Lewis Gompertz

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Lewis Gompertz

Lewis Gompertz (c.1783 – 1861) was an early animal rights advocate and inventor, a vegan, and a founding member of the English Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was the author of Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes (1824) and Fragments in Defence of Animals (1852).


  • Suppose...we reflect on the building of London Bridge, we cannot then help admiring the genius and assiduity of man. But could all the torture and destruction that this has caused to the poor horses, who drew the stones and cleared the rubbish, be brought to light, what an emblem of crime would this beautiful bridge exhibit; many years’ labour has it cost; many teams have been constantly at work, and the extreme severity of the labour imposed on them was almost at any time to be seen. Now, if all the strainings, the lashes, the blows, and the wrenchings with all the bits, had been kept account of, how immense would be the list...
  • I admit it as an axiom, that every animal has more right to the use of its own body than others have to use it.
    • Quoted by Lawrence W. Baker in Animal Rights and Welfare: A Documentary and Reference Guide (2015), p. 38.

Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes (1824)[edit]

Full text online at the Internet Archive, edited by Peter Singer (Fontwell: Centaur Press, 1992).

  • [H]owever the state of man may be above that of other animals, if the superiority be owing to his being differently situated, we must not dazzle ourselves by gazing on the brilliancy of the situation, but learn how to estimate their true qualities only; though the situation gives the one the powers to act, and denies it to the other.
    • Chapter 1, pp. 35–36
  • It has been generally, but not always, the custom of naturalists to degrade the powers of dumb animals into mere instinct, and not to allow them reason; and on the other hand to elevate the qualities of man, by entirely disavowing the power of instinct in man, giving him the use of reason alone. It appears to me, that there is such a quality as instinct; by which I understand a desire to do any thing without knowing why, or without having the object in view which it is to reach. I am of opinion that both reason and instinct act in man and also in brutes; and I will even grant that the proportion of reason to instinct is greater in man than in other animals; but that the latter possess a great portion of reason would it seems be absurd to dispute.
    • Chapter 1, p. 36
  • Are [animals] not furnished with most feelings similar to our own? They indisputably evince in an eminent degree most of the same passions. Things which affect us, generally seem to affect them in the same way; and at least the following sensations and passions are common to both, viz. hunger, desire, emulation, love of liberty, playfulness, fear, shame, anger, and many other affections though they are destitute of the power of laughter. But little occasion have they to exercise such a faculty!
    • Chapter 1, pp. 41–42
  • Respecting the state of savage or uncultivated life, man and other animals appear to be very similarly circumstanced; both of them being miserably subject to almost every evil, destitute of the means of palliating them; living in the continual apprehension of immediate starvation, of destruction by their enemies, which swarm around them; of receiving dreadful injuries from the revengeful and malicious feelings of their associates, uncontrolled by laws or by education, and acting as their strength alone dictates; without proper shelter from the inclemencies of the weather; without proper attention and medical or surgical aid in sickness; destitute frequently of fire, of candle-light, and (in man) also of clothing; without amusements or occupations, excepting a few, the chief of which are immediately necessary for their existence, and subject to all the ill consequences arising from the want of them.
    • Chapter 2, p. 47
  • And though I cannot conceive how any person can shut his eyes to the general state of misery throughout the universe, I still think that it is for a wise purpose; that the evils of life, which could not properly be otherwise, will in the course of time be rectified, and the exquisite pleasures for which we are formed will be enjoyed in our progeny: also that we may ourselves become the inhabitants of the improved world, or of some other world improved in a like manner; and that even if the different species of all the present animals should become extinct, as indicated by what we have observed of the different bones in the several strata, the discoveries of the present time may enrich the future, unless every trace of them should be destroyed at once.
    • Chapter 2, p. 48
  • Delightful representations of animated nature have indeed been made by the best authors, which I hope I shall be pardoned in dissenting from, and confess that though I am not blind to there being much enjoyment, the different evils of all animals, and of all classes of mankind, strike me with the most force. Those authors construe almost all things into so many tokens of happiness. If they look at a drop of water through a microscope, and see a multitude of animalcula swimming about, they seem to conclude that they must all be in a state of pleasure; not judging by analogy, that for one whose motions are the effect of happy sensation, there may be several which are struggling for food, from disease, and other such causes; that even the very fluid they inhabit is disputed by larger animals, who are continually destroying them and giving them the agonies of death after a very short life, whether it be of pleasure or of pain, and thereby embittering the draught of the thinking part of mankind. The different actions and cries indeed of all creatures, are adverted to as enlivening scenes of happiness; not noticing how many of them, which to the uninformed may appear to proceed from enjoyment, are in fact produced by fear, anger, pain, and the like; and which close observation will frequently discover them to be. How are the weak and sickly males oppressed by the strong and healthy ones, crossed in their amours, deprived of their food, injured in their bodies, and at last driven to end their lives in solitary places!
    • Chapter 2, p. 49
  • It is strange that philosophers first show how one animal supports itself by destroying another, and then enter into discussions on the apparent admirable order of things in their present state. But though this may be a necessary contrivance, and the only way in which life can be supported, it can never be a beautiful one, in our short sights, notwithstanding that something worse might be, were this not the case.
    • Chapter 2, pp. 49–50
  • In order to admire the goodness of God with the greatest force, we should endeavour to reach in imagination the improved state of the world, which it seems probable will be effected in the course of time. What may not be expected from the genius of man, which appears to gain fresh powers from every new idea that he gains from his fellows, and fresh means from all the inventions which the united efforts of the whole species bring forth? It is the extent of combination which chiefly raises man above brutes; and to combination are we to look to mature the views of Providence in forming society, and in regulating the affairs of life. Then will every animal within the reach of man feel the effects of his power, by his increase of happiness instead of his misery, and then only may man boast of his being lord of the creation, for which he will be fitted.
    • Chapter 2, p. 50
  • [T]his seems to be still the age of infancy, and baby-like do we cry. This is all made for me! The land and the ocean abound with myriads of animated beings of admirable construction only for me to play with, to torment, and to destroy. This is what we are taught.
    • Chapter 2, p. 51
  • Though brutes suffer much in a natural state, they seem to endure much more when in our power; and in the former state all appearing to mix much enjoyment with their troubles, particularly the horse and the ass, which (as is well known) when wild, form societies, and appoint sentinels to warn them of danger, find their food beneath their feet, their shelter in the warmth of the climate, and make use of their strength with which they are end owed, in travelling about for fresh food, in defending themselves, and in escaping from their enemies; in this state the ass is known to be as active and spirited, as he is here dull and dejected.
    • Chapter 2, p. 52
  • The force of custom or habits even proverbial; and accordingly we take advantage of the magnified representation in which we have been pleased to paint its effects, to veil our eyes from the sufferings of others, of mankind as well as of brutes; and whatever be their lots, if they suffer from over exertion, from being flogged, from exposure in danger, from want, from cold, from heat, etc., we lull our imagination with the idea that they do not feel those evils: custom we say is second nature.
    • Chapter 2, p. 53
  • [W]e should never admit of the propriety of the will or volition of one animal being the agent of another, unless we should perceive its own good to result from it, or that justice should require it.
    • Chapter 4, p. 68
  • Axiom 5. That we should never admit of the propriety of the will or volition of one animal being the agent of another, unless we should perceive its own good to result from it, or that justice should require it.
  • Axiom 8. That the importance of any action is measured by the degree of pleasure or pain that it causes or prevents.
  • Every animal possesses something which distinguishes it from all other animals; and this is what I understand by personal identity, or rather the identical self. This in every animal is perfectly distinct and indivisible, since the only knowledge we have of it is when it is entire; and divisibility of this is what we cannot conceive: but if indivisible, it must also be indestructible, and must always have existed. Itis not possessed of any kind of consciousness: but no consciousness can, it appears, exist without it; as life itself seems to be composed of personal identity, and other essentials of the mind or body, and that it is the combination which produces consciousness.
    • "Theorem I: Personal Identity, or Identical Self", Chapter 5, pp. 69–70
  • First, how do you prove that mankind is invested with the right of killing them, and that brutes have been created for the purpose you assert them to be? Secondly, it is to be observed that the flesh of man himself possesses the same nourishing and palatable qualities? And are we then to become cannibals for that reason?
    • Chapter 5, p. 84
  • I do not see what right one animal has to deprive another of its small importance, to prevent himself from losing more: if this theory be generally admitted, a young man might kill an old man, to save his own longer expectant life. And are we authorized to kill one animal for the benefit of another of its species? If they should overstock the world, it will then be time to begin to destroy them. It seems however more just that nature should take her course, and that man should be neutral till provoked. It is certainly easier for him to destroy others than to suffer inconvenience himself; but that does not make it right. We have not however at present any reason to complain of the too great fecundity of those animals we use for food, etc., and we even take great pains to produce them, not for their own enjoyment, but for the good and pleasure we derive by destroying and tormenting them.
    • Chapter 5, p. 85
  • Y: Do you include those animals which are guilty of the same crime themselves by living on prey? Should we not then save a thousand lives by killing one?
    Z: We must never suppose a person or an animal guilty until they are found in the act, and then we must investigate the nature of the crime. It is true that the animal living by slaughter may be less entitled to our consideration than the animal which is harmless; but recollect, the former may plead the same excuse itself, unless his slaughter be only of those animals which live on vegetables; and then, though justice may require their destruction, it would be repugnant to the feelings of humanity to slaughter them with that plea, unless we could quite assure our conscience that our design in killing them was more to prevent their doing mischief than for our own benefit: besides, we might then extend this principle still further, and kill our own species because they are also animals of prey. It is moreover to be observed, that if one carnivorous animal kills another, he may save lives by it also, and the nature of the act will be different according to circumstances [...] And, further, it will frequently be impossible to discover when the animal becomes guilty or innocent, as it depends on such a variety of circumstances: we should therefore be more safe from infringing the laws of moral rectitude, not to interfere in this case.
    • Chapter 5, pp. 90–91
  • Y: I suppose you also deem it a crime to drink, as you destroy myriads of animals in the water of every draught?
    Z: I consider this an evil, but not a crime, because I do not cause or wish them to be there, and would assist them to escape if possible. They have no more claim to the water than I have; and we know so little of the nature of these animals, that we are not even sure that they die when the water is drunk; the very fact of their being there is concealed from us, and but for the microscope we should never have known it. I however consider it wrong to waste water in anyway which may injure the animalcula.
    • Chapter 5, p. 91
  • Y: As you think it wrong for man to kill other animals for food, do you also think it wrong that animals should devour each other? As this is the general law of nature.
    Z: It appears wrong, according to the rules by which we govern our own actions to each other; and should I witness the attempt in any animal of destroying another, I would endeavour to frustrate it; though this might probably be wrong.
    • Chapter 5, pp. 93–94
  • Y: But the whole species of the carnivorous kind would then become extinct. Were they created to be annihilated?
    Z: I do not see why the whole species of one animal is more important than an equal number of another, although that number might not comprise the whole species of the latter: and, besides, it is not proved that the whole species would perish; as some might feed on the bodies of those animals which they might find that were in a fit state; and also upon vegetables, which they will eat occasionally. It is known that wolves will live in the two ways mentioned, when deprived of other means.
    • Chapter 5, pp. 94–95
  • Y: Do you bear in mind, that in breeding the silkworms, we cause more to come into existence than would otherwise be the case?
    Z: Though I think we are unauthorized to destroy or prevent life, life does not appear so desirable that we should perform any action for the sole purpose of producing it. Man does not possess sufficient knowledge, to do either act with design.
    • Chapter 7, p. 110
  • [C]ruelty is cruelty under whatever colouring it may appear; and whether exercised on a man or on a fly, cruelty is still cruelty. It matters not whether the victim be furnished with two legs or with four, with wings, with fins, or with arms; where there is sensation, there is subject for cruelty, and in proportion to the degree of sensation will its action operate.
    • Chapter 11, pp. 149–150

Fragments in Defence of Animals, and Essays on Morals, Soul, and Future State (1852)[edit]

Full text online at the Internet Archive (London: W. Horsell, 1852).

  • The slaying of animals for the most trifling purposes is defended on the ground, that if not done, they would be too numerous, and consequently troublesome to man, and unhappy in themselves; while the promotion of their increase is defended on the assumption, that we are then the authors of much happiness. But let us apply a cautious ear to such reasoning. If the promoting the increase of animals is being the author of increased happiness, destroying them must be positive evil. For our own parts, we prefer neutrality as much as possible on these points, because we know not whether the life of animals generally, abound most with pleasure or pain. We confess that in our view of the question, pain seems to predominate; and the more so the more the numbers of animals are increased; indeed, we neither approve the promoting of the increase of animals, nor of destroying them.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 12
  • The plan by which Nature preserves, regulates and produces her beings, though continually before the eyes of mankind, enters little into their brains or hearts. Authors generally varnish over, or hide the unsightly parts of her system, and in their mistaken religious zeal, think they see the beauty while they are dwelling on the deformity; one minute they allude to the immense produce and destruction of animals for the support of each other, and then pass on into eulogies on the power and goodness of God, in having been the author of this destruction, by which means they state so much happiness and delight springs, and the only object of God being, as they would lead us to believe, the benefit of mankind.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 12
  • Can a reflecting mind turn for a moment to any quarter without shrinking at the scenes of carnage and suffering which constitute not only the minor streams, but the grand tide of life: though mingled with many pleasures we admit; but the goods falling mostly on man, and the evils mostly on animals. Those men, however, who are above others, and still more above dumb animals in happiness, are readily led to believe that the sweets of life greatly predominate in the whole classes of animated beings, yet an impartial view seems to tell a very different tale.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, pp. 12–13
  • Yet it must be confessed that whichever way we turn our eyes we see a system of aggression and destruction. In order for one animal to live, thousands must die: directly so if the one be carnivorous, and indirectly so if graminivorous. It has been calculated that some birds destroy thousands of butterflies during the rearing of a single brood; and if we take man, who is half carnivorous, and calculate how many lives are destroyed to maintain him in comfort during his life, even without sport, the number will appear enormous, no estimate of which can however be made without taking into account the size of the animals he feeds on.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 13
  • Yet we are not always justified in concluding that the killing of animals causes a less number to exist; because some of them are carnivorous, and by being killed they can no longer kill others: while others are graminivorous, and when they can no longer eat up the fruits of the soil, other animals may live upon such fruits instead; still there is no justification of slaughter, as the identical lives are certainly thereby destroyed; and if such an excuse be admitted, it must apply by the same rule to the slaughter even of human beings. But however this may be, it is evident that by far the greatest number of animals live in terror and die by violence from their devourers, and the males also by the attacks of each other, besides pestilence, diseases, accidents and starvation, few living their natural time; while by means of many being sacrificed, a few are enabled to live like in a ship of short provision, though without an equitable casting of lots, but by the law of force over weakness; and this law not being confined to dumb animals, but ruling the lots of man as well as of animals, though its operations on human life may be more concealed, but here also population is kept in check by want of food and by warfare; among mankind itself justice is little more than a name, might being the chief law observed: here, too, the strong destroy and oppress the weak; some are enabled to live and multiply, while many starve and live in celibacy to prevent an overflow, which, notwithstanding, does arise: dispute and warfare then result in which some are destroyed and some preserved. But no person, however virtuous, can live in comfort without consuming more than his share. Such is the world we live in, however Pope may contend that "virtue alone is happiness below."
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 14
  • The economy of life seems to be that man and most animals if in peace and plenty, would soon overstock the world with their produce, and that most species continue to increase till they exceed the food provided for their support, or till killed to make way for others. Some moralists admire this system of one animal devouring another as they say by this means more can live, and consequently they infer more happiness results. But that more can live by this means we doubt, and still more that the degree of happiness is increased; first, they must convince us that life generally abounds in pleasure, as to us the reverse seems to be the fact; though necessarily admitted by the Almighty for reasons beyond our reach to discover. If we look at the forest, the ocean, the air, or a drop of water in a microscope, all is found teeming with life, and to a superficial eye all is in active enjoyment; but a nice observer soon discovers the universal discord, trepitude and destruction proceeding everywhere: the strong oppressing the weak, one party half starved and ravenously pursuing another, some terrified devoted victims vainly endeavouring to escape the hungry jaws of their pursuer, some perished by want, others devoured alive, thousands destroyed every instant, and few allowed to remain, but those few so nicely balanced as to preserve the species through numerous ages; every fly or reptile, however contemptible in the eyes of some persons being possessed of a pedigree more remote than the most ancient nobility can emblazon, great grandfathers and mothers from time immemorial; and notwithstanding they are in the midst of their enemies, including man, who use every means and violence to destroy them; here by the care of God, they remain preserved from thousands of years back, as uninjured as if in a bandbox!!
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, pp. 14–15
  • It seems that most animals produce many more offspring than can find food, but that their numbers are kept small by other animals who prey upon them, otherwise they would perish by famine: which of the two evils would be the greatest we do not pretend to determine, but as the former is the plan most adopted we must believe it to be the best.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 16
  • Still we are not positive that if neither destroyed by enemies nor famine they would increase too much; because for aught we known the fecundity is only great because the destruction is great; instead of the numbers being limited by the destruction, as if nature had said to the camivori, do what you will, you shall not reduce the number of animals, the more you kill the more I will produce. Were the experiment tried on a small scale of letting them be well fed and indulged they might produce prodigiously, but if the experiment extended to their whole races a different result might for aught we know obtain, as we are ignorant of the law by which nature governs the mode of production.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 16
  • The number of animals which can be brought into existence probably being limited, or the number destined to inhabit our globe probably being so; it appearing reasonable to think that no new animals are created by being born, nor destroyed by being killed, but that being born is merely becoming conscious, and death or sleep being only a loss or suspension of consciousness, [...] the identity never being destroyed.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 16
  • Besides destruction by design to obtain the bodies of animals for food, another extensive sacrifice of life is committed in the very act of obtaining vegetable food and other necessaries, every plant having many disputants* and the ground, and even much of the water we drink being the habitation of numerous animated beings, which may be destroyed by every stroke of the spade, or every drought; but this mode of destruction is of a less blameable character than any other to which blame may attach, because not done with design, but should be avoided when unnecessary. Indeed even vegetables themselves should not be injured unnecessarily; who would be bold enough to assert that they are not imdued with sensation, when their similitude to animals and their exquisite and complicated organizations seem to affirm that they live and feel? The sensitive plant which droops on being touched, being one instance in favour of the idea. Another instance being in the plant which devours flies, this plant keeping open till a fly settles in it and then closes and devours it.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, pp. 16–17
  • But as the multiplication of animals exceeds the vegetable food, it is true that by killing some of the animals not any the less live, as they are only killed instead of starved. This, we are sorry to confess, is the system of nature, but this is no justification of a partial destruction of lives. It is generally, tritely enough said, that animals most be destroyed by every means they now are,—that destruction is the general law of nature, and otherwise overstock would result; let us for a moment admit it, we must then on the same plea massacre human beings, namely, to prevent overstock; and we ask the advocates of this principle just to point out what crime consists of, as it seems to us that most crimes can be defended on the same ground.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 18
  • Much as animals suffer in a natural state, much more do they seem to suffer when under the dominion of the generality of men. What suffering in the former can be supposed to equal the constant torture of a hackney-coach horse?
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 18
  • Such animals as be wants, he will nourish on the dregs and refuse of his own food, and give this as a gift; while those which are useless to him are left in a state of starvation, and deprived of the shelter of the forests, cut down by man.
    • The System of Nature and Duty of Man to Animals, p. 18
  • Therefore it is plain that no particular thing can be made by a machine at all; neither an atom, or matter, which is the only identity of matter; nor the soul, which is the only identity of a person (and this applies also to every other animal or vegetable, as every thing, if it feels, must, it appears, have an identical self or soul, similar to that of any other being). No feeling can, it appears, be without reference to some self or soul)
    • On the Natural Elements of Morality and Their Connection with the Principles of Life, Death, and Soul, p. 204
  • Therefore, as a person cannot be in duplicates, it is plain, that the soul cannot be the product of mechanism. And every person knows that his self is only his self, and the same self at all times, without division, augmentation, or change of any kind, he knows it has an identity, and there* fore is not the effect of matter.
    • On the Natural Elements of Morality and Their Connection with the Principles of Life, Death, and Soul, pp. 204–205
  • [I]f we suppose, that to-morrow I will be changed to you, and you into I, there is no change at all, because then the you is the I, and the I the you; and the same applies if the I changes into a table, because then the table itself becomes the I.
    • On the Natural Elements of Morality and Their Connection with the Principles of Life, Death, and Soul, p. 205
  • But the reader must particularly observe, that by the word “ soul” I do not mean precisely the same thing as most persons do—the general opinion of believers in soul being that it is the spirit of the person unencumbered, and set free of the body in a more perfect state than in this life, with all the feelings and senses, and even more than when united to the body. But my meaning is very different. I look on it (as I have expressed) as a thing totally devoid of feeling or thought, excepting when it is operated on by the body, and that when not, is totally insensible, and cannot be perceived unconnected with the body by any mortal eye, but only by the Almighty.
    • On the Natural Elements of Morality and Their Connection with the Principles of Life, Death, and Soul, p. 206
  • The conclusions, then, from these remarks are, that the soul never dies, and that it is sometimes active; that friends do not know each other’s souls, but this does not preclude their meeting again. How far immortality may be desirable, depends greatly on whether future life may be on this earth or some other; if on this, all the happiness that can be expected is the average happiness of the beings now living, of which class we shall still form one ; or whether we shall inhabit some other sphere ; if so, we have only to hope for the best.
    • On the Natural Elements of Morality and Their Connection with the Principles of Life, Death, and Soul, pp. 206–207
  • But so far from there being an alliance between ethicks and physics, nearly all Nature’s works are at war with each other, the good of the one being derived from the injury of the other. But when pointed out to the vegetarians that carnivorous animals thrive on, and require animal food, they say it is right that they should use it, but that man being superior, should not.
    Now this does seem inconsistent, as right and wrong are absolute without reference to one animal more than another; and it is not the superiority or inferiority of either aggressive party which can establish the justice, but the effects on the victims are the points at issue. The vegetarians would reply however, that man was not formed for animal diet, and that the carnivori were; but this is not taking up the question on moral grounds, on the supposition that man was formed for it (as many persons believe), because the formation of man would not determine the justice, unless that it should explain the intention of God, but which I think they would find a difficulty to show.
    • The Vegetarian Society, p. 210
  • Suppose it were so; so much, then, the better, as we should not want then to show that the soul could become torpid and recover; because, then, it would never be torpid> and, consequently, would be immortal, which is all we want to prove. And this opinion, I believe, is that of the majority of thinking persons, but unfortunately mixed up with divers principles, not orthodox, some of them acknowledging a soul m man, but not in any other living being; others going one step further, and admitting a soul in other animals too, but imagining that it is a different sort of soul to that of man, instead of considering that one soul is similar to another, and that all the difference between one individual and another is corporeal,—the organization of the body or brain, by its variations, alone producing, it would appear, all the varieties of character, without any variation of soul, to which conclusion we are led by the fact that we cannot produce any thought or feeling in the mind but through the instrumentality of the body; and it seems only on the bodily organs, and physical agents upon them, that every perfection and defect of mind depends; an idiot, a philosopher, and a mouse, appearing to have quite similar souls, the difference only being in the organs of sense, which act upon the souls, and are in themselves different. No person can deny that different sensations are produced by bodily causes; why, then, must we look to something else to produce them—namely, to variations of the soul ? Bodily causes are enough, and we are not driven to seek for further causes. The soul is always, if I am correct, the same. It does not grow, it does not decay; and is as perfect in an infant as In a man—the improvement and growth of mind being only of the corporeal part.
    • Elucidations on Elements of Morality, pp. 252–253
  • It is an axiom that the more pleasure and the less pain there is in the Universe, the better it is. If, then, a person suffer pain instead of pleasure, whether he be criminal or not, the pain will be increased and the pleasure decreased; and, as this disagrees with the axiom just cited, it is wrong.
    • Elucidations on Elements of Morality, p. 253

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