Campaigning for Painism and against Speciesism
From Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM Dr Richard Ryder, CCA Catholic Concern for Animals
December 2018

NOT causing pain to others is the basis of all sound moral theories, including Painism. Science cannot yet explain how consciousness occurs but the consciousness of pain is fundamental to all ethics and all law.

Richard Ryder

Dr Richard Ryder is CCA’s Scientific Advisor who presented the following paper at the CCA Conference. He studied Psychology at Cambridge, Columbia and Edinburgh Universities and was Mellon Professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He was Director of the Political Animal Lobby and has twice been Chairman of the RSPCA where he founded Eurogroup for Animal Welfare. He is the author of ten books (e.g. Animal Revolution,1989 and Speciesism, Painism and Happiness, 2011) and invented the philosophical terms painism and speciesism.
I have been asked to talk about Advocacy, Painism and Speciesism, and to mention their histories. A few years ago I was invited to be the Scientific Adviser to Catholic Concern for Animals, so I would like to begin by saying how impressed I am by Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si’.

Attitudes are changing

Many years ago, I recall some kindly and compassionate Roman Catholics looking at me with surprise when I mentioned that I worked for the welfare of animals. They not only thought that I had my priorities wrong, they actually made me feel as though I was a heretic; that I was somehow acting against the will of God! When I managed to get such people to explain their grounds for this attitude, they said that they had been taught as children, in Sunday schools or in the nursery, that fondness for animals was an actual sin; that the natural love for animals shown by children was in some way un- Christian and had to be stamped out. It was not just that it was weakness and sentimentality but that it was deeply wrong. Animals were given to us by God for us to exploit them, so their teachers had told them. Only human beings were made in the image of God.

This is, of course, speciesism at its most extreme. But, until recently, so I am told, it was still quite a common attitude. How could such callousness and cruelty have ever developed, especially as part of a religion that correctly claims to be the religion of love? I suspect that there were at least four historical sources for this Christian Speciesism and they all go back some two thousand years, although the evidence for them is only fragmentary:

1) The first reason is diet. I am sure that wars have been fought over diet! Diet is mentioned in almost every religion. I believe the eating of meat is based upon a physical addiction. Meat-addicts, often with a sense of guilt about the cruelty they are causing, have become angry when more compassionate people have reproved them. They have shouted back that the Bible says that God has given them animals so that they can eat them! Especially after the Fall!

2) The second reason over the centuries has been the vested interests - the farmers and butchers mainly, but also the furriers, the hunters and anyone selling animals for money. Didn’t the animal-sellers in the Temple in Jerusalem become indignant when a furious Jesus Christ drove them out of the Temple? Surely it was the animal sellers who got him arrested. It was they who pretended Jesus was a political terrorist and caused Pilate to crucify him. I believe it was the animal exploiters who killed Jesus! You may ask why was Jesus alone and so angry in the Temple in the first place? Personally, I believe it was because he cared about animals. As you know, the main business in the Temple was selling and killing animals for sacrifice. He was campaigning against this cruelty to animals. How could such a compassionate man not be angered by such cruelty? It was said the Temple stank with blood.

3) The third historical reason for Christian speciesism is that Christianity only survived because of the support of the Roman Empire from the year 313 AD. But it was the supporters of the Roman way of life who then altered Christianity so that it suited them. And what were the Romans famous for? How did they spend their spare time when not fighting wars? Was it football? No! The answer is: being cruel to animals! Just as we are obsessed with football, so the Romans were obsessed by the so-called sports of the Amphitheatre. The crowds went there to watch humans and animals fighting each other. This was their main entertainment. Every major Roman town had such sports. To an extent they epitomised the human conquest of nature and human dominion and our supposed right to exploit and ravage our environment. Romans hacked their ways through the jungles to capture lions and elephants for the Coliseum, giraffes from Africa and tigers from India. The Roman culture was based upon cruelty. It sadistically glorified conquest and domination. True, when it was taken over by the Romans in AD 313 Christianity did begin to reduce the ferocity of the Roman culture. It was a contest between the Culture of Cruelty and the Religion of Compassion. Humans killing humans in the Amphitheatre became controversial and began to die out. But the spectators still wanted blood! They were addicted to the sight of cruelty. All the more reason then to step up the tormenting and killing of animals. Watching others fighting each other from a safe distance has always been exciting. It is why Mediæval tourists used to watch battles from the hills on the other side of the river, and why we have violent films today.

4) The fourth reason was the fascistic Aristotle whom the Romans revered.
So, these four reasons - the addiction to meat, the vested interests of the animal exploiters, Roman mass entertainment and Aristotle - were, I suspect, the reasons why Romanised Christianity was speciesist and remained so for seventeen hundred years until the publication of Laudato Si’ in 2015. Of course there were other reasons but these four were considerable. The contest over Christian speciesism has continued over the centuries between the early Saints and St Francis on one hand, and St Thomas Aquinas (and Aristotle) on the other. But I guess that it was these reasons from 313 AD that formed the basis for the underlying speciesist position until recently.

Speciesism and Painism

In Laudato Si Pope Francis vigorously attacks anthropocentrism. Anthropocentrism is an example of speciesism. It means putting the human species at the moral centre of existence. I define speciesism as discrimination based upon the supposed moral superiority of one species over others. I question how the species difference itself, any more than sexual or racial differences, can justify such a prejudice. In practice this usually refers to the widespread tendency of humans to give other species a far lower moral status than that of our own species. This claims to be based upon our greater intelligence, autonomy or some other morally irrelevant trait. In painism I argue that the only trait that matters morally is the capacity to suffer pain where pain is defined widely to cover any negative experience, whether mental or physical, including fear, grief and deprivations of liberty or justice. All these experiences cause pain of one sort or another. Pain is the only evil. Speciesism is a prejudice like racism or sexism. As nearly all modern moral theories are based upon the principle of not causing pain to others, I make pain central to this theory that I have called painism. I say it is wrong to cause unconsented to pain to other individuals regardless of their race, sex or species. So X amount of pain in a dog matters equally with X amount of pain in a robot or a human being.

I believe the moral theory of Painism solves some of the obvious problems in modern ethics. Basically, it gives each painient individual its own importance (as does Rights Theory), it is based upon the very definite foundation of pain (like Utilitarianism) and it is not arbitrary (like Virtue Ethics). Importantly, however, Painism differs from Utilitarianism by ruling out the adding up of pains and pleasures across individuals (because one individual does not feel the actual pain or pleasure of other individuals). So, in Painism the degree of wrongness of an event is measured not by the number of sufferers but by the quantity of pain experienced by its maximum sufferer. (For example, one individual suffering 10 units of pain matters more than two individuals each suffering 9 units, doesn’t it? Utilitarianism argues the other way around. It says that 9 plus 9 is 18 and 18 is considerably bigger than 10!) I say that the agony of any individual, for example, matters more than the mere convenience of millions. Furthermore, pleasure never justifies another’s pain.
Remember - NOT causing pain to others is the basis of all sound moral theories, including Painism. Science cannot yet explain how consciousness occurs but the consciousness of pain in fundamental to all ethics and all law.

Laudato Si’ - a new era

In attacking speciesism, or rather anthropocentrism, Pope Francis actually uses some quite strong language. He calls anthropocentrism ‘tyrannical’, ‘misguided’, ‘distorted’ and ‘excessive’. He stresses our close connection with the rest of creation, describing our relationship with the other animals as ‘a universal fraternity’ and rejects ‘every tyrannical and irresponsible domination by human beings over other creatures’. He recognises the importance of pain by saying that science must not treat animals as if they were parts of ‘an insensate order’. (Richard D. Ryder: Tyrannical Anthropocentrism, The Ark, 231, Autumn/Winter 2015.)

There are, however, several areas of ambivalence in what Pope Francis says. He uses words like ‘living’ and ‘creation’ without distinguishing clearly between rocks and trees and animals. I do not believe that rocks and trees suffer pain, but animals certainly do. Surely, the important criterion is the capacity to suffer pain. All things that suffer pain have moral status - and that could include robots and aliens from a distant planet. Incidentally, I think the time has come to include complex robots within the moral circle. I invoke the Precautionary Principle to argue that it is up to the exploiters of robots to prove that they do not suffer pain. It is not up to us to prove that animals or robots can suffer. It is up to the exploiters to prove the reverse!

Some recent history

The modern Western political and philosophical concern for the moral and legal status of nonhumans started in Britain in the eighteenth century and then with the passage of the first Parliamentary legislation in 1822. Utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham had prepared the way and doughty anti-slavery politicians like Lord Erskine, William Wilberforce, Richard Martin and Thomas Fowell Buxton had pushed it through both Houses of Parliament.
More or less the same men set up the RSPCA two years later in 1824 in order to enforce their new legislation and to keep up the pressure for more. Germany followed soon after and so did some other Northern European countries.

Reforms continued, especially in the Edwardian era but the movement came to a standstill with the Great War of 1914 to 1918. In the stunned silence after 1918 the animal movement hardly got going again before the Second World War broke out in 1939. Nothing new happened until the 1960s when Ruth Harrison’s book appeared about factory farming, Brigid Brophy wrote a long piece in the Sunday Times about the forgotten issue of Animals’ Rights, Brian Davies set up IFAW in Canada, and one or two demonstrations against foxhunting occurred in Southern England. But the “Year of Protest” took place in Paris in 1968 without the animal issue being involved at all. Great changes in social and moral attitudes were occurring (in Britain with Beyond the Fringe in 1960, and other satirical manifestations followed. Classism was under attack.) Then racism and sexism came under fire. Then, at last, came the attacks upon speciesism.

The Oxford Group

This Campaign opened in Britain with a small group of philosophically-minded intellectuals in Oxford, now dubbed the Oxford Group. In 1969 and in 1970 I published a number of angry letters in the Daily Telegraph newspaper attacking animal experimentation and otter hunting. In 1970 I invented the word speciesism and circulated a leaflet about it in Oxford; I held a street demonstration against cruel experiments and organised protests against otter hunts whose fixture lists I received by pretending I was Colonel John de Vere Walker!

Brigid Brophy got in touch and introduced me to three young Oxford philosophy graduates: Roslind and Stan Godlovitch from Canada and John Harris. I tried out my idea of speciesism with them. They then decided to publish a book of essays on the ethics of the human – animal relationship and asked me to contribute the chapter on Animal Experiments, which I did. The book was published under the title Animals Men and Morals in 1971 and received some good reviews. I noticed that the editors had cut out several of my references to speciesism — they clearly disliked my neologism! However, a young Oxford philosopher from Australia called Peter Singer reviewed the book and was so taken with the idea of speciesism that he came to visit me on several occasions and we became friends. A couple of years later he decided to write a book called Animal Liberation and invited me to be its co-author. Stupidly, because I was so busy campaigning, I declined his kind offer. (My life might have been different if I hadn’t.)

Unlike most of the others in the Oxford Group I was interested in getting new laws to protect animals, especially in laboratories, in factory farms and in the wild. I turned out to be an ‘animal politician’! To that end I immediately did four things:

1) I got myself elected to the immensely prestigious but moribund RSPCA in 1971, where five of us who were the only modernisers had a mighty struggle with forty other members of its Council who tacitly supported bloodsports. I became Chairman in 1977 and in two years managed to set up RSPCA Campaigning, International, Scientific and Special Investigations Departments as well as founding Eurogroup for Animals in Brussels. I persuaded the RSPCA to publish a range of welfare policies for the first time including formal opposition to hunting with hounds, and we based all our policies on sound science.

2) I made friends with a number of politicians of all parties, most notably with Lord Houghton of Sowerby with whom I then closely worked from 1973 until his death in 1996.

3) With Clive Hollands, the Director of the St. Andrews Fund in Scotland I then tried to attract the support of an apathetic media. From 1970 to 1975 the British press and electronic media were totally indifferent to the whole subject of animal welfare. They ridiculed it. On a daily basis Clive and I would try, often vainly, to get the national media interested. Then, in 1975 everything changed. The British media suddenly discovered it was a subject that fascinated their readers.

4) In 1979 I joined forces with Brian Davies. I helped him with his campaigning to protect seals and other wildlife and together (with me wearing my RSPCA Chairman’s hat), we put animals into politics in Westminster and Brussels and even, to some extent, in Washington.

Back in Oxford, I enjoyed the philosophical activities of the Oxford Group. It led the world in the awakening of serious interest in the ethics of the human / animal relationship. Never before had a reform movement been led by so many philosophers! But I wanted to put animals into politics. I wanted to apply our new philosophy to formulate some new laws. The other philosophers were far less interested in doing this, so I pursued this avenue on my own. I taught myself how to campaign for myself, using my two original objectives, to stop the hunting of otters with hounds and to stop cruel experiments on animals.

Banning Otter Hunting

As regards otter hunting I launched a four-year campaign of sabotage using sprays and other chemicals to confuse the otter hounds. Between three and thirty of my friends came with me to hunt meetings in Central and Southern England. I contacted Dave Wetton, the leader of the Hunt Saboteurs Association, and he came with me on half a dozen occasions showing me how to confront the hounds using a hunting horn. As far as I was concerned the point of such confrontations was to try to create national publicity. So I would spend a good deal of time on the telephone trying to stir up apathetic reporters and photographers. Sometimes I had success and sometimes I failed. On some occasions there was no publicity at all and sometimes quite the reverse - unexpected photographs on the front page of the Sunday Times or five minutes on BBC National Television News.


Between demonstrations I would write incessantly to MPs and go to see them in London. Many asked Parliamentary Questions in Parliament for me. The more publicity we got the more they wanted to help.

I also contacted and supported the conservationists who also wanted to protect the increasingly endangered otters. So it became a joint animal rights / conservation campaign.

Finally, we achieved success when Parliament protected otters in 1978.

Stopping cruel experiments on animals

Stopping cruel experiments on animals was altogether harder. I had seen some of these cruelties myself - in British and American laboratories where I had worked as a psychologist.


I contacted the existing anti-vivisection societies, the media and Members of Parliament, one of whom was Douglas Houghton. I researched and published a book on animal experimentation - Victims of Science - in 1975. I was lucky. It became a huge media success and provoked six debates in Parliament over the next few years. From 1975 for twenty years I found myself rather in demand on radio and television, often being asked to talk about speciesism and various animal cruelties.

When Douglas Houghton retired from government in 1979 (he had been an influential member of the Wilson Cabinet) I persuaded him briefly to join the Council of the RSPCA. Seeing the appalling conservatism of that august body Houghton decided to campaign on his own. In 1975 he asked me to join him in setting up a new Committee to look at reforming the legislation protecting research animals. We called it CRAE - the Committee for the Reform of Animal Experimentation. Houghton asked Clive Hollands (the paid director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Vivisection) to act as its Secretary. We formed a core of three - Houghton, Hollands and Ryder - but invited various other scientists and technicians to join us occasionally e.g. the wonderful Angela Walder. We asked Clive to contact all the anti-vivisection bodies. Houghton asked me to be the chief author of our proposals for reform while he wrote the Introduction. We submitted our Memorandum to the Home Secretary and published it in May 1976. Our emphasis was upon controlling pain. Houghton contacted various Home Secretaries — Roy Jenkins, Merlyn Rees and William Whitelaw, all of whom he knew personally, over the ensuing years, and we had meetings with them to discuss our proposed reforms. During the General Election Campaign we set up the General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection (GECCAP) which aimed to put animals into politics and we persuaded Margaret Thatcher to pledge that she would update the law protecting laboratory animals if she became Prime Minister, and this she did with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986. The campaign, as far as I was concerned, had taken some fifteen years!

Putting Animals into Politics

From 1977 to 1979 I had been Chairman of the RPSCA Council and, although the RSPCA did not take an active part in this campaign I was made constantly aware that powerful people in Whitehall and Westminster were influenced by my position. Houghton, Hollands and I also formed GECCAP and the Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society. We had put animals into politics. The achievement of which I am proudest is the foundation of Eurogroup which I achieved in 1979 against very stiff opposition from within the RSPCA.

The period 1970 to 2005 represents thirty-five years of unprecedented progress in Animal Welfare, not only in Britain but in Europe and the rest of the world. The political interest reached a peak in Britain in the 1990s when it was constantly a matter for discussion in Parliament. For years, British MPs received more letters about animals than on any other subject. We eventually passed twelve laws protecting animals in the UK, and in the EU no less than forty-four new laws thanks to the work of Eurogroup (and CIWF which dealt exclusively with farm animals). (David Bowles, 2018). For much of that decade I was also Director of Brian Davies’ Political Animal Lobby (PAL). PAL worked, often behind the scenes, on most of these reforms including the ban on hunting with hounds.

Why was so much progress made from 1970 until 2005 and so little subsequently? Progress was made because we concentrated upon generating national publicity and making friends with media people and politicians. In other words, it had been about Publicity and Politics.

In addition, we kept the hugely influential RSPCA on side. (As an RSPCA Chairman and Trustee this was another role for me.) Although it was often weak in itself as a campaigning body, it never opposed any of these reforms (as its pro-hunting infiltrators no doubt hoped it would). Ultimately, we had the RSPCA, the media and Parliament all on our side because the British public were on our side. Humans worldwide sympathise with animals but they must be mobilised and organised in order to get new legislation.
But in Britain progress ground to a halt after 2006. What then has gone wrong in the last twelve years or so? There are at least six possible reasons:

1) We have done the easy reforms; the rest are much harder.

2) The public erroneously believes there is no more that needs to be done.

3) Many of the great campaigning figures have gone (e.g. Douglas Houghton, and Brian Davies who has retired).

4) In the EU some of the recent joiners in the East are not very supportive of Animal Welfare.

5) In the UK politicians have felt exhausted by the ten year Parliamentary battle to outlaw foxhunting which produced the law of 2004.

6) In the UK the defeated pro-foxhunters have successfully turned the media against us, using sophisticated ‘black propaganda’ techniques.

The two men who have taught me most about Advocacy have been Douglas Houghton and Brian Davies. Houghton taught me how important it is to know influential people and to be friends with them: government officials, Westminster researchers, press reporters, EU Commissioners, editors, MPs and Ministers. Brian Davies taught me the same, plus the importance of high profile publicity, emotion, good scientists, economists, clever lawyers and the legal but creative use of money. Above all we need to show politicians how many votes they can get by promoting animal welfare. We can do this by using public opinion experts and opinion polls. Brian taught me not to waste time talking to ourselves when we needed to be dealing with our opponents. He taught me to go straight into action. Go straight to the top. Talk to those who have real power.

So, this is what we miss in our British advocacy today: scores of mature men and women with drive and determination, clear objectives, political contacts and an alliance with a vigorous and friendly media. We need laws based upon ethics and ethics based upon the prevention of pain — whoever suffers it...dogs, monkeys, aliens, robots or humans!

Once again it is a question of PUBLICITY and POLITICS! All sentient species are part of the same moral and legal community. All animals can suffer. So all animals need protection. Laws can protect millions of animals from suffering. Above all, my message to you is that WE NEED FURTHER LAWS - all over the world!

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