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Animal Rights. Tom Regan. Contemporary American Philosopher Deontologist, in the tradition of Kant Specialist in animal rights The Case for Animal Rights (1983) “Animal Rights, Human Wrongs” (1980). Animal Rights. Utilitarians are wrong to focus only on pleasure and pain.

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tom regan
Tom Regan

Contemporary American Philosopher

Deontologist, in the tradition of Kant

Specialist in animal rights

The Case for Animal Rights (1983)

“Animal Rights, Human Wrongs” (1980)

animal rights1
Animal Rights

Utilitarians are wrong to focus only on pleasure and pain.

What is important is respecting the dignity of others, and to treat those with moral standing as ends in themselves, not means (c.f. Kant).

What is wrong with eating veal, for example, is not that the animal suffers, rather:

“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 put in our cross hairs for sport or money.”

moral standing
Moral Standing

Distinguishes “moral agents” from “moral patients”

Moral agents typified by competent human adults

Moral patients include everything that has interests, e.g. babies, the mentally incompetent and animals.

Both moral agents and moral patients have moral standing, i.e. are ends of themselves and are subject to rights

What has interests?


subjects of a life

“To be the subject-of-a-life … involves more than merely being alive and more than merely being conscious. To be the subject-of-a-life is to … have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare-interests; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, independent of their utility for others.”

Not all animals, but only animals that meet these criteria.

Typically “mentally normal mammals of a year or more”, although potentially other animals with the relevant cognitive capacity.


The following violate animals’ rights:

Raising animals for food or fur

Hunting for sport or money

Keeping pets

Keeping animals in circuses or zoos

(Most) vivisection

Like Singer, holds that only individuals have moral standing, not species or biosystems.

More inclusive than Singer as to what causes harm to animals – e.g. pets, raising well-cared-for animals for food, keeping happy animals in a zoo, etc.

Not as inclusive as Singer as to which animals matter: mostly only mammals of over a year old compared to everything that is at least as sentient as a shrimp

objections to singer and regan
Objections to Singer and Regan

1) Too inclusive: only humans or only humans and some other higher animals (e.g. the Great Apes) should count.

2) Not inclusive enough: should include all animals, maybe even plants (Goodpaster: anything alive should have moral standing)

Ironically animal rights is criticized as being essentially anthropocentric – still maintains that only persons count, but some animals count as persons

What about species, biosystems, larger ecological systems?

3) Practical complications

The devil is in the details

e.g. should we protect prey from predators? Should we inoculate wild animals from disease? Should we shoot some members of overpopulated herds (e.g. deer) to prevent mass starvation? How can we judge between competing interests/rights?



G. Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162 (1968), pp. 1243-1248, available at:

Guha, Ramachandra, “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique” in Environmental Ethics, Vol. 11, No.1 (Spring 1989), pp. 71-83, available at:


Goodpaster, Kenneth, “On Being Morally Considerable”, in Environmental Philosophy, pp. 49-65, available on reserve at the Philosophy Office