Animal Rights Zone (ARZone)
Animal Rights Zone is pleased to present the following wide-ranging interview with preeminent animal rights philosopher Tom Regan in June 2011.
In response to questions from the members of ARZone, Professor Regan explains his ground-breaking rights-based theory of animal rights, recounts his own history of almost 40 years as an animal rights advocate, and looks forward to what the future may hold.
Please read this important addition to Professor Regan’s impressive body of work as he addresses a new generation of people concerned with the lives of other animals.
I’ve met three different types of Animal Rights Advocates—people who are working for true animal liberation. Some are born that way. They don’t need to be convinced; they’re not asking for some sort of proof; it’s just the way they are. That was true of Leonardo, which is why I call these ARAs DiVincians. Others (who I call Damascans) have a life-altering experience, comparable to what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. They see something, or read something, or hear something and, in the blink of an eye, they are transformed into an ARA. Lastly, there are those I call Muddlers. These are people who grow into an expansive animal consciousness a step at a time. They aren’t born that way. They don’t have a single life-transforming experience. They’re looking for some sort of “proof” to convince them. In other words, they just “muddle along.”
Different people respond to different opportunities. Over the years I’ve received letters from total strangers who tell me that reading something I’ve written “changed their life.” I’ve also received a like number of messages from people who think I’m a total nut case. So my experience has been: some people respond favorably to philosophical arguments; others do not. My advice? Let other people be our guide. Listen to them, to find out where they are in their life. Maybe they think they “have to eat meat.” Maybe they think “God gave animals to us.” Maybe they think “watching performing animals is great family fun.” Go with their flow. Be patient. Be genuine.
Sentiency usually is defined as capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, while self-awareness, as I understand the idea, involves more than being aware of something, including pleasure or pain. It involves being aware that I-am-the-one-who-is-aware-of (in this case) pleasure or pain. Without this higher order/unifying awareness, there is no self-awareness.
Second trimester human fetuses, I believe, are not self-aware in this way. Can they be sentient? Yes, I believe they can be. But are they self-aware? Are they aware-that I-am-the-one-who-is-aware-of-these-stimuli? I don’t think so. Indeed, I don’t think that newly born human infants are aware of themselves, as selves.
There is a concept some philosophers and psychologists explore called the specious present. Roughly speaking, and in this context, it refers to discrete moments of experience that are not united, not held together, by a self. We might think of this sort of mental life as being like a series of disconnected bubbles, each of which lasts only an instant before popping. One bubble, followed by another bubble, followed by another bubble, and so on. In this picture there is no unifying mind or self that carries the memory of the first bubble to the second, then to the third, etc. There is just the series of evanescent, disconnected bubbles, each lasting a moment before popping, none connected to the others.