Speciesism

While both are animals, cows are largely treated as livestock and killed to be eaten, while dogs are usually given special status and treatment as pets.

Speciesism (z-/) is a form of discrimination based on species membership.[1][2] It involves treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species even when their interests are equivalent.[3][4] More precisely, speciesism is the failure to consider interests of equal strength to an equal extent because of the species of which the individuals have been classified as belonging to.[1][5][6]

The term is often used by vegans, who argue that speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences. Their claim is that species membership has no moral significance.[7] It is thought that speciesism plays a role in inspiring or justifying cruelty in the forms of factory farming, the use of animals for entertainment such as in bullfighting and rodeos, the taking of animals' fur and skin, experimentation on animals,[8] and the refusal to aid nonhuman animals in the wild suffering due to natural processes.[9][10]

An example of a speciesist belief would be the following: Suppose that both a dog and a cow both need their tails removed for medical reasons. If someone believes that the dog and the cow have equivalent interests, but insists that the dog receive pain relief for the operation, yet is fine with the cow's tail being docked without pain relief, remarking, "it's just a cow." This belief is speciesist because the cow's species membership is being used as a justification for disregarding their interest in not suffering intense pain.[citation needed]

It is possible to give more consideration to members of one species than to members of another species without being speciesist.[2] For example, consider the belief that a typical human has an interest in voting but that a typical gorilla does not. This belief can involve starting with a premise that a certain feature of a being—such as being able to understand and participate in a political system in which one has a political representative—is relevant no matter the being's species. For someone holding this belief, a test for whether the belief is speciesist would be whether they would believe a gorilla who could understand and participate in a political system in which she had a political representative would have an interest in voting.

There are a few common speciesist paradigms.

  • Simply considering humans superior to other animals. This is often called human supremacism—the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the rights, freedoms, and protections afforded to humans.[11]
  • Considering certain nonhuman animals to be superior to others because of an arbitrary similarity, familiarity, or usefulness to humans. For example, what could be called "human-chimpanzee speciesism" would involve human beings favoring rights for chimpanzees over rights for (say) dolphins, because of happenstance similarities chimpanzees have to humans that dolphins do not.[12] Similarly, the common practice of humans treating dogs much better than cattle may have to do with the fact that many humans live in closer proximity to dogs and/or find the cattle easier to use for their own gain.
  • Simply considering individuals of certain species as superior to others. For example, treating pigs as though their well-being is unimportant, but treating horses as though their well-being is very important, even with the awareness that their mental capacities are similar.[citation needed]
  • Deliberately harming or refusing aid to nonhuman animals in the wild classified as belonging to certain a species, in the name of preserving species, populations, biodiversity or ecosystems.[13][14]

History

Origin of the term

Richard D. Ryder coined the term "speciesism" in 1970

The term speciesism, and the argument that it is simply a prejudice, first appeared in 1970 in a privately printed pamphlet written by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder. Ryder was a member of a group of academics in Oxford, England, the nascent animal rights community, now known as the Oxford Group. One of the group's activities was distributing pamphlets about areas of concern; the pamphlet titled "Speciesism" was written to protest against animal experimentation.[15]

Ryder argued in the pamphlet that "[s]ince Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no 'magical' essential difference between humans and other animals, biologically-speaking. Why then do we make an almost total distinction morally? If all organisms are on one physical continuum, then we should also be on the same moral continuum." He wrote that, at that time in the UK, 5,000,000 animals were being used each year in experiments, and that attempting to gain benefits for our own species through the mistreatment of others was "just 'speciesism' and as such it is a selfish emotional argument rather than a reasoned one".[16] Ryder used the term again in an essay, "Experiments on Animals", in Animals, Men and Morals (1971), a collection of essays on animal rights edited by philosophy graduate students Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris, who were also members of the Oxford Group. Ryder wrote:

In as much as both "race" and "species" are vague terms used in the classification of living creatures according, largely, to physical appearance, an analogy can be made between them. Discrimination on grounds of race, although most universally condoned two centuries ago, is now widely condemned. Similarly, it may come to pass that enlightened minds may one day abhor "speciesism" as much as they now detest "racism." The illogicality in both forms of prejudice is of an identical sort. If it is accepted as morally wrong to deliberately inflict suffering upon innocent human creatures, then it is only logical to also regard it as wrong to inflict suffering on innocent individuals of other species. ... The time has come to act upon this logic.[17]

Those who claim that speciesism is unfair to individuals of nonhuman species have often argued their case by invoking mammals and chickens in the context of research or farming.[18][19][20] However, there is not yet a clear definition or line agreed upon by a significant segment of the movement as to which species are to be treated equally with humans or in some ways additionally protected: mammals, birds, reptiles, arthropods, insects, bacteria, etc.

Spread of the idea

Peter Singer popularized the idea in Animal Liberation (1975)

The term was popularized by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer in his book Animal Liberation (1975). Singer had known Ryder from his own time as a graduate philosophy student at Oxford.[21] He credited Ryder with having coined the term and used it in the title of his book's fifth chapter: "Man's Dominion ... a short history of speciesism", defining it as "a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species":

Racists violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of their own race when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race. Sexists violate the principle of equality by favouring the interests of their own sex. Similarly, speciesists allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.[22]

Singer argued from a preference-utilitarian perspective, writing that speciesism violates the principle of equal consideration of interests, the idea based on Jeremy Bentham's principle: "each to count for one, and none for more than one". Singer argued that, although there may be differences between humans and nonhumans, they share the capacity to suffer, and we must give equal consideration to that suffering. Any position that allows similar cases to be treated in a dissimilar fashion fails to qualify as an acceptable moral theory. The term caught on; Singer wrote that it was an awkward word but that he could not think of a better one. It became an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1985, defined as "discrimination against or exploitation of animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind's superiority".[23] In 1994 the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy offered a wider definition: "By analogy with racism and sexism, the improper stance of refusing respect to the lives, dignity, or needs of animals of other than the human species."[24]

More recently, animal rights groups such as Farm Animal Rights Movement[25] and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals[19] have attempted to popularize the concept by promoting a World Day Against Speciesism on June 5.