Oscar Horta

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Oscar Horta in Colombia
When it comes to respecting someone, it is completely irrelevant whether that being can speak, whether she can think in the same way we do, or whether we have some kind of special relation with her.

Oscar Horta (born 7 May 1974) is a Spanish animal activist and moral philosopher who is currently a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) and one of the co-founders of the organization Animal Ethics. He is known for his work in animal ethics, especially around the question of wild animal suffering. He has also worked on the concept of speciesism and on the clarification of the arguments for the moral consideration of nonhuman animals.


  • Speciesism is not suffered by species as such, but by their individual members. There is a common confusion regarding this point. In most cases, this is probably due only to linguistic expression. But sometimes it may also be due to the fact that nonhuman animals are usually considered not as individuals but as mere live exemplifications of a species (because of widespread speciesist attitudes). Hence individuals are frequently identified with the species they belong to. But just as the group of all triangles does not have the properties that triangles themselves have, the interests of an individual cannot be said to be the interests of his or her species.
    • "What Is Speciesism?", The Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Vol. 23 (2010), pp. 252–253
  • It is commonly believed that animal ethics entails respect for natural processes, because nonhuman animals are able to live relatively easy and happy lives in the wild. However, this assumption is wrong. Due to the most widespread reproductive strategy in nature, r-selection, the overwhelming majority of nonhuman animals die shortly after they come into existence. They starve or are eaten alive, which means their suffering vastly outweighs their happiness. Hence, concern for nonhuman animals entails that we should try to intervene in nature to reduce the enormous amount of harm they suffer. Even if this conclusion may seem extremely counter-intuitive at first, it can only be rejected from a speciesist viewpoint.
  • Then, I claim that if we abandon a speciesist viewpoint we should change completely the way in which we should intervene in nature. Rather than intervening for environmental or anthropocentric reasons, we should do it in order to reduce the harms that nonhuman animals suffer. This conflicts significantly with some fundamental environmental ideals whose defence is not compatible with the consideration of the interests of nonhuman animals.
  • Nowadays, there is very little we can do about [wild animal suffering]. But it is critical to start questioning the idea that we should not do anything. This is crucial so that in the future, some day, the problem can be addressed. If a community of human beings is stricken by a flood, a famine, violence, or is stricken by an epidemic, we think that if there is something we can do to help them, we should do it. Why not in the case of nonhuman animals? Normally we think that this is the way life in the wild. However, few of us who state this would be willing to let other humans die of disease, starvation or cannibalism. What is the reason for this different consideration of humans and other animals? Many reasons can be given, but all of them are merely excuses. The real motive of this dissimilar attitude is speciesism. Moreover, none of us would like to be left to die suffering in conditions such as the ones described above. In this way, if we are neither egotistical nor speciesist, and we therefore assume that we are willing to treat other animals as we would like to be treated, then we must conclude two things: not only should we care about the animals that are exploited by human beings, but we also must care about the animals that live in freedom. We must reflect on what we can do for them. This is the consequence of antispeciesism that is the most difficult to accept, and it is, in fact, a reason why many animal rights advocates are not really capable of taking a antispeciesist stance. Only those who are truly capable of leaving their most deeply rooted speciesist prejudices behind can manage to address this question. But if - as I have said above - speciesism is an unjustifiable position, we must have enough courage and responsibility to not look the other way.
  • Antispeciesism is the opposition (or the struggle against) the discrimination of those who don't belong to a certain species. Antispeciesism opposes all discrimination of nonhuman animals, even if it's carried out while respecting their rights. I think we should reject speciesism, and I think speciesism is the key term to understand the current relation between humans and other animals.
  • When it comes to respecting someone, it is completely irrelevant whether that being can speak, whether she can think in the same way we do, or whether we have some kind of special relation with her. Because that isn't what determines whether she can be harmed or benefited by our actions. The relevant point is whether she can feel suffering or/and joy. Furthermore, if that was the case, many humans should be discriminated against too. Because there are many humans who can't talk or can't think as other humans do, and many have no one who cares for them. So if the arguments that are used to discriminate against animals were accepted, we should also discriminate against humans. These are some general arguments that are seldom used. I don't understand why not. Because debating these points, debating these issues is what will eventually lead society to a change. Of course there are other arguments involved and there are many other ways to question speciesism. My main point is we should be focused on challenging it.
  • Part of society still confuses two movements that differ markedly: environmentalism and anti-speciesism. These facts highlight the clear differences between these two different movements. The ecologist defends the maintenance of natural spaces and species and consider animals as part of the environment that surrounds us humans. Antispeciesism, however, does not see animals as simply a part of our environment. On the contrary, it sees them as part of our own group: that of individuals, beings that can suffer and enjoy and therefore, defend the animals as such. Environmentalism defends killing animals when it benefits the conservation of an ecosystem or a species, a position that does not hold in the case of human beings. Why? Because it does not consider that animals of species other than ours have interests that we have to respect. Antispeciesism considers that such a position is a discrimination, a discrimination of those who do not belong to our species. Therefore, it advocates to respect non-human animals, as we advocate respect for human beings.
  • What happens to all the other animals that come into existence? They die, often shortly after they start to be sentient. They starve, are killed by other animals or in other painful ways, and, because they die so soon, they do not have the chance to have many other experiences apart from the suffering of their death. This means that they may never have any positive experiences at all, or just have very few ones. Other animals may be able to survive a bit longer and have some more positive experiences, yet not enough to outweigh the suffering they endure because of the hardships of their existence which eventually lead them to their death. These animals experience more suffering than well-being in their lives.
  • Many people think we shouldn't worry about [wild animal suffering]. Some people hold speciesist views according to which we should only care about what happens to human beings. Others hold environmentalist positions that entail that we should just care about the conservation of ecosystems or species and disregard the interests of individual nonhuman animals. According to those holding these views, nonhuman animals can be sacrificed for the sake of environmental conservation (though, interestingly, they seldom maintain this view when human beings are affected). However, if we agree that the interests of all sentient animals must be taken into account we should reject these anthropocentric and environmentalist views as speciesist.
  • This means that the number of animals that come into existence only to die shortly after is extremely high. On average, if we consider a context in which populations remain stable at least in the mid term, for each animal that reproduces, only one of her or his offspring survives (otherwise animal populations would grow exponentially very fast, and would become massive with just one generation). This means that all the rest of the animals die. Many of them die shortly after coming into existence. These animals starve to death, are eaten by other animals, or die for other reasons that usually entail a great deal of suffering. This means that an enormous number of animals come into existence only to suffer. Their lives contain virtually no enjoyment, since they die shortly after they start to exist. However, their lives do contain significant suffering, because of the painful ways in which they die. They thus live lives in which disvalue outweighs value. Living their lives causes them more harm than good. In fact, in many cases it causes them great harm and no good at all.
  • What do we consider disvaluable and valuable in our own lives? Some people say negative and positive experiences, others say thwarted and satisfied preferences, others say a list of things such as ignorance and knowledge, meaningless or meaningful relations, pain and pleasure, etc. All these different things require that we're sentient. We don't consider that what is valuable in our lives is just being the members of a certain species or living in some ecosystem as such. Abstract entities such as species and ecosystems cannot feel pain and other affections, and therefore don't have interests, while sentient beings do. This is why we should be concerned with what happens to sentient individuals, rather than abstract groups.
  • Similarly, some people have argued that the harms suffered by animals in the wild (e.g. disease, starvation and predation) should not concern us because they are natural. This sounds like a speciesist claim, given that such a view is rarely held when humans suffer those harms. Also, it seems that if the animals themselves could have a say on this, they would clearly prefer to be spared those harms, as we would in their situation.

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