Philosopher-activist Tom Regan, preeminent advocate of animal rights, dead at 78


Horrified by the tragic loss of innocent human life in the then-ongoing Vietnam War, a young philosopher by the name of Tom Regan went to the university library and buried himself in books on war, violence, and human rights, determined to prove that the American involvement in the war was morally wrong. One day, he picked up Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Reading it with great care and interest, he must have come across the following lines:

“To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” Continue reading →

Second Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics Special Issue on Animal Ethics published

BBSThe way we think about and treat non-human animals is deeply confused, and scholars are in a unique position to provide some clarity. The Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics hence decided to dedicate two special issues to the relationship between human beings and other animals, and asked me to be the guest editor.

Less than two weeks after the first issue was published, the second special issues has now been published as well, and is available here. My editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:

  • Editorial
  • Bob Fischer (Texas State University, U.S.A.):
    Wild Fish and Expected Utility
  • Akande Michael Aina (Lagos State University, Nigeria) & Ofuasia Emmanuel (Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria):
    The Chicken Fallacy and the Ethics of Cruelty to Non-Human Animals
  • Iván Ortega Rodríguez (Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain):
    Animal Citizenship, Phenomenology, and Ontology: Some reflections on Donaldson’s & Kymlicka’s Zoopolis
  • Rhyddhi Chakraborty (American University of Sovereign Nations, U.S.A.):
    Animal Ethics and India: Understanding the Connection through the Capabilities Approach
  • Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.):
    Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 2

Continue reading →

First Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics Special Issue on Animal Ethics published

BBSLast August, I accepted an invitation to edit a special issue of the Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics, devoted to animal ethics. The interest was so great that one issue became two, the first of which has just been published.

The first special issue is available here, my editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:

  • Editorial
  • Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.):
    Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 1
  • Eric X. Qi (Rice University, U.S.A.):
    Special Relations, Special Obligations, and Speciesism
  • Yamikani Ndasauka & Grivas M. Kayange (University of Malawi, Malawi):
    Existence and Needs: A case for the equal moral considerability of non-human animals
  • Sreetama Chakraborty (Belda College, India):
    Animal Ethics: Beyond Neutrality, Universality, and Consistency
  • Gabriel Vidal Quiñones (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile):
    Singerian Vegetarianism and the Limits of Utilitarianism: A path towards a Meaning Ethics

Continue reading →

Professor Tom Regan: An Introduction to Animal Rights

This presentation by Professor Tom Regan (North Carolina State University, USA) was recorded at the University of Heidelberg in Germany on May 24, 2006. It is a great resource for the classroom and anybody with an interest in animal ethics.

Abstract. Philosopher Tom Regan begins by contrasting the fact that many people make a firm distinction between the animals they live with (cats and dogs, for example) and other animals. He explains how it is that Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) extend the same sense of compassion and respect that they feel for companion animals, on the one hand, to the other animals who routinely are turned into food, clothing, and the like, on the other. Not all ARAs, he explains, arrive at this destination in the same way. In particular, some need to be convinced; some need a logical argument. Professor Regan accepts this challenge and invites others to consider the main factual and moral questions whose answers inform the conviction that animals have rights.

The Wrongness of Killing

George Sher & Rainer Ebert

In May 2016, I graduated with a PhD in Philosophy from Rice University. I wrote my dissertation on the wrongness of killing, under the direction of Professor George Sher (pictured above), and this is the abstract:

There are few moral convictions that enjoy the same intuitive plausibility and level of acceptance both within and across nations, cultures, and traditions as the conviction that, normally, it is morally wrong to kill people.

Attempts to provide a philosophical explanation of why that is so broadly fall into three groups: Consequentialists argue that killing is morally wrong, when it is wrong, because of the harm it inflicts on society in general, or the victim in particular, whereas personhood and human dignity accounts see the wrongness of killing people in its typically involving a failure to show due respect for the victim and his or her intrinsic moral worth.

I argue that none of these attempts to explain the wrongness of killing is successful. Consequentialism generates too many moral reasons to kill, cannot account for deeply felt and widely shared intuitions about the comparative wrongness of killing, and gives the wrong kind of explanation of the wrongness of killing. Personhood and human dignity accounts each draw a line that is arbitrary and entirely unremarkable in terms of empirical reality, and hence ill-suited to carry the moral weight of the difference in moral status between the individuals below and above it. Paying close attention to the different ways in which existing accounts fail to convince, I identify a number of conditions that any plausible account of the wrongness of killing must meet. I then go on to propose an account that does.

I suggest that the reason that typically makes killing normal human adults wrong equally applies to atypical human beings and a wide range of non-human animals, and hence challenge the idea that killing a non-human animal is normally easier to justify than killing a human being. This idea has persisted in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the present, and even progressive moral thinkers and animal advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan are committed to it. I conclude by discussing some important practical implications of my account.

If you are interested, I would be happy to send you a PDF copy of my dissertation. Please use this contact form to get in touch.

Animal Rights: Objections, Myths, and Misconceptions


Each one of us encounters animals every day, if only as a piece of meat on a plate, and yet most of us hardly spare a thought for them. Shafayat Nazam Rasul must hence be commended for his Tuesday op-ed, in which he drew our attention to the complicated relationship between humans and other animals, and started a conversation that I think is very important. In the course of doing so, he mentioned a number of common objections to the idea that non-human animals are our moral equals and have rights. It is unfortunate, however, that these objections remained unanswered, as readers might have gotten the impression that animal rights advocates “spew an extreme,” as the author rather uncharitably stated, and do not have good arguments. By responding to some of the objections, I want to show that the philosophy of animal rights is in fact a well-thought-out moral theory worthy of our serious attention. Continue reading →

নিরামিষ খাবার নিয়ে দু’টি কথা

আপনি কয়জন বাঙালীকে চেনেন যে শর্ষে ইলিশ ভালবাসে না? কাচ্চি বিরিয়ানি অথবা গরুর রেজালা ছাড়া কোন বাংলাদেশী বিয়ে কল্পনা করতে পারেন? অনুমান করতে পারি আপনার উত্তর হবে খুব বেশি না অথবা একেবারেই না। যদিও বাংলাদেশ সম্পর্কে আমার জ্ঞান সীমিত, আমি এটুকু জানি, বাঙালী মাংস ভালবাসে, মুসলমানেরা হিন্দুদের থেকে বেশি, আর সব বাঙালী মাছ ভালবাসে। সেজন্য মনে হতে পারে বাংলাদেশে প্রাণীদের অধিকার নিয়ে কথা বলা বাতুলতা। কিন্তু আমার অভিজ্ঞতা সম্পূর্ণ বিপরীত। Continue reading →

Eating animals

How many Bengalis do you know who do not like shorshe ilish? Can you imagine a Bengali wedding without kacchi biryani, or beef rezala? If I had to guess, I would say that your answers are “not many,” and “hardly.” Even though my knowledge of Bengal is rather limited, I think this I know: Bengalis love meat, Muslims probably a bit more so than Hindus, and virtually every Bengali loves fish. One might think that makes lecturing about animal rights in Bangladesh a quixotic exercise. I found that the opposite is the case. Continue reading →

New report condemns the use of animals in research

I am one of more than a hundred and fifty academics, intellectuals, and writers who have backed a new report calling for the de-normalisation of animal experimentation. Titled “Normalising the Unthinkable,” the report is the result of a working party of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

The report finds that “[t]he deliberate and routine abuse of innocent, sentient animals involving harm, pain, suffering, stressful confinement, manipulation, trade, and death should be unthinkable. Yet animal experimentation is just that: the ‘normalisation of the unthinkable.'” Continue reading →

Innocent Threats and the Moral Problem of Carnivorous Animals


Abstract: The existence of predatory animals is a problem in animal ethics that is often not taken as seriously as it should be. We show that it reveals a weakness in Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights that also becomes apparent in his treatment of innocent human threats. We show that there are cases in which Regan’s justice-prevails-approach to morality implies a duty not to assist the jeopardized, contrary to his own moral beliefs. While a modified account of animal rights that recognizes the moral patient as a kind of entity that can violate moral rights avoids this counter-intuitive conclusion, it makes non-human predation a rights issue that morally ought to be subjected to human regulation. Jennifer Everett, Lori Gruen and other animal advocates base their treatment of predation in part on Regan’s theory and run into similar problems, demonstrating the need to radically rethink the foundations of the animal rights movement. We suggest to those who, like us, find it less plausible to introduce morality to the wild than to reject the concept of rights that makes this move necessary to read our criticism either as a modus tollens argument and reject non-human animal rights altogether or as motivating a libertarian-ish theory of animal rights.

Rainer Ebert & Tibor R. Machan, “Innocent Threats and the Moral Problem of Carnivorous Animals,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 29 (2012), pp. 146-159.

Interview: African Philosophy, and non-human animals

reginald_oduorUniversity of Nairobi’s Reginald M. J. Oduor talks to Anteneh Roba and Rainer Ebert:

Q: Could you please introduce yourself and describe your academic career?

Dr. Oduor: I am a Kenyan, born in 1963 in Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley. However, my ancestral home is Ugenya, a part of the former Nyanza Province, now part of Siaya County. As I had total visual disability from the age of one, I studied at the Thika School for the Blind up to O-level. I then undertook my A-level studies at Thika High School, a regular boys’ school, where we were only two boys with visual disabilities; yet, the two of us came out top in a class of ninety-five boys. Continue reading →

Tierrechte – Eine interdisziplinäre Herausforderung

tierrechteKurzbeschreibung: Vier Themenbereiche – “Die Natur von Menschen und Tieren”, “Philosophie”, “Politik, Recht und Gesellschaft” und “Religion und Kultur” – strukturieren die Beiträge der von der IAT Heidelberg organisierten und in diesem Band dokumentierten Vortragsreihe “Tierrechte”. Siebzehn Autorinnen und Autoren leisten aus ganz verschiedenen Perspektiven einen Beitrag zu einer Diskussion, deren Gegenstand tatsächlich eine interdisziplinäre Herausforderung darstellt, darüber hinaus aber eines gesamtgesellschaftlichen Diskurses bedarf. Der Band vereinigt die Vorträge der internationalen Vorlesungsreihe “Tierrechte” an der Universität Heidelberg im Sommersemester 2006. Herausgegeben von der Interdisziplinären Arbeitsgemeinschaft Tierethik Heidelberg (IAT) mit ihren gegenwärtigen und früheren Mitgliedern Katharina Blesch, Alexandra Breunig, Stefan Buss, Guillaume Dondainas, Rainer Ebert, Florian Fruth, Nils Kessler, Matthias Müller, Uta Panten, Anette Reimelt, Bernd Schälling, Jürgen Schneele, Adriana Sixt-Sailer, Manja Unger und Alexander Zehmisch, setzt er die mit der Vorlesungsreihe begonnenen Bemühungen um eine unvoreingenommene Vermittlung der tierethischen Forschung fort. Der Band will es Lesern und Leserinnen ermöglichen, von verschiedenen Seiten Einblick in den modernen Tierrechtsdiskurs zu erhalten.

Rainer Ebert et al. (editors), Tierrechte – Eine interdisziplinäre Herausforderung (Erlangen: Harald Fischer Verlag, 2007).