The Case for Animal Rights: Preface
Regan (Tom)
Source: Regan - The Case for Animal Rights
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer


Full Text

  1. No book can be all things to all people. This dilemma, common to all those who hope to write for different audiences simultaneously, has been especially acute in the present case. On the one hand, I wanted to write a book that would be accessible to all those who labor for the cause of the better treatment of animals, persons who, for the most part, have professions other than academic philosophy. My hope was to write, in clear, intelligible terms, a book that would lay the philosophical foundations of the animal rights movement as I conceive it. On the other hand, I hoped to write a book that would command the attention of my professional peers in philosophy, one that was more philosophical substance than shadow, inviting the critical application of philosophy's highest standards, including rigor, clarity, justification, analysis, and coherence. The dilemma faced, quite simply, was that a work that perks the attention of philosophers can put others to sleep, while one that keeps the non-philosopher interested runs the risk of philosophy's benign neglect. Add to this a third, larger audience I hoped I might reach, comprised of those whose daily work brings them into direct contact with animals — veterinarians and laboratory scientists, for example — and the difficulty of choosing an appropriate style, pace, and tone should be apparent. Understandably, I do not know how well I have struck a proper balance. But perhaps the following remarks, aimed at the several groups of prospective readers, might not be judged inappropriate.
  2. To my professional peers in philosophy, I hope you will give this work your understanding indulgence when it spends time explaining ideas you already know well enough or, as in the "Summary" at the end of each chapter, it reiterates ideas you have already digested, but not when it comes to its arguments and analyses. In these latter places I assume you will subject what I say, as well as what I fail to say, to the closest critical scrutiny. Since, as I believe, the truth will withstand any fair criticism, what truth (if any) this book contains can only be decided by how well it stands up under the heat of informed efforts to refute its claims. That is the way the pronouncements of science are tested. I can see no reason why those of philosophy should differ in this respect.
  3. To those non-philosophers who work to improve the lot of animals, I ask your patience when the going gets rough — when, for example, there are pages of worry over whether animals have beliefs and even more over whether a given ethical theory is the best, all considered. To explore patiently these and related matters is the only way a reasoned case can be made for animal rights, in my view. Since all who work on behalf of the interests of animals are more than a little familiar with the tired charges of being "irrational," "sentimental," "emotional" or worse, we can give the lie to these accusations only by making a concerted effort not to indulge our emotions or parade our sentiments. And that requires making a sustained commitment to rational inquiry. If some of what follows sometimes takes more than a single reading to make sense, I hope you will spend the necessary time before moving on. I have tried my best to make difficult ideas clear; but even if I have succeeded, that does not make difficult ideas easy.
  4. Finally, to all those who come to this book from outside the profession of philosophy and independent of involvement in animal welfare-related activities, your patience is especially to be solicited, all the more so if you are a participant in one of the uses made of animals that is subjected to criticism — for example, the use of animals in science or their treatment in agriculture. As Socrates said, "Not for the first time, but always, I am the sort of person who is persuaded by nothing in me except the proposition which seems to me the best when I reason about it." Two propositions — first, that animals have certain basic moral rights and, second, that recognition of their rights requires fundamental changes in our treatment of them — seem to me the best when I reason about them. It is not out of malice, then, that the use of animals in science, for example, or hunting and trapping are condemned in the sequel. It is out of respect for what "seems to me the best when I reason about it." I hope those of you who lack a philosopher's or animal activist's interest in these issues will persevere and help to test how well I have reasoned about these matters, even if — one might say, especially if — the conclusions reached are critical of what you do.
  5. The positions defended in this book will be viewed as extremely radical by some and as too moderate by others. That is another respect in which no book can be all things to all people. Certainly some of the conclusions I reach have surprised even me, and, without having tried to do so, the book now appears to contain something to upset just about every special interest group. You will understand me when I say that I hope the conclusions reached will be assessed on their merits by subjecting my arguments to fair, informed criticism, rather than by seizing upon isolated claims and denouncing them as "too extreme" or "too radical," or as "too moderate" or "conservative."
  6. The pages that follow contain comparatively few facts about how animals are treated. There already exist books not soon to be surpassed that cover these matters. These works are cited in the appropriate places. I have operated on the assumption that those who would take the time to read this book would either already be familiar with these factual works or would use the present work as a stepping-stone to them. I have not set out to rival them. What I have sought to do is articulate and defend, at greater length and in greater depth than others heretofore, what it means to ascribe rights to animals, why we should recognize their rights, and what are some of the principal implications of doing so. Though it should go without saying, it is necessary to add that others who claim to defend the rights of animals may have a quite different understanding of their rights. Indeed, not only might this be so, it clearly is so in some cases. In defending "the rights view," as I call it, therefore, I do not presume to speak for all those, whether individuals or organizations, who see themselves as champions of the rights of animals.
  7. To make the case for animal rights is the dominant concern of the pages that follow, but not the only one. Short of allowing the miraculous a legitimate role in philosophical argument, no case can be made for the recognition of the rights of animals that fails to make the case for the rights of human beings, and a central objective of the present work is to do just that. At its most general level, therefore, the arguments set forth could, and should, be assessed both in terms of how well the case is made for recognizing the rights of human beings and in terms of how well the case is made for recognizing the rights of animals. Though I believe the case for the one is neither any weaker nor any stronger than the case for the other, that is a belief others might wish to contest. In any event, because the book attempts to make the case for certain human rights those who dismiss animal rightists as antihuman should be silenced. To be "for animals" is not to be "against humanity." To require others to treat animals justly, as their rights require, is not to ask for anything more nor less in their case than in the case of any human to whom just treatment is due. The animal rights movement is a part of, not opposed to, the human rights movement. Attempts to dismiss it as antihuman are mere rhetoric.
  8. The rights view is not a complete theory in its present form. Not all its implications have been addressed, not all its challenges anticipated. Even in the area of justice, many difficult questions (for example, about justice in the distribution of harms and benefits between individuals) remain to be explored. The more modest claim made in its behalf is that it identifies, clarifies, and defends a set of ethical principles that must be accommodated by any theory that aspires to be the best theory, all considered. That is not the end-all of one's aspirations in ethical theory, but it is the begin-all of making the case for the rights of animals. And that is enough, given present purposes.
  9. Hard thinking is humbling. Probably no one who has attempted to clear a path through thickets of difficult ideas has emerged brimming with confidence that every turn was the right one, made for the right reasons. We do our best with the time and talent we have, knowing we cannot avoid every error but hoping to shed some fresh light on the dark contours of human thought and institutions. Usually we have no cause to say this, or to say more than this, but the matter of animal rights is not usual in some respects. Not only are animals incapable of defending their rights, they are similarly incapable of defending themselves against those who profess to defend them. Unlike us, they cannot disown or repudiate the claims made on their behalf. That makes speaking for them a greater, not a lesser, moral undertaking; and this makes the burdens of one's errors and fallacies when championing their rights heavier, not lighter. With those who find mistakes in these pages that have eluded my grasp, therefore, may I take the unusual step to ask that you earnestly consider whether these mistakes can be avoided or corrected without weakening the kind of protection for animals sought by the rights view? The impotence of those about whose moral status we debate, when the merits of our arguments are at issue, imposes special constraints on those of us who debate them. By all means, then, let the bad arguments be identified and thrown out. But may those who find them look beyond them.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Dec 2018. Please address any comments on this page to theo@theotodman.com. File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page