Speciesism - Dr Richard D Ryder
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Dr Richard D Ryder
June 2020

Speciesism: the widely held belief that the human species is inherently superior to other species and so has rights or privileges that are denied to other sentient animals.


Speciesism is a term coined by Richard Ryder in 1970. The word refers to the widely held belief that the human species is inherently superior to other species and so has rights or privileges that are denied to other sentient animals.

'Speciesism' can also be used to describe the oppressive behaviour, cruelty, prejudice and discrimination that are associated with such a belief. In a more restricted sense, speciesism can refer to such beliefs and behaviours if they are based upon the species-difference alone, as if such a difference is, in itself, a justification.

Ryder used the term as a deliberate 'wake-up call' to challenge the morality of current practices where nonhuman animals are being exploited in research, in farming, domestically and in the wild, and he consciously drew the parallel with the terms racism and sexism. Ryder pointed out that all such prejudices are based upon physical differences that are morally irrelevant. He suggested that the moral implication of Darwinism is that all sentient animals, including humans, should have a similar moral status.

In his first privately published leaflet entitled Speciesism, Ryder asked a number of rhetorical questions: Since Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no 'magical' essential difference between human 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.

The word 'species', like the word 'race', is not precisely definable. Lions and tigers can interbreed. Under special laboratory conditions it may soon prove possible to mate a gorilla with a professor of biology. Will the hairy offspring be kept in a cage or a cradle?

It is customary to describe Neanderthal Man as a separate species from ourselves, one especially equipped for Ice-Age survival. Yet most archaeologists now believe that this nonhuman creature practised ritual burial and possessed a larger brain than we do. Suppose that the elusive Abominable Snowman, when caught, turns out to be the last survivor of this Neanderthal species; would we give him a seat at the UN or would we implant electrodes in his super-human brain?

A second edition of this leaflet, illustrated and with the name and address of David Wood added, was circulated around the colleges of Oxford University where it was seen by the young Australian philosopher Peter Singer.

A little earlier, the novelist Brigid Brophy, having read some of Ryderís letters about the treatment of animals published in the Daily Telegraph (e.g. 7th April and 3rd May 1969), introduced Ryder to the Oxford philosophers John Harris and Rosling and Stanley Godlovitch who invited Ryder to contribute a chapter on Animal Experimentation to their forthcoming collection of essays entitled Animals, Men and Morals, subsequently published by Gollancz in 1971. In this contribution Ryder bases his moral objection to painful animal experimentation upon his principle of 'speciesism'.

This historic book was subsequently reviewed by Peter Singer who then approached Richard Ryder to find out more about his ideas on the subject. Singer invited Ryder to share the authorship of his forthcoming book, Animal Liberation. Ryder declined, but gave much research material to Singer that had already been used by Ryder for his book Victims of Science (1975). Peter Singer has frequently acknowledged his debt to Ryder for the term speciesism which Singer, as a Utilitarian, has used skillfully. The term is now in most English dictionaries and is much employed by philosophers.

Ryder points out that there is no absolute barrier between species and that transgenic animals and so-called chimeras contain the genes of several species. How would we treat hominids of a different species if some turned up, he asks, or aliens from outer space? The latter may be highly intelligent, autonomous and of a different species, but should intelligence or autonomy or species affect moral status? Suffering, surely is the essential feature.

Above all, Ryder and other anti-speciesists have challenged the usual Judaeo-Christian assumption of Western societies that the human-being has some semi-divine status. 'I have never yet heard' Ryder has said 'any rational argument in support of speciesism; except, of course, sheer bloody self-interest'.

Also read Painism - Dr Richard D Ryder

Dr Richard D Ryder is a British psychologist and philosopher, who invented the concept of speciesism in Oxford in 1970 while co-initiating the modern animal rights movement. Ryder went on to become a leading campaigner for animal protection, modernising the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) as its Chairman, and helping to put animals into politics internationally. He also became Director of the Political Animal Lobby, founder of Eurogroup for Animals and first Chairman of the Liberal Democrats Animal Welfare Group. Ryder refers to speciesism in all his main writings.

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