What is speciesism?

Speciesism is an ideology that considers the lives and interests of animals as not worthy of respect simply because they belong to another species. The notion of speciesism can be understood by analogy with racism or sexism; speciesism tends to place animals outside the range of moral consideration.

And what is anti-speciesism?

Anti-speciesism is simply the rejection of the use of the species of a sentient being as an argument for disregarding its interests and its life.

What is animal equality?

Humans, dolphins, kangaroos, chimpanzees, rabbits, fish, mice, pigs, doves, dogs, seahorses, squirrels … We are all sentient beings living on the same planet. Following from our capacity to feel pleasure and pain, our lives can be good or bad. What we feel during our lives matters to us and therefore we have an interest in them being as good as possible. That is why we all aspire to live the longest and happiest life possible and all want to avoid suffering and violence.

Ethics means taking account of reality beyond appearances. It is based on weighing everyone’s interests on the same scales, without arbitrary discrimination, regardless of age, race, sex and species and also of intelligence, beauty, strength, social status and anything else.

For example if being suffer there can be no moral justification for refusing to take their suffering into account. No matter the species of sentient being, the principle of equality demands that their suffering be acknowledged in the same way as the similar suffering of every other sentient being.

Thus if a human slaps a horse its hide is thick enough to protect it and it will feel only slight pain. However if someone slaps a baby with the same force he will cry with pain because his skin is more sensitive. Slapping a baby is therefore worse than slapping a horse, even though both slaps are delivered with the same force. As it is more violent and more painful slapping a baby must therefore be deemed to be more unjust than slapping a horse. Conversely there are, unfortunately, ways of hitting a horse, for example with a heavy stick, that would inflict as much pain as a slap would on a baby. The principle of equal consideration of interests implies that striking a horse in this way is just as unjust as slapping a baby. (Example given by Peter Singer)

In essence animal equality requires that the range of moral consideration be widened to include all sentient beings so that their interests may be fully taken into account.

Animal equality can also be understood as meaning that all animals possess inherent value and that they possess it equally. The inherent value is the innate value of the individuals, which is independent of any utility they may have for others. Thus the principle of justice demands that all sentient beings always be treated in such a manner that their inherent value is respected. One of the consequences is that such a being must never be treated as a mere means to an end and that every sentient being suffering an injustice must be helped.

Does that mean that a fly’s life is equal to a human’s?

Most anti-speciesist philosophers (Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Stephen Clark, Paola Cavalieri, Martha Nussbaum etc.) say that we can sometimes prefer to save a human rather than another animal for reasons that are not speciesist.

Imagine that a house is burning down and that in one flat there is a very old lady whilst in another there is a little boy. A man, a fireman, can save only one. If he saves the little boy rather than the elderly lady, it probably doesn’t mean that he is being sexist by preferring to rescue someone of the same sex. It is more likely that the fireman wants to save the youngster because the old person has already had a long life whereas the boy still has many years ahead of him and that in losing his life the boy would be losing much more than the old lady. This act would therefore not be at all sexist.

By the same token, if in a hypothetical situation you had to choose between saving a human or a mouse, you could save the human by reasoning that a human’s life expectancy is 50 times longer than that of a mouse (around two years) and that therefore the human has much more to lose than the mouse. This decision would not be speciesist because, as in the previous example, it would not be based on the criterion of the species but simply on the number of years each had left to live.

Other non-speciesist criteria could also be used, such as the wealth of the potential subjective experiences of each individual.

If you prefer to save a human rather than a mouse, does it not mean that you have the right to kill animals and use them for experiments?

Parents, given the choice of saving their child or the child of a stranger, would most likely save their own. But the fact that they would give preference to saving their own child doesn't give them the right to kill or mistreat the children of people they don’t know.

Similarly, if during a fire we prefer to save a human rather than a dog, it does not mean that we can use animals as ‘biological material’ in scientific experiments.

Furthermore, there is a big difference between, on the one hand, the case of two individuals in mortal danger when it is necessary to choose to save one of them and, on the other hand, the situation in which we deliberately inflict violence on a defenceless being. The latter situation is a good example of the law of the strongest and is immoral for that very reason. Moreover, in the latter case a sentient being is being used merely as a means to an end, with no respect for its own individual value.

Does that mean that animals should have the same rights as humans?

In many countries women benefit from the right to have an abortion whilst men have no such right. However that situation is not sexist. It is simply that rights corresponding to women’s interests are granted that would be of no use to men. In the same way an elephant has no need for the right to go to university nor squirrels the right to vote. Real consideration for animals simply means that we should respect their right to life and their right not to be tortured, and that their interests should be taken into account in our society.

Quite apart from the granting of legal rights to animals, new criminal offences could be effective in banning practices that show contempt for the lives and interests of animals. A prosecutor specializing in animal issues should be appointed to ensure that such offences are prosecuted and the perpetrators punished.

What are the practical implications of really taking the interests of animals into consideration?

Sincere consideration of the interests of animals involves ceasing to treat them as a mere resource or simply as a means to our ends. Their interests must not be disregarded just because they are of another species but must be considered equally with those of humans.

Real consideration of the interests of animals entails the abolition of various types of practice, whether entertainment (hunting, bullfighting, animal circuses, zoos), the food industry (livestock farming, slaughterhouses, fishing) or science (animal experiments).

However the speciesist practice that claims the most victims is the consumption of animal products. In fact 64 billion land animals are killed each year worldwide. And over the same period some 1,000 billion fish die of suffocation in fishing nets. Based on number killed, fish suffer the worst injustice of speciesism. Non-vegan diets thus cause more than 99.9% of the victims of animal exploitation.

In comparison the fur industry kills 60 million animals a year (0.0057% of the number killed for food) and animal testing causes the death of 300 million sentient beings annually (0.028% of the number killed for food).

Challenging speciesism and taking into account the interests of all sentient beings thus entails the abolition of various practices, the bloodiest of which, given the number of victims, remains the consumption of animal products.

Have you any other questions?

If so, you can visit this website: http://www.animal-rights.com/