Philosopher Critics
An Animal Rights Article from


Tom Regan, PhD
May 2010


In lieu of fair criticism of my philosophical case for animal rights, some people in high places — including some lofty towers of academe — have attacked me rather than addressing my ideas. For example, they have slandered my character by accusing me of inciting others to riot and by implicating me in a variety of crimes, including murder.

The way one philosopher shows respect for another philosopher is by challenging the other’s ideas, by trying to show (fairly, of course) that these ideas are false, or unsupported, or worse. To do anything else would be ...well, philosophical bad manners.


Ethical progress is never easy. We would be better at it, if it were.

None of us is so acculturated that we sleep-walk through our moral lives.

You don’t change unjust institutions by tidying them up.

The verdicts of history teach that entrenched social practices not only can change, they have changed. But never without a struggle.

People should not be deterred from moving forward on their journey because someone else doesn’t understand where they are on theirs.

A human being is not a robot, not a genetically hard-wired stimulus-response machine, not a body lacking a mind and will.

Everything we know about human growth — about the flourishing of the human spirit and the actualization of those capacities that make a human life truly worth living — points to the need for each of us to take charge of our life, to nurture our rational autonomy, and to cultivate our capacity to care, not only for ourselves and others but for what is true and just and good.

So long as we rest content with what we have been taught about right and wrong, we give sad testimony to the fact that our life really does not matter much to us.


Rights involve justice, not generosity; what one is due, not what one wants.

The money someone makes by violating another’s rights is never moral reason enough for doing so.

To attempt to determine which humans have rights on the basis of race is like trying to sweeten tea by adding salt. What race we are tells us nothing about what rights we have.

What happens to us after we die does not help us understand why we have the rights we do while we are alive.

Asking who has an immortal soul is as logically irrelevant to asking who has rights as asking who has blond hair or missing teeth.

Morally considered, a genius who can play Chopin etudes with one hand tied behind her back does not have a ‘higher’ rank than a seriously mentally impaired child who will never know what a piano is or who Chopin was.

The interests of those who profit from animal exploitation should play no role whatsoever in deciding whether to abolish the institution that furthers those interests.

The rights of animals should never be violated so that some people can have a good time or because others make a comfortable living from doing so.

The Animal Rights Movement

The struggle for animal rights is not for the faint of heart. The pace of social change requires the endurance of the marathoner, not the lightning speed of the sprinter.

My belief in the ultimate triumph of justice for animals is no less today than it was [twenty years ago, when I wrote The Case for Animal Rights]; if anything, it is stronger. Let’s just say my idealism has been tempered by a strong dose of realism.

The struggle for animal rights...calls for a deeper, more fundamental change in the way we think about membership in the moral community. It demands not an expansion but a dismantling of the for-humans-only conception...


The ethos of avenging angels is past. Ours is an age when benevolent assassins are asked to bury false ideologies. If philosophers have a future, it is this.

Moral philosophy is no substitute for political action. Still, it can make a contribution. Its currency is ideas, and though it is those who act — those who write letters, circulate petitions, demonstrate, lobby, disrupt a fox hunt, refuse to dissect an animal or use one in ‘practice surgery,’ or are active in other ways — though these are the ones who make a mark on a day-to-day basis — history shows that ideas do make a difference.

Animal Rights Advocates

Every Animal Rights Advocate has something to contribute to the animal rights movement. And not just any old something. What each person contributes is something special, something needed.

Eternal vigilance is required no less from us, to protect the basic rights of nonhuman animals, than it is required of everyone, if we are to protect the basic rights of human beings.

Animal Rights Advocates have no reason to be self-righteous, as if the world were divided into the Pure (that would be us) and the Impure (that would be the rest of humanity). Morally, we are all shades of gray.

The truth we must recognize, the truth we must emphasize, is that just as blacks do not exist for whites, or women for men, so animals do not exist for us. They are not part of the generous accommodations supplied by a benevolent deity or an ever-so-thoughtful nature. They have a life, and a value, of their own. A morality that fails to incorporate this truth is empty. A legal system that excludes it is blind.


Might does not make right; might does make law.

The old adage, ‘You can’t legislate morality,’ may be true. But we are in deep legal and moral trouble if we can’t legislate justice.

Morality in General

Fundamental moral wrongs are not alterable by future results. Or past intentions.

Great people are not above making great mistakes.

To act in ways that are respectful of individual rights is to act in ways that are respectful of the individual whose rights they are.

A prudent morality enjoins us to act on what is true, not on what might be.

Prejudices die hard

We do not need to know everything before we can know something.

Whether our preferences are evil is not something to be decided by determining how strenuously we deny that they are.

The appeal to tradition — an appeal one finds, for example, in support of fox hunting in Britain—has no more force in the case of hunting than it does in the case of any other customary abuse of animals —or humans.

That we are in the habit of doing something, or that we find it convenient to do it, goes no way toward justifying what we do.


The violence done by Animal Rights Advocates ... is nothing compared to the violence done by the major animal user industries, a raindrop compared to an ocean.

It is the propaganda machines of the major animal user industries that have made violence and animal rights synonymous.

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