An evolutionary argument against exclusively human dignity

Traditional morality assumes that there is something morally special about being human. The fact that someone is a human being, rather than, say, a dog or a cow, makes a big difference in how he or she may be treated. Humans have full and equal moral worth or dignity and thus may not be killed, even if doing so would promote the greater good, whereas non-human animals have a lesser moral status and can be sacrificed for even the most trivial human pleasures.

This moral worldview fits well with the Aristotelian idea of a hierarchy of being, according to which each species is a static group of organisms with a distinct essence. The philosophical line that morally distinguishes humans from other animals corresponds to the empirical line that Aristotle thought distinguishes the human species from other animal species. Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, however, we know that there is no such line on the empirical side of things. We now understand that all life is interrelated, and that biological characteristics come in degrees and continually evolve as a result of natural selection. As the principle of evolutionary continuity informs us, any differences between species are differences in degree, and not in kind. The real picture looks something like this:

Continue reading “An evolutionary argument against exclusively human dignity”

Jagannath University students discuss the philosophy of animal rights

On Tuesday, December 3, 2019, the Department of Philosophy at Jagannath University in Dhaka, Bangladesh hosted a day-long workshop on the life and philosophy of American philosopher Tom Regan. The workshop was conducted by Wilson John Simon, a researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and me. We were invited by the Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy, Professor Siddhartha Shankar Joarder, who also moderated part of the discussion. Continue reading “Jagannath University students discuss the philosophy of animal rights”

Bangla translation of Tom Regan’s The Philosophy of Animal Rights published

Dyu Publication, a Dhaka-based press, published a Bangla translation of Tom Regan‘s The Philosophy of Animal Rights (ISBN: 978-984-93197-6-4; English original available here), which offers an accessible and compelling introduction to the philosophy of animal rights. This is the first time any of Regan’s work has been translated into Bangla. Continue reading “Bangla translation of Tom Regan’s The Philosophy of Animal Rights published”

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

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.