Animal Liberation (book)

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Animal Liberation
Animal Liberation, 1975 edition.jpg
The first edition
Author Peter Singer
Country United States
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
1975 (second edition 1990, third edition 2002, fourth edition 2009)
Media type Print
Pages 311 (2009 edition)
ISBN 978-0-06-171130-5 (2009 edition)

Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals is a 1975 book by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. The book is widely considered within the animal liberation movement to be the founding philosophical statement of its ideas. Singer himself rejected the use of the theoretical framework of rights when it comes to human and nonhuman animals: he argued that the interests of animals should be considered because of their ability to feel suffering and that the idea of rights was not necessary in order to consider them. His ethical ideas fall under the umbrella of biocentrism.[1] He introduced and popularized the term "speciesism" in the book, which was originally coined by Richard D. Ryder, to describe the exploitative treatment of animals.[2]


The central argument of the book is an expansion of the utilitarian idea that 'the greatest good' is the only measure of good or ethical behaviour. Singer argues that there is no reason not to apply this to other animals.

Although Singer rejects rights as a moral ideal independent from his utilitarianism based on interests, he accepts rights as derived from utilitarian principles, particularly the principle of minimising suffering.[3] Singer allows that animal rights are not the same as human rights, writing in Animal Liberation that "there are obviously important differences between human and other animals, and these differences must give rise to some differences in the rights that each have."[4]

In Animal Liberation, Singer argues against what he calls speciesism: discrimination on the grounds that a being belongs to a certain species. He holds the interests of all beings capable of suffering to be worthy of equal consideration, and that giving lesser consideration to beings based on their species is no more justified than discrimination based on skin color. He argues that animals should have rights based on their ability to feel pain more than their intelligence. In particular, he argues that while animals show lower intelligence than the average human, many severely intellectually challenged humans show equally diminished, if not lower, mental capacity, and that some animals have displayed signs of intelligence (for example, primates learning elements of American sign language and other symbolic languages) sometimes on par with that of human children, and that therefore intelligence does not provide a basis for providing nonhuman animals any less consideration than such intellectually challenged humans.[5] Singer does not specifically contend that we ought not use animals for food insofar as they are raised and killed in a way that actively avoids the inflicting of pain, but as such farms are uncommon, he concludes that the most practical solution is to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Singer also condemns vivisection except where the benefit (in terms of improved medical treatment, etc.) outweighs the harm done to the animals used.[6]


Since the publication of Animal Liberation, Singer has received a wide range of philosophical challenges to his formulation of animal rights. In a lengthy debate in Slate Magazine, Richard Posner challenged that Singer failed to see the "radicalism of the ethical vision that powers [his] view on animals, an ethical vision that finds greater value in a healthy pig than in a profoundly intellectually challenged child, that commands inflicting a lesser pain on a human being to avert a greater pain to a dog, and that, provided only that a chimpanzee has 1 percent of the mental ability of a normal human being, would require the sacrifice of the human being to save 101 chimpanzees."[7]

In addition, Martha Nussbaum has argued that the Capability Approach provides a more adequate foundation of justice than Utilitarianism can supply. Utilitarianism, Nussbaum argues, ignores adaptive preferences, elides the separateness of distinct persons, misidentifies valuable human/non-human emotions such as grief, and calculates according to "sum-rankings" rather than inviolable protection of intrinsic entitlements.[8] Singer replied to this critique.[9][clarification needed]


There have been several editions of the book published over the years, each further chronicling the progress of the animal liberation movement. Most editions of the book contain a preface.

Personal background[edit]

In an essay entitled "Animal Liberation: A Personal View", Singer describes the personal background that led to his adoption of the views he sets out in Animal Liberation. He writes of how he arrived in Oxford in October 1969, and in 1970 had lunch with a fellow graduate student, Richard Keshen, who avoided meat. This led Singer to inquire as to why. Singer then read Ruth Harrison's book, Animal Machines, as well as a paper by Roslind Godlovitch (who would later co-edit Animals, Men and Morals), which convinced him to become a vegetarian and to take animal suffering seriously as a philosophical issue.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yu, Lei, Mouchang, Yi (2009). "13. Biocentric Ethical Theories". Environment and Development - Vol. II (PDF). China. p. 422. ISBN 978-1-84826-721-3. 
  2. ^ Peter Singer, “A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation,” in Environmental Ethics, ed. Louis Pojman (Stamford, CT: Wadsworth, 2001), 35."
  3. ^ Compare his fellow utilitarian John Stuart Mill, whose defense of the rights of the individual in On Liberty (1859) is introduced with the qualification, "It is proper to state that I forego any advantage which could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right as a thing independent of utility".[improper synthesis?]
  4. ^ Op. cit., p. 2.
  5. ^ Singer, Peter. "On Humans and Animals". IAI TV. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  6. ^ Gareth Walsh, "Father of animal activism backs monkey testing", The Sunday Times, November 26, 2006.
  7. ^ Animal Rights Slate, 2001.
  8. ^ Nussbaum, Martha and Cass Sunstein, eds. Animal Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 299–320.
  9. ^ "A Response to Martha Nussbaum"
  10. ^ Singer, Peter (2001). "Animal Liberation: A Personal View". Writings on an ethical life. London: Fourth Estate. pp. 293–302. ISBN 1841155500.