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Speciesism is a form of discrimination based on species membership. It involves treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species even when their interests are equivalent. 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.

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  • It is often believed that species should be considered and preserved because they have some sort of value in themselves, a value unrelated to what's in the best interests of the individuals who are members of the species. It may be reasoned that species preservation should be supported because defending species means defending all the members of the species. But if we were to give moral consideration to the interests of animals, then we would reject the rights of species as a whole and give respect only to individual sentient beings.
  • Basically, suffering is suffering, and deprivation of happiness is deprivation of happiness regardless of the being who is suffering. This is the main antispeciesist claim, and it can be applied not only when we consider the interests of humans and nonhumans, but equally when we consider the interests of different nonhuman animals. The opposition to speciesism means rejecting favoring some nonhuman animals over others.


  • The abolition of speciesism cannot advance without eradicating market systems and their imperatives for growth, commodification, exploitation, and consumption. Corporate destruction of nature and nonhuman animals is financed and controlled by hierarchal social relations, whereby capitalists and power elites commandeer the political, legal, security and military system in the service of exploiting every available "resource," be it a worker in a factory, an animal in a cage, or a grassland rich in oil.
  • Suppose we could bring all the ancestors of a modern human and a modern pig to the present and we place them side by side on a long line. On the far left we have the human, in the middle the most recent common ancestor of humans and pigs and on the far right the pig. We see a gradual transition from human to pig. There is no sharp species boundary, no first human who had non-human parents. And all the intermediates between a human and a pig have really existed. Coincidentally, they are now all dead. If all those intermediates (ancestors) still existed, the notion of human rights will certainly seem arbitrary.
  • But it’s worse. This idea of a species is not even well defined : suppose I jump in a time travel machine and bring all our ancestors to the present. I put you all in a long row. You are on the far left, then your mother, your grandmother, and so on. Moving further down the row, we see our ancestors who lived 2 million, 100 million, 400 million years ago. That’s right, this is our great great great – and so on – grandmother. She is also the ancestor of all vertebrate land animals, including chickens. You are fully human so you get human rights. So are your mother and your grandmother. They all belong to the moral community, the group of individuals who get rights. But moving down the row, where does the moral community end? There is no sharp boundary between humans on the left and non-humans on the right. So our idea of human rights and our behavior of eating chickens are based on an arbitrary fact that those intermediates between us and chickens no longer exist.


  • Our research showed that the philosophers were right when they drew an analogy between speciesism and other forms of prejudice. Speciesism correlates positively with racism, sexism, and homophobia, and seems to be underpinned by the same socio-ideological beliefs. Similar to racism and sexism, speciesism appears to be an expression of Social Dominance Orientation: the ideological belief that inequality can be justified and that weaker groups should be dominated by stronger groups (Dhont, et al., 2016). In addition, speciesism correlates negatively with both empathy and actively open-minded thinking. Men are more likely to be speciesists than women. Yet, there are no correlations with age or education.
    Speciesism also manifests in real world behavior. In our studies, speciesism predicted whether people are more willing to help humans than animals, or "superior" animals to "inferior" animals. For, example, when given the choice of donating to a charity that helps dogs or pigs, people are more likely to help dogs than pigs the higher they score on speciesism. Similarly, the higher people score on speciesism, the more willing they are to invest time to help homeless people than to help establish basic rights for chimpanzees. Finally, speciesism is related to ethical vegetarianism. Even though our studies showed that not everybody who rejects speciesism believes that eating meat is wrong, we still observed that people higher on speciesism tended to prefer a meat snack over a vegetarian snack.


  • The director of a zoo is entitled to "put down" a chimpanzee that is surplus to requirements, while any suggestion that he might "put down" a redundant keeper or ticket-seller would be greeted with howls of incredulous outrage. The chimpanzee is the property of the zoo. Humans are nowadays not supposed to be anybody's property, yet the rationale for discriminating against chimpanzees is seldom spelled out, and I doubt if there is a defensible rationale at all. Such is the breathtaking speciesism of our Christian-inspired attitudes, the abortion of a single human zygote (most of them are destined to be spontaneously aborted anyway) can arouse more moral solicitude and righteous indignation than the vivisection of any number of intelligent adult chimpanzees! [...] The only reason we can be comfortable with such a double standard is that the intermediates between humans and chimps are all dead.
    • Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (Norton & Company, Inc, 1986), pp. 262–263
  • The feeling that members of one's own species deserve special moral consideration as compared with members of other species is old and deep. Killing people outside war is the most seriously-regarded crime ordinarily committed. The only thing more strongly forbidden by our culture is eating people (even if they are already dead). We enjoy eating members of other species, however. Many of us shrink from judicial execution of even the most horrible human criminals, while we cheerfully countenance the shooting without trial of fairly mild animal pests. Indeed we kill members of other harmless species as a means of recreation and amusement. A human foetus, with no more human feeling than an amoeba, enjoys a reverence and legal protection far in excess of those granted to an adult chimpanzee. Yet the chimp feels and thinks and—according to recent experimental evidence—may even be capable of learning a form of human language. The foetus belongs to our own species, and is instantly accorded special privileges and rights because of it. Whether the ethic of 'speciesism', to use Richard Ryder's term, can be put on a logical footing any more sound than that of 'racism', I do not know. What I do know is that it has no proper basis in evolutionary biology.
  • Evolution too, like embryonic development, is gradual. Every one of our ancestors, back to the common root we share with chimpanzees and beyond, belonged to the same species as its own parents and its own children. And likewise for the ancestors of a chimpanzee, back to the same shared progenitor. We are linked to modern chimpanzees by a V-shaped chain of individuals who once lived and breathed and reproduced, each link in the chain being a member of the same species as its neighbours in the chain, no matter that taxonomists insist on dividing them at convenient points and thrusting discontinuous labels upon them. If all the intermediates, down both forks of the V from the shared ancestor, had happened to survive, moralists would have to abandon their essentialist, "speciesist" habit of placing Homo sapiens on a sacred plinth, infinitely separate from all other species. Abortion would no more be "murder" than killing a chimpanzee—or, by extension, any animal. Indeed an early-stage human embryo, with no nervous system and presumably lacking pain and fear, might defensibly be afforded less moral protection than an adult pig, which is clearly well equipped to suffer. Our essentialist urge toward rigid definitions of "human" (in debates over abortion and animal rights) and "alive" (in debates over euthanasia and end-of-life decisions) makes no sense in the light of evolution and other gradualistic phenomena.
  • Speciesism: "A failure, in attitude or practice, to accord any nonhuman being equal consideration and respect".
    • Joan Dunayer, Speciesism (Derwood, MD: Ryce Publishing, 2004), p. 5


  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • There is speciesism and that is about as cruel as it gets because it sets the stage and practice for cruelty amongst human beings [...] Discrimination is discrimination—as abuse is abuse [...] regardless of an animals human or nonhuman form, gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation or level of intelligence/knowledge it should be our birthright to LIVE our lives peacefully and harmoniously without inflicting pain on others. People who inflict intentional pain without moral or ethical regard for other human or nonhuman animals are just reminders of how much further we have to go until oppression is completely eradicated.
  • The animal liberation movement is fighting what is arguably the most entrenched and widespread form of exploitation in human history: speciesism.
    • Melanie Joy, Strategic Action for Animals (New York: Lantern Books, 2008), p. 17


  • The terms animal protection and species protection are constantly confused and mixed up with one another. Animal protection is the protection of individuals; it is about the individual, suffering creature. Species protection is the conservation of the species; it is about preventing species from becoming extinct or rare. From an ethical standpoint, animal protection is quite different from species protection.
    • Werner Kunz, Species Conservation in Managed Habitats: The Myth of Pristine Nature (2016), p. 51


  • A strong duty to relieve suffering that does not discriminate between species would require radical changes in the ways that we relate to other animals. It would, for example, require an end to the practice of factory farming, in which billions of animals are annually subjected to extreme suffering in order to supply humans with meat and other products at the lowest possible cost. It would also raise difficult questions about the practice of experimenting on animals to obtain medical benefits for humans. These cases, much discussed in the literature on animal ethics, involve suffering that is inflicted by human beings. But a species-blind duty to relieve suffering would also make it a prima facie requirement to save animals from suffering brought upon them by natural conditions and other animals.
  • It is the human earthling who tends to dominate the earth, oftentimes treating other fellow earthlings and living beings as mere objects. This is what is meant by 'speciesism'. By analogy with racism and sexism, speciesism is a prejudice or attitude or bias in favor of the interests of the members of one's own species and against those of members of other species.
  • Since we all inhabit the earth, we are all considered earthlings. There is no sexism, racism, or speciesism in the term 'earthling'. It encompasses each and every one of us: warm or cold-blooded, mammal, vertebrate or invertebrate, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish and human alike.
  • Ethics, in our part of the world, may be considered to have advanced, at least in its pretensions, to the anthropocentric stage of evolution. Aggregation has advanced from individual to tribe, and from tribe to race, and from race to sex, and from sex to species, until to-day the ethical conception of many minds includes, with greater or less vividness and sincerity, all sexes, colors, and conditions of men. The fact that an animal is a human, that is, that he belongs to the hominine species of beings, entitles him, regardless of his imperfections, to some sort of consideration.
  • Zoocentricism, that stage of solidarity in which the entire sentient universe is contemplated, universal consideration and love, is as yet too difficult for human consciousness. Human philosophy, which has been so slow in discovering the solidarity of the human species, is to-day, except in its Oriental manifestations, as reluctant to recognize other species in its ethical contemplations as were dominant human groups in less advanced stages of aggregation reluctant to recognize the solidarity of the hominine species.
  • Yes, do as you would be done by — and not to the dark man and the white woman alone, but to the sorrel horse and the gray squirrel as well; not to creatures of your own anatomy only, but to all creatures. You cannot go high enough nor low enough nor far enough to find those whose bowed and broken beings will not rise up at the coming of the kindly heart, or whose souls will not shrink and darken at the touch of inhumanity. Live and let live. Do more. Live and help live. Do to beings below you as you would be done by beings above you. Pity the tortoise, the katydid, the wild-bird, and the ox. Poor, undeveloped, untaught creatures! Into their dim and lowly lives strays of sunshine little enough, though the fell hand of man be never against them. They are our fellow-mortals. They came out of the same mysterious womb of the past, are passing through the same dream, and are destined to the same melancholy end, as we ourselves. Let us be kind and merciful to them.


  • [F]rom an antispeciesist view, which takes the interests of all sentient animals into account, whether they are human or not, what matters most is how their well-being is affected by our actions and omissions. It follows from this view that we have decisive reasons against performing negative interventions in nature (those with an expected net negative value for nonhuman animals). Similarly, it implies that, whenever it is in our power to do so, and if the intervention is expected to bring about more benefits than harms, we have decisive reasons to intervene in nature with the aim of helping the animals that live there.
  • So what is the alternative to traditional anthropocentric ethics? Antispeciesism is not the claim that "All Animals Are Equal", or that all species are of equal value, or that a human or a pig is equivalent to a mosquito. Rather the antispeciesist claims that, other things being equal, equally strong interests should count equally.


  • Another reflection that the  launched, in 2003, was on the notion of sentience and how it fits in with the physicalist vision of the world—the vision that follows from present-day science. Sentience is a central notion for antispeciesism, but it brings up the problem of its limits. Who is sentient and who is not? Mammals are, certainly, but what about fish, shrimp or insects? Is it possible to be more or less sentient? These questions are of scientific nature, but sentience—the "hard problem of consciousness"—forms, I believe, a deep riddle for science, and solving it will be essential for animal liberation, and also for the construction of rational ethics.


  • Two slightly different, but not often clearly distinguished usages of "speciesism" should be noted. But more strictly, it is when the discrimination or exploitation [is defended by means of an appeal to] species that it is speciesist. This usage should perhaps be called strict speciesism.
    • Richard D. Ryder, Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare (Greenwood Press, 1998), p. 320
  • Since Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no 'magical' essential difference between human 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. [...] The only arguments in favour of painful experiments on animals are: 1) that the advancement of knowledge justifies all evils—well does it? 2) that possible benefits for our own species justify mistreatment of other species—this may be a fairly strong argument when it applies to experiments where the chances of suffering are minimal and the probability of aiding applied medicine is great, but even so it is still just 'speciesism', and as such it is a selfish emotional argument rather than a reasoned one.
    • Richard D. Ryder, "Speciesism" (1970); reported in Speciesism, Painism and Happiness: A Morality for the Twenty-First Century by Richard D. Ryder (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2011), ch. 2
  • The 1960s revolutions against racism, sexism and classism nearly missed out the animals. This worried me. Ethics and politics at the time simply overlooked the nonhumans entirely. Everyone seemed to be just preoccupied with reducing the prejudices against humans. Hadn't they heard of Darwin? I hated racism, sexism and classism, too, but why stop there? As a hospital scientist I believed that hundreds of other species of animals suffer fear, pain and distress much as I did. Something had to be done about it. We needed to draw the parallel between the plight of the other species and our own. One day in 1970, lying in my bath at the old Sunningwell Manor, near Oxford, it suddenly came to me: SPECIESISM!


  • [The] notion of the life of an animal having 'no moral purpose,' belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day—it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals' rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a 'great gulf' fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood.
  • Speciesism—the word is not an attractive one, but I can think of no better term—is a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species.
  • Let us consider first the view that it is always wrong to take an innocent human life. We may call this the "sanctity of life" view. People who take this view oppose abortion and euthanasia. They do not usually, however, oppose the killing of nonhuman animals—so perhaps it would be more accurate to describe this view as the "sanctity of human life" view. The belief that human life, and only human life, is sacrosanct is a form of speciesism.
  • The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a child. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because mice will suffer if they are treated in this way. If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that the suffering be counted equally with the like suffering – in so far as rough comparisons can be made – of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience [...] is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others.
    • Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2011), 3rd edition, p. 50
  • Speciesism is an attitude of prejudice towards beings because they're not members of our species, so just as racism means that you're prejudiced against beings who are not members of your race and sexism means you're prejudiced against people of the other sex. So we humans tend to be speciesist in we think that any being that is a member of the species homo sapien just automatically has a higher moral status and is more important than any being that is a member of any other species, irrespective of the actual characteristics of those beings.
  • In contrast with this approach, the view that I want to defend puts human and nonhuman animals, as such, on the same moral footing. That is the sense in which I argued, in Animal Liberation, that "all animals are equal." But to avoid common misunderstandings, I need to be careful to spell out exactly what I mean by this. Obviously nonhuman animals cannot have equal rights to vote and nor should they be held criminally responsible for what they do. That is not the kind of equality I want to extend to nonhuman animals. The fundamental form of equality is equal consideration of interests, and it is this that we should extend beyond the boundaries of our own species. Essentially this means that if an animal feels pain, the pain matters as much as it does when a human feels pain—if the pains hurt just as much. How bad pain and suffering are does not depend on the species of being that experiences it.


  • The chimpanzee and the human share about 99.5 per cent of their evolutionary history, yet most human thinkers regard the chimp as a malformed, irrelevant oddity while seeing themselves as stepping-stones to the Almighty. To an evolutionist this cannot be so. There exists no objective basis on which to elevate one species above another. Chimp and human, lizard and fungus, we have all evolved over some three billion years by a process known as natural selection.
    • Robert Trivers, Foreword to the first edition of The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976)


  • [The] problem with the ethic of species conservation is that it is starkly unethical and speciesist, which should be obvious if we again shift our focus to humans. For in the case of humans, we would never be tempted to spend resources to try to conserve certain kinds of people — e.g. a certain race of humans — as doing so clearly would amount to a failure to see other humans as ends in themselves, and a failure to understand the core aim of ethics. For what matters is sentient individuals and their well-being, not the preservation of certain kinds of individuals. This is all plain common ethical sense when it comes to humans, of course, yet when it comes to non-human beings, we have turned a profoundly speciesist ethic into unquestioned, and almost universally praised, (im)moral dogma, an ethic that overlooks individuals, and which takes the worst kind of instrumental view of non-human animals.
  • [W]e are also all speciesists because we have been raised in a speciesist world full of speciesist words, entertainment, education, etc. Speciesism is everywhere in our everyday lives, in every aspect of our culture. For this reason too, it seems naive to believe that one can completely avoid being speciesist in all aspects of one's words and conduct, or completely distance oneself from all speciesist ideas and practices any time soon. After all, it is still an open question what aspects of our culture and practice that are speciesist, and what the practical implications of rejecting speciesism are in the first place, and even many people who have thought much about speciesism seem to get these implications profoundly wrong.
    None of this gives us reason to give up and surrender to speciesism, of course. On the contrary, it underscores the importance of keeping on being on the outlook for speciesist tendencies in our culture and in ourselves, and to keep on investigating the implications of rejecting speciesism so that we can work our way toward the end of it — a project that has only just begun.
  • Antispeciesism implies veganism—i.e. that we "exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose"—but unlike veganism it also requires us to give serious consideration to nonhuman animals who are harmed in nature. Antispeciesism implies that we should help wild animals in need, just as we should help humans suffering from starvation or disease that we didn't cause. Unfortunately, nonhuman animals are often harmed in nature, and often do succumb to starvation and thirst. Fortunately, there is much we can do to work for a future with fewer harms to them.
  • Compared to veganism, antispeciesism is also much harder to confuse with environmentalism, supporters of which often recommend overtly speciesist interventions such as the mass killing of beings in the name of "healthy ecosystems" and biodiversity.
  • When thinking about how to build a better tomorrow, we should also consider the following tomorrows, and if we have a virtually vegan world a century from now due to the incentives mentioned above, the world will likely still be speciesist in many other respects. So in addition to the appeal antispeciesist advocacy has for the nonhuman animals whom humans are actively harming now, the explicitly antispeciesist approach is important for the sake of nonhuman animals in the future, including those whom we may not be hurting, but have the ability to help.
  • A final point in favor of antispeciesist advocacy over vegan advocacy is that the message of the former is clearly ethico-political in nature, and therefore does not risk being confused with an amoral consumerist preference or fad, as veganism often is.

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