Richard Ryder on Speciesism

“In 1970, I coined the term ‘speciesism’ to describe the prejudice against other species, and to draw the analogy with other prejudices like racism and sexism. The point I was trying to make is that we are all related. All species are related biologically and through evolution. And instead of treating the other species like objects, we should be treating them like evolutionary cousins… Since Charles Darwin came along and told us that we’re all animals and we’re all related through evolution, we haven’t really drawn the proper moral conclusion from that… The important thing about the other species of animal is that they can suffer pain. And there’s growing scientific evidence that other animals do suffer pain. They have similar nervous systems to ourselves, they have similar biochemicals in the brain associated with the experience of pain in ourselves. So we can be fairly sure that they do experience pain and stress in the same sort of way that we do – hundreds of species of other animals. And I’m saying that morally, it’s important that X amount of pain in a dog or an elephant or a cat matters as much as X amount of pain in human beings. So it doesn’t matter what species you’re from, any more than it matters what race or gender you’re from. The pain is the same. So we should all have the same sort of respect, morally speaking. Some people argue that because human beings allegedly are more intelligent, or more religious, or more independent, or more autonomous than some of the other species, that this gives us some moral superiority. I argue that all these alleged differences, which are probably exaggerated anyway, are morally irrelevant. They aren’t relevant to the moral situation at all. The important thing is that we all suffer pain… Suffering is really the important criterion for morality, not intelligence. We don’t give special extra rights to professors because they’re intelligent, or to priests because they’re very religious. We wouldn’t want that to happen within our own society. So why do we do it across the species barrier, allegedly giving us more moral privileges, more rights, than the other species merely because we seem to be a bit more intelligent? It doesn’t make sense.”