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Tom Regan: The Animal Kingdom Bill of Rights

Written by PETA | August 6, 2007

In case you haven’t heard of him, Tom Regan is a philosophy professor at NC State who has been one of the most important and compelling advocates for animal rights in the academic world since early on in the movement. His clarity of expression and his passion for the subject make his thinking accessible to anyone—whether they’ve studied philosophy or not—and this video, which I discovered recently on YouTube, is a great example of Professor Regan’s prodigious abilities, both as a thinker and as an advocate for animals.

The excerpt is from a debate that took place in 1989 for the BBC—it’s well worth watching and passing around to friends who may be new to the philosophy behind animal rights.

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  • rojo says:

    maya couldn’t agree more i’m no fan of factory farms that don’t allow contact between animals though this has it’s own drawbacks at times. Cattle the main protagonists of methane emissions are really the freest of all. They primarily graze most of their lives on pasture and some will be finished in feedlots. Feedlots do not seperate the animals and have enough room in the pens to allow interaction and socialisation. Of course landfill in the US emits more methane than cattle and so does the burning of natural gas.

  • Maya says:

    Hi Rojo!! I commend you for speaking your mind and questioning certain things. I admire that. Here’s my two cents understand evolution. Animals’ brains evolved to keep them alive. This means roaming and hunting for food. Even domestic animals have an INTENSE desire to move around. Nature “designed” their brains this way. The animals that would not roam and travel all died out only the ones whose brain cells gave them an intense desire to travel long distances survived. As humans this is very hard for us to understand as we are the only animal that could sit for hours in front of a tv screen while at the peak of our day. But even we would go nuts in the kind of confinement we impose on animals. In the shelters we would sometimes sit inside the cages to see what it’s like. It’s horrible much more nervewracking and claustrophobic than one would imagine. Noises are loud and confusing. There’s much less visibility than you’d think. The fact is any human subject to these conditions would develop mental illness. Please trust me doing this to an animal IS extremely cruel. Animals need at least sunshine and fresh air. Even then unfortunately it’s really bad for the environment. Contaminated groundwater deforestation global warming from methane. You know I’m not judging you right? Just discussing debating in a friendly way. Peace!!

  • Scarlett says:

    Animals have more intelligence and realization than humans give them credit for. To eat an animal because of heshe’s lesser intelligence is wrong. To kill an animal for food should be for reason to not know any better. As various animals do they eat meat because their digestive systems only digest meat to sustain them. As humans we can eat both meat and vegetation but since we are in “better knowledge” we should understand the complex feelings all feel whether or not able to express it. There have been many instances in human sociology that show that humans born and raised alone in equal captivity as factory farm animals have shown yerning for freedom even though by their social isolation were not able to speak any recognized human language. And also shown that they had not grown the intelligence of no more than a three year old after many years of life. All animals crave freedom whether they have grown accustomed to captivity or not. It is basic and real. They do infact create real bonds with one another and create families. Their lives matter to them and it is not our right to decide that for them.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Rojo I agree it’s got nothing to do with perceived intelligence. But experiencing pain fear or discomfort have nothing to do with intelligence. When factoryfarmed chickens are debeaked it’s to stop pecking of course. Obviously the chickens have exceeded their comfortable carrying capacity to engage in that kind of behavior in the first place much as humans get uncomfortable in a crowded subway car. I do understand your points about more humanely raised meat but it just ain’t going to happen on a large scale. Only a small percentage will pay more for a more humanely raised animal if there can be such a thing. Will the average person pay 200300 more for “freerun” eggs over the normal variety? Greed drives producers to up “production units” regardless of animal suffering though as per Jack’s blogs some progress is being made in this area. People sensitive to animal suffering simply go veg and have done with it. I think all animals intuitively understand freedom. It’s like the story of the chained dog who would never stop barking. When he was released he didn’t go anywhere but he stopped his barking. The dog understood the difference. You probably cherish your freedom but are you aware of how much “freedom” you really have? It’s not unlimited.

  • Ariel says:

    to IMP First of all I don’t classify a bird or any animal as an “it.” They are living feeling beings. To me “it” refers to an object. To answer your question I would not kill him or her because every living being has a right to live…not killed just because he or she has become incapacitated. Captivity but not caged. No matter what conditions animals instinctively strive to live and I would not deny them that right.

  • rojo says:

    Mike No I don’t care when I’m going to die but I do know I won’t be happy about it. In fact if I don’t see it coming I won’t be unhappy about it either. Factory farming is one thing eating meat is another. By and large the animals i used to raise were free. They just had boundaries much as wild animals have territories. Profit came from production which meant keeping adequate food supplies and water available. This means handfeeding during drought when animals in the wild perish. I understand you wanting to end factory farming but don’t share your views on animal sufferage. It’s got nothing do do with the perceived intelligence of either party. It’s about what animals know vs what humans know and can figure out. When you liken factory farming to prison you are “giving” animals the knowledge of freedom that prisoners had before their incarceration. It’s just not so. How on earth are animals aware of lack of freedom if they never had any?

  • imp says:

    I have a question. Imagine you are an wildlife rehabber. A bird comes in with an injury that you can repair but it would be unable to fly. Should you kill the bird or save its life and keep it in captivity? This has the structure of a hypothetical but it most certainly is not.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Rojo the harp seal was a freebie. Mind you I did forget male “layer” chicks which are killed on day one and they could live 1012 years. “Freedom” is not solely a human experience. Animals share a lot of emotions that humans do. That’s not anthropomorphizing. After all homo sapiens is an animal too. Why do you think a chained dog pulls on his chain? Why do think an animal in a leghold trap will chew her leg off to escape? Dogs display altruistic behavior toward humans all the time. If you study animals at all you will find that they all jealously cherish their life and fear death. Whether a mouse or a cockroach they all try to evade predators and cling to life. Would you like ample food and water but have to subsist in factoryfarm conditions? A human prison could be likened to a factory farm with food and water provided but I don’t think too many enjoy being incarcerated. That’s stress my friend whether the “necessities” of life are provided or not. Why do you think antibiotics are used so liberally in FF’s? If not a lot of the animals would die stress and distress being components. About 850000000 million animals of the 10 billion raised each year already die preslaughter from disease etc. due to factoryfarmed conditions. Death is inevitable. So what? You don’t care personally when you’re going to die? As I pointed out in my previous post most factoryfarmed animals barely get a life. Humans are certainly not bestowing any largesse by giving them life just to take it away. “It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.” Mark Twain vegetarian

  • rojo says:

    susannah yes their death matters to them as it will at any stage through their life. My point is will they be any happier about it at age 10 than day 98? would they choose to die a lingering death or a speedy one? Life is precious. The opportunity equally so. humans live with the knowledge that they have an ultimate end date and naturally some feel that animals would have a similar perspective on life.

  • rojo says:

    Frances Depends on your opinion of the purpose of life. If it happens to be along the lines of “go forth and multiply” then animals that have been domesticated have been highly sucessful. I don’t think I missed tom’s point at all. If we are going to respect animal life as we would the vulnerable in our own societies then we must therefore protect one and all. Lion ethics or lack thereof. A species purpose is to live and pass on their genetic material. In nature only a percentage of organisms reach maturity so it is with domesticated animals. Human compassion should focus on humane treatment during animals lives not merely lengthen them.

  • rojo says:

    Ana yes I do eat animals and wear the leather byproducts. I like milk on my cereal and the odd egg here and there. I don’t quite get the bit where you get to judge the amount of compassion I have for animals. I accept that animals are grown for food and happily consume animal products but I do not support animal cruelty nor do I take killing lightly. hunting and fishing for sport doesn’t appeal to me any death should be for a worthy purposefood and nothing should be wastedleather. Antianimal? No just not into ascribing them human personas nor emotional about their shortened life.

  • rojo says:

    Mike Q Well what did they plan to achieve in their old age? Is day 156 different to day 7364? You don’t think having ample food and water eases an animals stress levels? I prefer free range production but then I can afford it many can’t. I don’t eat veal or foie gras and I wasn’t aware of harp seal farming. All animals crave freedom? How do they know what freedom is? Now your applying human experience to the animals. Life reproduces and theres no guarantee on lifespan. Death is inevitable.

  • Susannah says:

    An excellent presentation of the cause for animal rights by one of the people who started the whole thing. He is as persuasive in this talk as he is in his books. To Rojo the whole point of Tom Regan’s talk is that it’s not UP TO US to determine what makes an animal’s life a “happy” one or not. They have a right to their portion of life no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to you. And if you think any animal would volunteer to be meat ask yourself if YOU would volunteer to do likewise and I think you’ll see how absurd your argument is. People often justify their use of animals with this kind of argument what does it matterwe all dieand the point is to treat them well whlie they live etc. Well treating them well is a STEP in the right direction yes but the overriding point is that their death matters to THEM and they have a right to their life and to enjoying the course of it as their nature dictates just as we have a right to ours.

  • Frances says:

    Rojo you’re missing the point of what he said. His point is that as humans we take pride in our intelligence our reasoning our compassion our respect for others. So it makes no sense to deny that to animals just because we can’t understand them or they can’t understand us. We are the party involved. Because a lion eats a gazelle it doesn’t make it an issue of human compassion they’re not bound by our ideas of ethics. So then if we take the argument that humans are the same as other animals that if it’s okay for a lion to kill a gazelle it’s okay for us to kill other animals why do we feel the need to separate ourselves from other animals with a moral code? There are so many points to cover but I just addressed your main concern.

  • Ana says:

    rojo Your comment makes no sense. It is obvious that you have no compassion for animals and that you eat and wear them. Most human animals would like to die of old age the same with nonhuman animals. The problem is that human animals want to exploit and kill animals. Why do you feel that the other animals only deserve to live a short time??? Because you are one the human animals that enjoy exploiting and oppressing them? You have written ridiculous antianimal posts before so I don’t think you get the message of animal advocacy. Animals have a right to live in peace without humans killing them for profit food fur etc.. Compassion and veganism are the answer.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Rojo do you really think a factory farmed animal feels blessed with the”gift of life”? The “payback being a shorter life”? I’ll say. For example Most U.S. dairy cows are slaughtered by 46 years of age when milk production declines can live 25 years Pigs are killed at 56 months of age can live 10 years Broiler chickens are killed at 45 days old can live 1012 years Laying hens are killed after 2 years can live 10 to 12 years Veal calves are killed at 18 weeks can live 25 years Foie Gras DucksGeese killed at 3 months can live 10 years Harp Seals killed at under 3 months can live 30 years You’re right that the will to live is an incredible urge. So is the will to live free. Ask anyone in a prison. ALL animals crave freedom.

  • Ariel says:

    SHARON K HINES I just emailed to PETA about your concerns just in case they weren’t aware of them. They also have their number listed to call them any time day or night to report animal abuse especially if the police dept. does not respond. PETA’s number is 17576227382

  • Ariel says:

    SHARON K HINES I don’t know how many of these comments are thoroughly read by our sincerely meant wonderful Jack but I am going to email to PETA about your request so that they can give you the best possible approach that will produce results to that atrocious barbaric insanity!

  • rojo says:

    Wow haven’t things progressed in 20 years. part of Toms argument is that we don’t exploit humans of low intelligence so why animals? Well Tom we don’t allow other animals to kill and eat humanslow IQ or not. Why then should we allow any animal to kill another? We are all equally deserving of rights. I’m sure Tom is right when he says “life matters to them”. The will to live is an incredible urge. The fact remains that every animal alive will one day die and I doubt they will be happy about it whether it be of old age hit by a car or slaughtered for food. The latter provides great numbers of animals with the gift of life the payback being a shorter one. We should strive to improve the animals quality of life during that shorter period rather than assuming they’re happier fending for themselves and dying of natural causes.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    I’ve seen his name before but I’ve never heard him speak. This guy is amazing. I like the way he anticipates objections from the antianimal faction and defuses them.

  • Deanna Forsythe says:

    This is wonderfulhas anyone had any luck in sending this to a friend? We’ve tried several times but it hasn’t worked.

  • Sharon K Hines says:

    I need help fast. My daugher who lives in the country is moving the end of Aug. She is feeding and watering her neightbor’s horses goats lambs etc. The owner is cruel to his animals. He won’t feed or water them. In fact he has all water at this property shut off. He keeps an electric fence around them. They shock themselves to get to some grass. The law inforcement will not do anything with him. He has a history of being reported by neighbors. He cuts male horses and has let them bleed to death. He keeps breeding to watch them have sex. Please help me!!!6603422082

  • Scarlett says:

    Great words from a great man. There is no need for him to have a picture of a slain cow behind him or a video of a baby pig being ripped apart. He is able to word man’s cruelty in such reasoning words. He understands that animal rights advocates are for peace for all creatures including humans for all of you idiots out there. It is great that our compassion and reasoning can be so eloquently conveyed.

  • Jason Levy says:

    It amazes me how people can still go on arguing against the rights of animals!