Animal Liberation (book)

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Animal Liberation
Animal Liberation, 1975 edition.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Peter Singer
Country United States
Language English
Subject Animal rights
Genre Philosophy
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. It 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. Following Jeremy Bentham, Singer argued that the interests of animals should be considered because of their ability to experience 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 popularized the term "speciesism" in the book, which had been 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 behavior. Singer argues that there is no reason not to apply this principle to other animals.

Although Singer rejects rights as a moral concept independent from his utilitarianism based on interests, he accepts rights as derived from utilitarian principles, particularly the principle of minimizing 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 humans 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 rights should be based on their capacity to feel pain more than on 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 a par with that of human children. Therefore, intelligence does not provide a basis for giving nonhuman animals any less consideration than such intellectually challenged humans.[5] Singer concludes that the most practical solution is to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. He also condemns vivisection except where the benefit (in terms of improved medical treatment, etc.) outweighs the harm done to the animals used.[6]


The book has also received a wide range of philosophical challenges to his formulation of animal rights. In a lengthy debate in Slate Magazine, Richard Posner wrote 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] Singer replied to and rejected this claim.[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]

Ingrid Newkirk wrote of Animal Liberation, "It forever changed the conversation about our treatment of animals. It made people—myself included—change what we ate, what we wore, and how we perceived animals."[10]


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.[11]

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. ^ This follows 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. ^ a b Pablo Stafforini. "Animal Rights, debate between Peter Singer and Richard Posner". Retrieved 2015-07-26. 
  8. ^ Nussbaum, Martha and Cass Sunstein, eds. Animal Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 299–320.
  9. ^ Pablo Stafforini (2002-11-13). "A Response to Martha Nussbaum, by Peter Singer". Retrieved 2015-07-26. 
  10. ^ "What Is Animal Liberation? Philosopher Peter Singer’s Groundbreaking Work Turns 40 | A Message From PETA’s President | All About PETA | About". PETA. 2015-04-14. Retrieved 2015-07-26. 
  11. ^ Singer, Peter (2001). "Animal Liberation: A Personal View". Writings on an ethical life. London: Fourth Estate. pp. 293–302. ISBN 1841155500.