Species
As a society, we recognize basic rights of humans to their lives and bodies.
We consider these rights "inalienable", meaning that no one can take
Humans are granted rights to their lives because most have a strong desire
to avoid death and suffer fear when their lives are threatened. Humans are
granted control over their own bodies because they suffer pain when their
bodies are mutilated, and boredom and frustration when caged for long periods
of time. Since we, as a society, understand how horrible these sorts of
sufferings are, we try to protect humans from those who might kill, mutilate,
or cage them, regardless of the benefits to others that such sufferings might
Animals whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our
Metaphysics, Materialism, and the Evolution of Mind
Based on common physiology and behavior, it is safe to say that vertebrate
animals suffer fear when their lives are threatened, pain when their bodies are
mutilated, and boredom and frustration when caged for long periods of time.
In speaking about whether animals should be granted rights, Jeremy Bentham
(Oxford University Professor of Jurisprudence) said, "The question is not,
Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? But rather, Can they suffer?" (An
Introduction to the Principles of Morals & Legislation, 1789) For those
who can suffer, the degree of suffering, not the species of the sufferer, is
what should count. Similarly, if an individual desires to live, then its life
should be respected.
Animals show they value their lives and freedom by their struggles against
being caged and killed. The act of depriving them of life or freedom harms them
in many of the same ways a human is harmed when deprived of life or freedom.
Since animals can feel pain and desire to live, should they not be granted
basic rights to their lives and bodies? As individuals capable of acting
morally, how can we justify their continued exploitation and slaughter?
Makes Right, a longer essay on animal rights, is available as part of
our Vegan Advocacy
Liberation, the classic book by Peter Singer is also available from
Vegan Outreach; Singer's Practical Ethics (2nd Edition) is also an
All the arguments to prove human superiority cannot shatter this hard fact:
in suffering, the animals are our equals.
author of Animal Liberation