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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 mostly 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. The argument is that species membership has no moral significance.
The term is used to embrace two ideas: "human speciesism," which is the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the protections afforded to humans, and the more general idea of assigning value to a being on the basis of their species, so that human beings favouring rights for chimpanzees over rights for dogs because of human-chimpanzee similarities, would be an example of "human-chimpanzee speciesism."
The arguments are contested on various grounds, including the position of some religions that human beings were created as superior in status to other animals, and were awarded "dominion" over them, whether as owners or stewards. It is also argued that the physical differences between humans and other species are indeed morally relevant, and that to deny this is to engage in anthropomorphism. Such proponents may explicitly embrace and accept the charge of speciesism, arguing that it recognizes the importance of all human beings, and that species loyalty is justified.
Origin of the term 
The general concept of speciesism is an old one. Paul Waldau writes that the overriding of animals' interests was traditionally justified by arguing that they existed for human use; Aristotle made this claim in the 4th century BCE, as did Cicero in the 1st century CE.
The term "speciesism," and the argument that it was simply a prejudice, first appeared in 1970 in a privately printed pamphlet, titled "Speciesism," written by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder. Ryder had written three letters to The Daily Telegraph in April and May 1969 with criticisms of animal experiments, based on incidents he had witnessed in laboratories, and thereafter joined a group of intellectuals and writers in Oxford – the nascent animal rights community, now known as the Oxford Group. One of the group's activities was writing and distributing pamphlets about areas of concern; the pamphlet about speciesism, written to protest against animal experimentation, was one of them.
Ryder argued in the pamphlet that: "Since Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no 'magical' essential difference between humans 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." He wrote that, at that time in the UK, 5,000,000 animals were being used each year in experiments, and that attempting to gain benefits for our own species through the mistreatment of others is "just 'speciesism' and as such it is a selfish emotional argument rather than a reasoned one." Ryder used the term again in an essay, "Experiments on Animals," in Animals, Men and Morals (1971), a collection of essays on animal rights edited by three other members of the Oxford Group, philosophy graduate students Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch, and John Harris. He wrote:
In as much as both "race" and "species" are vague terms used in the classification of living creatures according, largely, to physical appearance, an analogy can be made between them. Discrimination on grounds of race, although most universally condoned two centuries ago, is now widely condemned. Similarly, it may come to pass that enlightened minds may one day abhor "speciesism" as much as they now detest "racism". The illogicality in both forms of prejudice is of an identical sort. If it is accepted as morally wrong to deliberately inflict suffering upon innocent human creatures, then it is only logical to also regard it as wrong to inflict suffering on innocent individuals of other species. ... The time has come to act upon this logic.
Spread of the idea 
The idea was popularized by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer – who had known Ryder from his own time as a postgraduate philosophy student at Oxford – in his Animal Liberation (1975). Singer argued from a preference-utilitarian perspective, writing that speciesism violates the principle of equal consideration of interests, the idea based on Jeremy Bentham's principle: "each to count for one, and none for more than one." Singer argued that, although there may be differences between animals and humans, they share the capacity to suffer, and we must give equal consideration to that suffering; any position that allows similar cases to be treated in a dissimilar fashion fails to qualify as an acceptable moral theory.
Singer credited Ryder for having coined the term, and used it in the title of his book's fifth chapter: "Man's Dominion ... a short history of speciesism," defining it as "a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species":
Racists violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of their own race when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race. Sexists violate the principle of equality by favouring the interests of their own sex. Similarly, speciesists allows the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.
The term caught on; Singer wrote that it was an awkward word but that he could not think of a better one. It became an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1985, defined as "discrimination against or exploitation of animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind's superiority." In 1994, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy offered a wider definition: "By analogy with racism and sexism, the improper stance of refusing respect to the lives, dignity, or needs of animals of other than the human species."
Arguments against 
The anti-speciesism critique 
The arguments against speciesism – known as the anti-speciesism critique – are based on the view that species membership has no moral significance. The American legal scholar Steven M. Wise argues that speciesism is a bias as arbitrary as any other, a point conceded even by some critics of animal rights. He cites the philosopher R.G. Frey, a leading animal rights critic, who wrote in 1983 that, if forced to choose between abandoning experiments on animals and allowing experiments on "marginal-case" humans, he would choose the latter, "not because I begin a monster and end up choosing the monstrous, but because I cannot think of anything at all compelling that cedes all human life of any quality greater value than animal life of any quality."
Philosopher Tom Regan argues that animals have inherent value and moral rights as "subjects-of-a-life." His position is that logically we cannot assign animals a lesser value because of a perceived lack of rationality, while at the same time assigning a higher value to human beings who lack rationality, such as infants and the mentally impaired, solely on the grounds of their species membership. Law professor Gary Francione contends that we treat animals in ways that would be regarded as torture if humans were involved.
Argument from marginal cases 
One argument used to show that speciesism is an arbitrary discrimination is the argument from marginal cases. This says that if marginal-case human beings – such as infants, the senile, the comatose, and the cognitively disabled – have a certain moral status, then non-human animals must have it too, since there is no morally relevant ability that the marginal-case humans have that non-human animals lack. "Moral status" may include a right not to be killed or made to suffer, or a general moral requirement to be treated in a certain way.
The "discontinuous mind" 
Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, argued against speciesism in The Blind Watchmaker (1986), The Great Ape Project (1993), and The God Delusion (2006), elucidating the connection with evolutionary theory. He compares former racist attitudes and assumptions to their present-day speciesist counterparts. In a chapter of The Blind Watchmaker entitled "The one true tree of life," he argues that it is not just zoological taxonomy that is saved from awkward ambiguity by the extinction of intermediate forms, but also human ethics and law. Dawkins argues that what he calls the "discontinuous mind" is ubiquitous, dividing the world into units that reflect nothing but our use of language, and animals into discontinuous species:
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.
Dawkins elaborated in a discussion with Singer at The Center for Inquiry in 2007, when asked whether he continues to eat meat: "It's a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery. Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery."
Great ape personhood 
Great Ape personhood is a concept in which the attributes of the Great Apes are deemed to merit recognition of their sentience and personhood within the law, as opposed to mere protection under animal cruelty legislation. Awarding personhood to nonhuman primates would require that their individual interests be respected or taken into account, rather than regarding them merely as members of a group.
Animal holocaust 
David Sztybel argues in his paper, "Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust?" (2006), that the racism of the Nazis is comparable to the speciesism inherent in eating meat or using animal by-products, particularly those produced on factory farms. Y. Michael Barilan, an Israeli physician, argues that speciesism is not the same thing as Nazi racism, because the latter extolled the abuser and condemned the weaker and the abused. He describes speciesism as the recognition of rights on the basis of group membership, rather than solely on the basis of moral considerations.
Centrality of consciousness 
Some have suggested that simply to fight speciesism is not enough because the intrinsic value of nature can be extended beyond sentient beings, termed the ethic of "libertarian extension". This belief system seeks to apply the principle of individual rights not only to all animals but also to objects without a nervous system such as trees, plants and rocks. Ryder rejects this argument, writing that "value cannot exist in the absence of consciousness or potential consciousness. Thus, rocks and rivers and houses have no interests and no rights of their own. This does not mean, of course, that they are not of value to us, and to many other painients, including those who need them as habitats and who would suffer without them."
A common theme in defending speciesism is the argument that humans "have the right to compete with and exploit other species to preserve and protect the human species".
Carl Cohen, a professor of philosophy at the Residential College of the University of Michigan, writes: "Speciesism is not merely plausible; it is essential for right conduct, because those who will not make the morally relevant distinctions among species are almost certain, in consequence, to misapprehend their true obligations. Cohen argues that racism and sexism are wrong because there are no relevant differences between the sexes or races. Between people and animals, he argues, there are significant differences; his view is that animals do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and as such have no rights.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, similarly to Buddhism and Indigenous thought, uses the term "embodied perceptual awareness" and the ability to feel, as being the common denominator of all life, not intelligence or emotion. Nel Noddings, the American feminist, has criticized Singer's concept of speciesism for being simplistic, and for failing to take into account the context of species preference, as concepts of racism and sexism have taken into account the context of discrimination against humans. Some people who work for racial or sexual equality have said that comparisons between speciesism and racism or sexism are trivializing; for example, Peter Staudenmaier writes:
The central analogy to the civil rights movement and the women’s movement is trivializing and ahistorical. Both of those social movements were initiated and driven by members of the dispossessed and excluded groups themselves, not by benevolent men or white people acting on their behalf. Both movements were built precisely around the idea of reclaiming and reasserting a shared humanity in the face of a society that had deprived it and denied it. No civil rights activist or feminist ever argued, “We’re sentient beings too!” They argued, “We’re fully human too!” Animal liberation doctrine, far from extending this humanist impulse, directly undermines it.
Objectivism holds that humans are the only beings, in the view of Ayn Rand and her followers, who have what they call a conceptual consciousness, and the ability to reason, think and develop a moral system. They argue that humans are therefore the only species entitled to rights. "To demand that man [humans] defer to the 'rights' of other species," they argue, "is to deprive man himself of the right to life."
The Rev. John Tuohey, founder of the Providence Center for Health Care Ethics, writes that the logic behind the anti-speciesism critique is flawed, and that, although the animal rights movement in the United States has been influential in slowing animal experimentation, and in some cases halting particular studies, no one has offered a compelling argument for species equality.
Some opponents of the idea of speciesism believe that animals exist so that humans may make use of them. They argue that this special status conveys special rights, such as the right to life, and also unique responsibilities, such as stewardship of the environment. This belief in human exceptionalism is often rooted in the Abrahamic religions, such as the Book of Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Animal rights advocates argue that dominion refers to stewardship, not ownership.
Buddhism, despite its reputation for respect for animals, accords humans a somewhat higher status in the progression of reincarnation. Animals may be reincarnated as humans, and humans can be demoted in the next life as non-humans, depending on their behaviour; only humans can immediately reach enlightenment. In a very similar way in Hinduism, animals are respected, as it is believed that each animal has a role to play. Some Hindus are vegetarians, with a deep respect for cows especially (representing the earth/mother, the central figure). Felipe Fernández-Armesto writes that early hunter-gatherer societies, such as the Innu, and many animist religions, such as Native American religions, traditionally lacked a concept of humanity and placed non-human animals and plants on an equal footing with humans, even though they are used for food; but equally they are part of all life, according to this view.
In the media 
In science fiction and works of fantasy, speciesism takes on a role similar to racism, discriminating against other sentients based on a sense of superiority. It varies from human beings regarding themselves as superior to nonhumans, nonhumans being superior to humans, or certain nonhumans being superior to other nonhumans. This can take place on a terrestrial, extraterrestrial, extragalactic, or parallel universes.
Films about speciesism 
- The Animals Film (1981)
- Alien Nation (1988)
- A Cow at My Table (1998)
- Meet Your Meat (2002)
- Earthlings (2005)
- Behind the Mask (2006)
- District 9 (2009)
- Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (2009)
- The Cove (2009)
- The Superior Human? (2012)
- Speciesism: The Movie (2012)
See also 
- Antinaturalism (politics)
- Deep ecology
- Great ape personhood
- Ryder (2009), p. 320
- Waldau (2001), pp. 5, 23–29
- Lafollette and Shanks (1996); courtesy link
- Waldau (2009), p. 321
- Ryder (2000), p. 6
- Ryder (2010)
- Ryder (1971), p. 81
- Diamond (2004), p. 93
- Singer (1990), pp. 120–121
- Singer (1990), pp. 6, 9
- Wise (2004), p. 26
- Blackburn (1994), p. 358
- Wise (2004), p. 26, citing Frey (1983), pp. 115–116
- Dawkins (1993)
- Dawkins (1996)
- Dawkins (7 December 2007)
- Karcher (2009)
- Sztybel (2006)
- Barlian (2004)
- Vardy and Grosch (1999)
- Holden (2003)
- Ryder (2005)
- Graft (1997)
- Cohen (1986)
- Cohen (2001)
- Noddings (Winter 1991)
- Staudenmaier (March 2003)
- Peikoff (1991), p. 358
- Tuohey (June 1992)
- Scully (2003)
- Waldau (2001)
- Felipe, p. 138; also see Lee and Daly.
- "The Superior Human?", official website; Best (2 April 2012); Bekoff (2 April 2012).
- Barlian, Y. Michael (2004). "Speciesism as a precondition to justice", Politics and the Life Sciences. Mar;23(1):22-33.</ref>
- Bekoff, Marc (2 April 2012). "The Superior Human? Who Do We Think We Are?", Psychology Today.
- Best, Steven (2 April 2012). "Now Online! Debut of New Anti-Speciesist Film, The Superior Human?", drstevebest.wordpress.com.
- Blackburn, Simon (1994). "Speciesism," Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
- Cohen, Carl. (1986). "The case for the use of animals in biomedical research," The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 315, No. 14.
- Cohen, Carl and Regan, Tom (2001). The Animal Rights Debate. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
- Diamond, Cora (2004). "Eating Meat and Eating People," in Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. Oxford University Press.
- Dawkins, Richard (1993). "Gaps in the mind", in Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (eds.). The Great Ape Project. St. Martin's Griffin, 1993, pp. 81-87.
- Dawkins, Richard (1996) . The Blind Watchmaker. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
- Dawkins, Richard (7 December 2007). "Richard Dawkins - Science and the New Atheism", interview.
- Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. Ideas that changed the world.
- Frey, R. G. (1983). Rights, Killing and Suffering. Blackwell.
- Graft, D. (1997). "Against strong speciesism," Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol.14, No. 2.
- Gray, J. A. (1990). "In defense of speciesism," Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 13 No. 1.
- Holden, Andrew (2003). "In Need of New Environmental Ethics for Tourism?" Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 94–108.
- Karcher, Karin (2009) . "Great Ape Project," in Marc Bekoff. Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Greenwood.
- Lafollette, Hugh and Shanks, Niall. "The Origin of Speciesism", Philosophy, Vol. 71, No. 275 (Jan., 1996), pp. 41-61; courtesy link.
- Lee, Richard B. and Daly, Richard Heywood. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers.
- Noddings, Nel (Winter 1991). "Comment on Donovan's 'Animal Rights and Feminist Theory'", Signs, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 418-422.
- Peikoff, Leonard (1991). Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
- Perry, Constance K. (June 2001). "A Compassionate Autonomy Alternative to Speciesism," Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, Volume 22, Number 3.
- Ryder, Richard D. (1971). "Experiments on Animals," in Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris. Animals, Men and Morals. Victor Gollanz, pp. 41–82.
- Ryder, Richard D. (2000) . Animal Revolution. Berg.
- Ryder, Richard D. (2009) . "Speciesism," in Marc Bekoff. Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Greenwood.
- Ryder, Richard D. (2010). "Speciesism Again: The Original Leaflet", Critical Society, Spring, Issue 2.
- Scully, Matthew (2003). Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. St. Martin's Griffin.
- Singer, Peter (1990) . Animal Liberation. New York Review/Random House.
- Starr, Sandy. "What Makes Us Exceptional?", Spiked Science.
- Staudenmaier, Peter (March 2003). "Ambiguities of Animal Rights", Communalism: International Journal for a Rational Society', Issue 5.
- Sztybel, David (2006). Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust? Ethics & the Environment - Volume 11, Number 1, Spring, pp. 97-132.
- Tuohey, John (1992). "Fifteen years after Animal Liberation: Has the animal rights movement achieved philosophical legitimacy?", Journal of Medical Humanities, Volume 13, Number 2, June.
- Vardy, P. and Grosch, P. (1999). The Puzzle of Ethics. Harper Collins.
- Waldau, Paul (2001). The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals. Oxford University Press, pp. 5, 23–29.
- Waldau, Paul (2009) . "Speciesism: Historical Views," in Marc Bekoff. Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Greenwood.
- Wise, Steven M. (2004). "Animal Rights, One Step at a Time," in Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. Oxford University Press.
Further reading 
- BBC (2012). "The ethics of speciesism".
- Dunayer, Joan. 2004. Speciesism. Ryce Publishing: Illinois. ISBN 0-9706475-6-5
- Geoghegan, Tom (29 March 207). "Should apes have human rights?", BBC News Magazine.
- Nibert, David (2003). "Humans and other animals: sociology's moral and intellectual challenge", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp. 4–25.
- Ryder, Richard D. Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research. Davis-Poynter, 1975.
- Oscar Horta (2010). "What Is Speciesism" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp. 243-266.
- Frederik Kaufman (1998). "Speciesism and the Argument from Misfortune" Journal of Applied Philosophy, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp. 155-163.
- Les Cahiers Antispécistes (in French)
- Liberazioni (in Italian)
- Discussion between Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins