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Speciesism and Painism: A Modern Morality

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.

In 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, Richard Ryder uses an original critical framework - Speciesism - drawing deliberate parallels with the terms racism and sexism, to point out that all such prejudices are based upon physical differences that are morally irrelevant. There is no absolute barrier between species and 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, 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. A novel doctrine to be gleaned from such lines of enquiry is Painism, an ethical theory that rejects the validity of the aggregation (i.e. the adding up) of the pains and pleasures of several individuals, as found in Utilitarianism, emphasizing instead the moral importance of each individual and especially of the “maximum sufferer”. This talk will further suggest that the moral implication of Darwinism is that all sentient animals, including humans, should have a similar moral status.

Former laboratory scientist turned animal rights advocate Richard Ryder became 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 developed his theory of painism partly whilst Mellon Professor in the department of philosophy at Tulane University, New Orleans, and has authored several books, including Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism (1989), The Political Animal: The Conquest of Speciesism (1998), Painism: A Modern Morality (2001) and Putting Morality Back into Politics (2006).



Dr Richard Ryder | talks


Date and Time:

6 March 2011 at 11:00 am


2 hours



Conway Hall
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
0207 242 8034

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