Visitor:
Practical Issues > Things to Do > Communicate
On the Side of the Animals by RSPCA

Introduction

This booklet is complementary to the RSPCA leaflet Ethical Concerns for Animals. It is a collection of short essays by contemporary philosophers who take a pro-animal stance and who have helped to bring about more sympathetic attitudes towards animals in Western society. Together, these philosophers have provided an academic basis for the disquiet about animal cruelty which has been growing for at least two centuries.

The attitudes of society in general have now shifted towards greater interest in, sympathy for, and understanding of animals, including their ability to feel pain and to suffer in other ways. People have been made more aware of animals' lives and needs through television films and wildlife magazines, and through scientific studies of their social behaviour and intelligence. However, in the 1990s some academics -- notably the philosophers Carruthers and Leahy, and animal behaviourist Kennedy, have published books in which they challenge current concerns for animals. They consider that the "pro-animal" position is simply misguided, sentimental, or anthropomorphic. Unfortunately such arguments can readily be adopted by those who see concern for animals as an inconvenient or unnecessary constraint upon their exploitation.

How can it be possible to watch animals interacting with each other and their environment and still see them as creatures without feelings or lives that matter? Alas, empathy for animals or intuition about their feelings does not seem enough to counter the arguments of those who consider animals of little consequence. We also have to demonstrate the sound philosophical basis for making society's treatment of animals a moral issue. These essays provide a starting point.

Contributors

Mary Midgley

Formerly a Senior Lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle, now retired. Her book Beast and Man (1978) considers our proper relationship to the animal world. She emphasizes the continuity between humans and other animals and argues that acceptance of this in no way diminishes human dignity or freedom. Her book Animals and Why They Matter also considers how humans view animals and whether our treatment of them is a moral issue.

Stephen Clark

Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. His book, The Moral Status of Animals (1977) is a radical reappraisal of our current view of our position in the world and makes a searching enquiry into the morality of the way we treat animals. He argues that logical extension of the liberal tradition of sparing animals "unnecessary pain" is sufficient to impose a moral obligation of vegetarianism. His book, The Nature of the Beast (1984) examines animal behaviour with particular references to those patterns which seem to be seeds of human behaviour. It makes a contribution to the long standing debate about whether moral thinking is really a rational abstract procedure or whether, and to what extent, it is guided by motives and inbuilt behaviour patterns. Later work, notably Civil Peace and Sacred Order (1989) and How to Think about the Earth (1993), addresses other liberationist and environmentalist issues in the light of an orthodox sacramental theology.

Peter Singer

Professor of Philosophy and Deputy Director of the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Victoria, Australia and a Vice-President of the Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Societies. His book, Animal Liberation (1975, 2nd ed. 1990) sparked off a revolution in the way we think about animals and is perhaps the most widely read work on the subject both inside and outside the animal welfare movement. His aim in writing the book, in which he has succeeded, was to expose to the general public the extent of animal suffering involved in factory farming and animal experimentation, and to argue that our treatment of animals represents a moral blindspot and is logically inconsistent. Singer makes a powerful philosophical and practical case for vegetarianism. Like all the "animal philosophers", he is opposed to violent activities in the animal movement: his book was published before the advent of illegal activists who used its name.

Tom Regan

Professor of Philosophy at the State University of North Carolina, USA. He has made major contributions to the debate on animal rights throughout the last decade. His published works include Animal Rights and Human Obligations (1976), a collection of the scholarly philosophical essays which he co-edited with Peter Singer, and All that Dwell Therein (1982), a collection of his own essays. His major work, The Case for Animal Rights (1983) is an attempt to build a rigorous philosophical case to defend the rights of animals and to refute as immoral many of our current practices, including the killing of animals for food. Regan has taken an uncompromising stand for the abolition of animal exploitation since the completion of this work. He argues strongly for the positive response to animals in the humane movement and has been responsible for inspiring actors and other public figures to raise consciousness about animal issues without resorting to tactics of violent or negative demonstration.

Bernard Rollin

Professor at Colorado State University, USA, where he also holds a joint appointment of Physiology and Bioethics in the College of Veterinary Medicine. He teaches an undergraduate course on ethical and conceptual problems in veterinary medicine and lectures widely on the topic. His book, Animal Rights and Human Morality (1981) is less concerned with establishing a hard case for the rights of animals than with what might practically be done about changing our attitudes and, thereafter, our actions towards animals. Focusing on the practical, Rollin was largely responsible for steering through recent amendments to the US Animal Welfare Act, affording greater protection to laboratory animals.

Andrew Linzey

An Anglican priest and a member of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oxford. Professor Linzey holds the world's first academic post in the theological and ethical aspects of animal welfare -- the IFAW Senior Research Fellowship at Mansfield College, Oxford. He is also Special Professor in Theology at the University of Nottingham. His first book Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment (1976) made a significant contribution to the modern animal rights movement. Since then he has been responsible for many works on animals including Animals and Ethics (1980); Christianity and the Rights of Animals (1987); Compassion for Animals (1989); Animals and Christianity (1989); The Song of Creation (1989) and Political Theory and Animal Rights (1990). His latest book Animal Theology (SCM Press, 1994) argues that Christian theology provides a strong rational foundation for the moral status of animals.

Richard Ryder

Richard Ryder is a psychologist, writer and campaigner who has been a member of the RSPCA Council since 1972. In 1970 he coined the word "speciesism" to describe discrimination based upon species differences and contributed to the first serious philosophical work on animal rights for half a century -- Animals, Men and Morals edited by Godlovitch and Harris and published in 1971. He regrets he turned down an offer from Peter Singer to co-author his classic Animal Liberation, but made available some of his research which had been used for his own book Victims of Science (1975), subsequently described by Brigid Brophy as "one of the central books of the animal liberation movement". In the 1970s he also published a series of philosophical leaflets on speciesism.

More recently, Ryder has published Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism (1989) and edited Animal Welfare and the Environment (1992). In both, he expounds his theory of painism which combines a concern for pain with an emphasis upon the individual; in these respects uniting aspects of the Utilitarian (e.g., Singer's) and Rights (e.g., Regan's) positions into a unique third view. He was also author of the RSPCA's Declaration of Animal Rights which has formed the basis for many local government resolutions in Britain. Dr Ryder, as a political lobbyist, is involved with animal welfare in the national and international political arenas.

Editors: Sheila Silcock and Maggy Jennings.

Mary Midgley -- Animals and the philosophers

With a few impressive exceptions (Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Montaigne, Plutarch) philosophers in the West have until lately shown a rather surprising neglect for questions about how we ought to treat animals. But this neglect is now passing. In the United States (for instance) the number of philosophy students taking courses on this subject has risen in the last decade from none at all to about 100,000 every year. This change stems largely from the publication of Peter Sinaer's book Animal Liberation in 1975, but of course its causes go much deeper. Our civilisation is becoming altogether more sensitive on this topic.
Two things seem to have prevented its doing so earlier. One was a traditional Christian objection to nature-worship, which until lately was widely held to put animals beyond the pale of Christian charity. The other was an intense obsession with human dignity, which led to any sense of kinship or sympathy with animals being felt as offensive and insulting. In spite of these obstacles, humanitarian concern for the sufferings of animals did manage to find some expression in legislation during the last century. Interestingly, its champions were often the very same people who made similar struggles on behalf of human beings -- Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, and particularly the Utilitarian philosophers, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

Utilitarianism, a very direct moral view which concentrated all ethics on questions of pain and pleasure, happiness and misery, could much more easily accommodate animals than could either the Christian outlook -- centring on the salvation of human souls -- or the rationalistic one of 18th century philosophers, centring on the dignity of human reason. As Bentham put it, the right question about animals is not "can they reason?" but "can they suffer?" Today, nearly everybody feels the plain force of that question, and neither Christians nor dedicated humanists see any necessary conflict between its implications and their own ideals. Philosophers therefore are now occupied largely with details of how to fit animals into our existing moral notions, rather than with trying to keep them out. To fit them in is, of course, not easy because exploitation of them has become ingrained in our institutions. To recognise any duty to them at all involves making changes. But as most people now might agree that some changes must anyway be made, detailed questions of whether animals may properly be described as having "rights" are not as crucial as they used to be. There is still philosophical work to be done but, as proper philosophic work on moral questions should, it is now leading to action.
Stephen R. L. Clark -- A view of animals and how they stand

The commonest moral distinction, historically speaking, is between those creatures that are part of our own community (whether strictly human or not) and those that are outsiders. Creatures with "moral status" have rights as well as duties outsiders usually do not. Our own moral tradition has been strongly influenced by "humanism", the doctrine that all human beings, slave or free, foreigner or native born, have equal moral status. We do not always act on this belief, but it is so entrenched at a verbal level that we usually forget how radical it once was. Behind this doctrine lay the belief that all human beings were all, and uniquely, gifted: humans were quite different from "animals", because humans had some share in the divine. Utilitarian moralists, who argued that all that mattered morally was to try and produce the best ratio of pleasure to pain amongst all those we affect, included animal suffering in their calculation, thus contradicting the Cartesian view that animals did not even feel pain (let alone the pleasures open to a sophisticated humanity). However, the greatest fear of humanistic moralists until recently was that the barrier between animal and human should be broken down, and humans treated "like animals", merely as material for some complex utilitarian calculation. That was not how we wished people to be treated, but rather as "ends-in-themselves" (the expression popularised by Kant). We know now that animals are more like us than we thought, and must, correspondingly be granted a status nearer ours.

What is especially odd is that modern thinkers who are happy to subvert the older humanistic conviction that human beings were of a radically different kind (as being, uniquely, in the image of God) from non-human have been very slow to draw the proper moral conclusion, that we ought not treat creatures of another species than our own with radically less consideration than we show to our conspecifics. If species differences are only racial differences "writ large", and it is plainly wrong to make such racial differences a ground for radically different treatment (as that it is wrong to beat up "whites", but not to beat up "blacks"), we have to concede that if it is wrong to injure humans it must also be wrong to do identical or very similar injury to non-humans.

This is often all that is meant by the claim that "animals have rights", namely that they have something like the same moral standing as our conspecifics. It is wrong to burn a cat alive, or drown a dog, or evict badgers from the place where they have lived before, or from the only places where they could have chance of happy lives according to their kind -- or, at any rate, it is wrong to do so except with very good reasons of a kind that might seem to excuse similar treatment of human beings. Utilitarian theorists (like Peter Singer) can mean no more than this by talk of "rights", and would agree that the chance of a considerable net advantage to the general public would often justify us in killing or expropriating or even tormenting not just chickens, cats, dogs and chimpanzees but (potentially) any number of humans. Non-utilitarian thinkers (like Tom Regan) mean rather more by "rights".

According to Regan, it is the characteristic of being a "subject-of-a-life", a being that has a life to live rather than being a mere succession of stray sensations and impulses, that grounds the possession of "rights". These rights are not simply those of moral standing, but the more powerful rights of the liberal tradition. State action can only be justified if it does not violate the rights of its subjects, and the "general good" does not excuse homicide, expropriation or torture. People have clear rights, within the liberal tradition, NOT to be killed, tortured or even robbed even if this (under certain imaginable circumstances) did help others to achieve the best (utilitarian) outcome. Regan points out that there is no identifiable characteristic that literally all human beings have (thus grounding the equivalent rights of all humans) that is not also possessed by some non-human beings. At least those (though he does in practice reserve the class to the higher mammals) must therefore have just the same moral rights as humans do.

My own position is a somewhat different one. How members of our immediate social communities should be treated by each other cannot be decided solely by abstract argument. I would not be willing to concede (as both Singer and Regan must) that humans who were NOT subjects-of-a-life "in their own right" are beings without rights. They plainly do have positive, legal rights, and their interests will be defended by decent liberals. Non-human members of our communities have claims upon us, some of which are defended by law, and some merely by moral opinion.

Those who beat dogs to death do something that society does, and justly, may condemn without waiting to see whether the dog has abstract, metaphysical rights. We are now in a position to understand far more than our forebears about the global community that lies behind our lesser social communities: wild creatures, who are by definition not a part of our society, can be seen as living out their lives within the wider whole, which is that "Greater City whose Author and Founder is God".

The older liberal tradition, developing over the last two thousand years, was founded precisely on a perception of human beings as occupying a place within the global community which allowed them the opportunity to understand and care for creatures of all kinds. What our forebears lacked was a full understanding of the extent to which our welfare depends upon the health of the global ecosystem and the extent to which our evolutionary cousins can be hurt, harmed and injured in ways analogous to ourselves. The question before us is not simply "how may we produce the greatest ratio of pleasure to pain" (a wholly vacuous program), nor yet "what rights do creatures have before the community formulates them", but how may we best order the communities (social and global) of which we are parts? The answer, I believe, must lie in our taking seriously what we already know, that more matters even to animals than their own plain or pleasure, and that our survival even as a species depends upon being able to maintain or create substantial and civil ecosystems at household, civil, national and global levels.

Peter Singer -- The ethics of animal liberation: a summary

Behind our practices of eating animals, hunting them for sport, and using them as tools for research, lies the assumption that the interests of the animals count either not at all, or very little, when they come into opposition with the views of humans.
This assumption, however, cannot stand the light of impartial ethical scrutiny. There can be no ethical justification for refusing to extend the basic moral ideas of equality and rights -- which, at least in theory, most people now regard as applying to all human beings -- to animals as well.

At first this appears to go too far. Obviously animals cannot have equal rights to vote, or to free speech. But the kind of equality which animal liberationists wish to extend to animals is a special kind: equal consideration of interests. And the basic right that animals should have is the right to equal consideration.
This sounds like a difficult idea, but it is really quite simple. It means that if an animal feels pain, the pain matters as much as it does when a human feels pain -- if the pains are just as severe. Pain is pain, whatever the species of the being experiencing it.

To show what this means, here is an example. Suppose that you slap a horse across the rump with your open hand. The horse may feel something, but because of the nature of her skin, she presumably feels little pain. Now imagine giving a naked baby a similar blow. The baby would feel much more pain. Therefore, if there is nothing more to be said about the slaps -- no special justification for giving them -- it is worse to give the slap to the baby than to the horse.

But there must be some kind of blow, perhaps with a whip, which would cause the horse approximately the same amount of pain that the slap inflicts on the baby. Then -- still assuming that there is no special reason for inflicting either blow -- the principle of equal consideration of interests tells us that it would be just as wrong to hit the horse as it would be to hit the baby. The fact that the baby is human, and the horse is not, makes no different to the wrongness of inflicting the pain.

Many people make a sharp distinction between humans and other animals. They say that all human beings are infinitely more valuable than any animals of any other species. But they don't give reasons for this view. A moment's thought will show that there is no morally important feature which all human beings possess, and no non-human animals have. We share with many other animals the capacity to suffer, and to enjoy life. And if we try to find some higher capacity, like our ability to reason, our self-awareness, or our language, we find that there are some humans -- infants, and the profoundly mentally retarded -- who do not meet this higher standard.

If it would be absurd to give animals the right to vote, it would be no less absurd to give that right to infants or to severely retarded human beings. Yet we still give equal consideration to their interests. We don't test new cosmetics in their eyes. Nor should we. But we do these things to non-human animals who show greater abilities in using tools, or communicating with each other, or doing any of the other things which use those capacities of reason that we like to believe distinguish humans from animals.

Once we understand this, we may take a different view of the belief that all humans are somehow infinitely more valuable than any animal. We may see this belief for what it is: a prejudice. Such prejudices are not unusual. Racists have a similar prejudice in favour of their own race, and sexists have the same type of prejudice in favour of their own sex. Hence the term "speciesism" has been coined to refer to the prejudice many humans have in favour of their own species.

Speciesism is logically parallel to racism and sexism. Speciesists, racists and sexists all say: the boundary of my own group is also the boundary of my concern. Never mind what you are like, if you are a member of my group, you are superior to all those who are not members of my group. The speciesist favours a larger group than the racist, and so has a larger circle of concern; but all of these prejudices are equally wrong. They all use an arbitrary and morally irrelevant fact -- membership of a race, sex or species -- as if it were morally crucial. If we reject racism and/or sexism we must, unless we are to be inconsistent or make arbitrary distinctions, also reject speciesism.

Tom Regan -- The rights view

The other animals which humans eat, hunt, trap and exploit in a variety of ways (in sport, entertainment, and science, for example) -- these animals have a life of their own, of importance to them apart from their utility for us. They have a biography, not just a biology. They not only are in the world, they have experience of it. They are somebody, not something. And each has a life that fares better or worse for the one whose life it is, a life that includes a variety of biological, psychological and social needs and interests. In these fundamental ways, the non-human animals in our labs and on our farms, for example, are fundamentally like us. And so it is that the ethics of our dealings with them must adhere to principles that are fundamentally the same as those that should govern our dealings with one another.

These principles, according to the rights view to which I subscribe, must begin with the recognition of the inherent value of the individual. Just as the worth of one human being is not to be measured by how useful that person is in advancing the interests of others, so the worth of individual animals is not to be measured in terms of their utility for us. And just as I truly recognise your worth or dignity as an individual only when I come to realise that I am not to use you merely in order to advance my own interests or those of the group I favour, so I truly recognise the worth and dignity of individual animals only if I come to this same realisation in their case.

One way to mark this realisation and to express the further principles it gives rise to is to speak to the "rights of the individual". Among these rights, the most fundamental is the right to be treated with respect. This is a right that should be affirmed no less (and no more) in the case of the non-human animals at issue, than in the case of us humans. These non-human animals no more exist as a "renewable resource" for us than Jews exist as such a "resource" for powerful Gentiles, blacks for avaricious whites, or women for chauvinistic men.

This philosophy (the rights view) is categorically abolitionist when it comes to our disrespectful dealings with non-human animals. It is not larger, cleaner cages that are called for in the case of laboratory animals, but empty cages; not more traditional commercial farms, but no commerce in animal flesh, whatever; not more humane hunting and trapping, but the total eradication of these barbarous practices.

How we achieve these ends and whether we achieve these ends, are largely political and educational questions. The philosophy of animal rights does not articulate the means to be used. It does articulate the rational foundations of the ends to be sought. And those ends are as uncompromising in their denunciation of human exploitation of non-human animals as the means used to end this exploitation must be imaginative and creative.

Bernard Rollin -- A philosophical approach to animal rights

My work in animal rights has proceeded on two levels. In the first place, I have attempted to provide a moral ideal for our treatment of animals, an area virtually ignored by the philosophical tradition until this past decade. Without an ideal, we are, as Aristotle said, in the position of archers attempting to sharpen their skill in the absence of a target. Unlike some philosophers, I have not attempted to create this ideal de novo. Rather, I have tried, in Socratic fashion, to get people to extend to animals the logic of the ordinary common sense morality, embodied in our social practice and laws, which we all share by virtue of living in the same sort of society.

In the absence of any morally relevant differences between humans and animals which can justify our exclusion of animals from the moral arena or the scope of moral concern, we must bring to bear on our treatment of animals the whole range of our social moral machinery. Specifically, we live under a moral/legal system wherein the basic object of moral concern is the individual human, rather than the state, Volk, Reich, church, etc. We protect the individual from encroachment by the general welfare, by virtue of according rights to individuals -- protective fences around certain aspects of what we take to be essential to human nature. These rights are moral notions built into the legal system -- thus we protect freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, and guard the individual from torture even when it would be in the general interest to ride roughshod over a given person. But animals too have interests growing out of the nature (or telos as I call it, following Aristotle) which are as central to them as human interests are to us. And if there are no morally relevant differences between humans and animals, animal interests too should be protected by rights, and the legal status of animals must be elevated from that of chattel.

Apologists for the status quo sometimes attempt to forestall this conclusion by arguing that animals do not have interests, either because they lack consciousness altogether or lack the degree of consciousness requisite for moral concern. Thus, much of my recent activity has been devoted to exploring issues of animal consciousness, with special emphasis on various modalities of pain and suffering. The second level of my work has involved the attempt to bring this ideal to bear on practical issues. Thus, I was a key architect of recent US legislation which at least begins to provide protection for animals used in research. On this level of activity, I work primarily to get society to maximise the interests of animals consonant with current uses of them, and to upgrade their moral and legal status. In this capacity, I work closely with scientists of all sorts, most notably with veterinarians, to effect immediate and practical changes. Among my victories in this area I take special pride in the aforementioned legislation: in the abolition of the long-time practice of repeated use of the same animals for teaching surgery; in helping to galvanise the research community into using analgesia on laboratory animals, and in helping to pioneer the growing field of veterinary ethics.

It is manifest that significant change in the treatment of animals can occur only when major portions of society have moved from seeing them as cheap, expendable tools for human ends to what Kant called "ends in themselves". Towards this end, most of my writing, teaching and lecturing of late is aimed at those who currently use and abuse animals, rather than at other philosophers. In this way, I hope to accelerate a moral "gestalt shift" on animals, from which will flow major and enduring social change.

Andrew Linzey -- The theology of animal rights

The theological perspective on animals is significantly different from other philosophical, frequently atheistical, positions. In the first place, God is understood as the Creator of all life, human and animals. God is not -- and cannot be -- indifferent or hostile to that which is created. Since all life proceeds from God we must assume that -- at least as originally given -- this life is a blessed, purposed, life. In short: God cares for this life and wishes it to be respected. The concept of animal rights is founded theologically on the idea that God has the right to have creatures treated with respect. Animals have -- what I call -- theos-rights (literally God-rights) because God loves and values them.

Secondly, it follows that because of their divine origin, animals have an irreducible or intrinsic worth. From this perspective, when we speak of animal rights we do no more and no less than acknowledge the creator's rights. Rights, then, are not things which humans invent and award according to their own preferences but things which are objectively given; they are to be recognised and discovered. At the heart of the animal rights movement is a fundamental spiritual perception that animals are not just commodities, resources, tools or objects, but creatures with intrinsic value.

We do well to remember that the creation around is not "our" world but God's world. Human beings own nothing in creation, not even their own life which like all life is a gift and must be returned. Specifically, animals do not belong to us but to God. They are subjects of God's creative love and must therefore be objects of value for human beings. Human beings have been given power over creation not to despoil what God has made but to serve and protect it.

Historically, Christianity has not always been sympathetic to these insights and has, at its worst, simply reinforced a crude utilitarian or instrumentalist view of the status of animals as simply "here for our use". Yet, in addition to this negative strand, there has been a profoundly positive one.

People frequently overlook the Christian history of the humane movement and the RSPCA in particular. It was Arthur Broome, an Anglican priest, who called the meeting which first led to the establishment of the SPCA (as it then was) in 1824. He became its first secretary and ended up in prison paying for the Society's debts. The celebrated Victorians who supported the first "Prospectus" of the Society -- for example, Richard Martin and William Wilberforce -- were united in their conviction that compassion for animals was a Christian duty -- nothing less than "the pure spirit of Christian charity" required by divine benevolence. The first Minute Book in June 1824 stated that "the proceedings of this Society are entirely based on the Christian Faith and on Christian Principles". One of the "principle means" of promoting the aim of the new Society was to be the "establishment of periodical discourses from the pulpit" and the publishing of sermons.

Once again, Christians are beginning to speak out on behalf of animals. "Animals, as part of God's creation, have rights which must be respected", wrote Archbishop Donald Coggan (accepting the Presidency of the RSPCA) in 1977. The General Synod of the Church of England, in the same year, passed a long resolution in favour of animals explicitly endorsing "the due rights of sentient creatures". Archbishop Robert Runcie in two forceful statements in 1981 and 1982 opposed non-medical experimentation on animals and expressed his abhorrence of intensive methods of modern farming. In 1992, the present Archbishop, Dr George Carey, accepted the post of Vice-Patron of the Society. On his appointment Dr Carey said, "I am very concerned that human beings, who have unique ability and power, should treat the rest of God's creation with respect and sensitivity. The RSPCA stands for responsibility, love and kindness, and challenges human arrogance and cruelty. I am delighted to associate myself with this splendid cause".

The renewal of concern among Christians today is no less significant, I believe, than it was at the beginning of the animal welfare movement in the 1800s. Christians are often forgetful of their history and especially their theology, and yet it could be precisely these people who pioneered the animal welfare movement in the 1820s who will have a significant contribution to make to the development of the animal rights movement in the 1990s and beyond.

Richard Ryder -- Speciesism

Speciesism means hurting others because they are members of another species. In 1970 I invented the word partly in order to draw the parallel with racism and sexism. All of these forms of discrimination, based as they are upon physical appearances, are irrational. They overlook the one great similarity between all races, sexes and species -- our capacity to suffer pain and distress. For me, pain (in its broadest sense) is the only evil and therefore forms the foundation for all morality.

In my opinion morality is, by definition, about how we behave towards others. (Classical philosophers, in my view, have caused continuing confusion by muddling together the discussion of what we ought to do for others with psychological advice on how to enjoy ourselves). By "others" I mean all those who can suffer pain or distress, i.e., all those who are "painient". (I used to use the word "sentient" but this is, strictly speaking. too wide in its meaning as I am only concerned with that part of sentience which involves unpleasant feelings; after all, aliens from another planet might be sentient without having any sense of pain at all!).

Painism -- the concern for the pain and distress of others is extended, therefore, to any painient thing regardless of sex, class, race, nationality or species. Indeed, if aliens from outer space do turn out to be painient, or if we ever manufacture machines who are painient, then we must widen the moral circle to include them.

Painience, I believe, is the only convincing basis for attributing rights or, indeed, interests to others. Many other qualities, such as "inherent value", have been suggested. But, in my opinion, value cannot exist in the absence of consciousness or potential consciousness. Thus, rocks and rivers and houses have no interests and no rights of their own. This does not mean, of course, that they are not of value to us, and to many other painients, including those who need them as habitats, and who, without them, would suffer.

Many moral principles and ideals have been proposed over the centuries -- justice, freedom, equality, brotherhood, for example. But I regard these as mere stepping-stones to the ultimate good, which is happiness; and happiness is made easier by freedom from all forms of pain or suffering. (As nouns I will use the words "pain" and "suffering" interchangeably). Indeed, if you think about it carefully you can see that the reason why these other ideals are considered important is that people have believed that they are essential to the banishing of suffering. In fact they do sometimes have this result, but not always.

Why am I emphasizing pain and other forms of suffering rather than pleasure and happiness? One answer is that I consider pain to be much more powerful than pleasure. (Would you not rather avoid an hour's torture than gain an hour's bliss?) Pain is the one and only true evil. (What, then, about the masochist? The answer is that pain gives him pleasure that is greater than his pain!)

One of the important tenets of painism is that we should concentrate upon the individual because it is the individual (not the race, the nation or the species) who does the actual suffering. I believe, for this reason, that pains and pleasures cannot be aggregated and traded off between individuals as occurs in Utilitarianism. (One of the problems with the Utilitarian view is that, for example, the sufferings of a gang rape victim can be justified if the rape gives a greater sum total of pleasure to the rapists). But consciousness, surely, is bounded by the boundaries of the individual. My pain and the pain of others are thus in separate categories; you cannot add or subtract them from each other. They are worlds apart. Without directly experiencing pains and pleasures they are not really there -- we are counting merely their husks. Thus, for example, inflicting 100 units of pain on one individual is, in my opinion, far worse than inflicting a single unit of pain on a thousand or a million individuals, even though the total of pain in the latter case is far greater. In any situation we should thus concern ourselves primarily with the pain of the individual who is the maximum sufferer. It does not matter, morally speaking, who or what the maximum sufferer is -- whether human, nonhuman or machine. Pain is pain regardless of its host.

Of course, each species is different in its needs and in its reactions. What is painful for some is not necessarily so for others. So we can treat different species differently but always we should treat equal suffering equally. In the case of nonhumans, we see them mercilessly exploited in factory farms, in laboratories, and in the wild. A whale may take 20 minutes to die after being harpooned. A lynx may suffer for a week with her broken leg held in a steel-toothed trap. A battery hen lives all her life unable even to stretch her wings. An animal in a toxicity test, poisoned with a house-hold product, may linger in agony for hours or days before dying. These are major abuses causing great suffering. Yet they are still justified on the grounds that these painients are not of the same species as ourselves. It is almost as if some people had not heard of Darwin! According to Darwin we are related through evolution to the other animals. We are all animals. Yet we treat the others not as relatives but as unfeeling things! We would not dream, I hope, of treating our babies, or mentally handicapped adults, in these ways -- yet these humans are sometimes less intelligent and less able to communicate with us than are some exploited nonhumans.

There is, of course, very good scientific evidence that other animals can suffer like we do. They scream and writhe like us, their nervous systems are similar and contain the same biochemicals which we know are associated with the experience of pain in ourselves.

The simple truth is that we exploit the other animals and cause them suffering because we are more powerful than they are. Does that mean that if those aforementioned aliens landed on Earth and turned out to be far more powerful than us that we would let them -- without argument -- chase and kill us for sport, experiment on us or breed us in factory farms and turn us into tasty humanburgers? Would we accept their explanation that it was perfectly moral for them to do all these things as we were not of their species?

Basically, it boils down to cold logic. If we are going to care about the suffering of other humans then logically we should care about the suffering of nonhumans too. It is the heartless exploiter of animals, not the animal protectionist, who is being irrational, showing a sentimental tendency to put his own species on a pedestal. We all, thank goodness, feel a natural spark of sympathy for the sufferings of others. We need to catch that spark and fan it into a fire of rational and universal compassion.

RSPCA
Causeway
Horsham, West Sussex
RH12 1HG United Kingdom
Phone 01403 264181



Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer
Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin, annxtberlin@gmail.com