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Speciesism involves the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership. The term is sometimes used by animal rights advocates, 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.


Alphabetized by author
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 10.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (Random House, 2015. Originally pub. in 1975), ch. 1.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.

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