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Some Animals are More Equal Than Others

  • Leslie Pickering Francis (a1) and Richard Norman (a2)


It is a welcome development when academic philosophy starts to concern itself with practical issues, in such a way as to influence people's lives. Recently this has happened with one moral issue in particular—but infortunately it is the wrong issue, and people's actions have been influenced in the wrong way. The issue is that of the moral status and treatment of animals. A number of philosophers have argued for what they call ‘animal liberation’, comparing it directly with egalitarian causes such as women's liberation and racial equality and suggesting that, if racism and sexism are rationally indefensible, so is ‘speciesism’. If one ought to give equal consideration to the interests of all human beings, then, so they daim, one must on the same grounds and in the same way recognize that ‘all animals are equal’, be they human or non-human. We believe that this assimilation of ‘animal liberation’ to human liberation movements is mistaken.



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1 We shall refer to Singer, 's book Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books, 1977) and to his paper ‘All Animals are Equal’ in Regan, T. and Singer, P. (eds), Animal Rights and Human Obligations (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1976). Further page references to these two works, abbreviated as A.L. and as R.S. respectively, occur parenthetically in the text. Arguments similar to the ones we discuss in this paper can be found in other papers in the Regan and Singer anthology, notably those by Feinberg, Regan and Rachels. Although we criticize Singer in this paper, we should like to acknowledge that his work has substantially affected our thinking on the issue.

2 See Wilson, Edward O., Sociobiology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), especially Ch. 26.

3 See for example Bower, T. G. R., A Primer of Infant Development (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1977), especially Ch. 3; Kagan, Jerome, Change and Continuity in Infancy (New York: John Wiley, 1971), especially Ch.7.

4 See for example Kamisar, Yale, ‘Some Nonreligious Views Against Proposed “Mercy-Killing” LegislationMinnesota Law Review 42 (1958) 929; Veatch, Robert M., ‘Choosing Not to Prolong Dying’, Medical Dimensions (1972); Glover, Jonathan, Causing Death and Saving Lives (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977); and papers in Williams, Robert H., ed., To Live and Die: When, Why and How (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1973).

5 See for example Duff, R. S. and Campbell, A. G. M., ‘Moral and Ethical Dilemmas in the Special Care Nursery’, N. Engl. J. Med. 289 (1973), pp. 890894; Gustafson, James M., ‘Mongolism, Parental Desires and the Right to Life’, Perspect. Biol. Med. 16 (1973), pp. 529557; McCormick, Richard A., ‘To Save or Let Die: the Dilemma of Modern Medicine’, Journal of the American Medical Association 229 (1974), pp. 172176; Rachels, James, ‘Active and Passive Euthanasia’, N. Engl. J. Med. 292 (1975), pp. 7880; Shaw, A., ‘Dilemmas of “Informed” Consent in Children’, N. Engl. J. Med. 289, 914 (1973); Lorber, J., ‘Spina Bifida Cystica: Results of 270 Cases with Criteria for Selection for the Future’, Arch. Dis. Child. 47, 854 (1972); and Robertson, John A., ‘Involuntary Euthanasia of Defective Newborns: A Legal Analysis’, Stanford Law Review 27 (1975) 213.

6 See for example Glover, , op. cit., p. 165. For a dissenting view, see Foot, Philippa, ‘Euthanasia’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (1977), pp. 85112.

7 See Gustafson, op. cit.

8 See for example Kempe, C. Henry, Silver, Henry K., and O'Brien, Donough et al. , Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment (Los Angeles: Lange Medical Publications, 1978), pp. 942 ff.; and Forfar, and Arneil, , eds, Textbook of Paediatrics (Edinburgh and London: Churchill Livingstone, 1973), pp. 880 ff.

9 See for example Benda, C. E., Down's Syndrome: Mongolism and its Management (New York and London: Grune and Stratton, 1969).

10 See Hayden, Alice H. and Haring, Norris G., ‘Early Intervention for High Risk Infants and Young Children: Programs for Down's Syndrome Children’, in Tjossein, , ed., Intervention Strategies for High Risk Infants and Young Children (Baltimore: University Park Press, 1976), pp. 573608.

11 A stronger requirement—too strong, in our view—would be that, for a creature's continued life to be morally significant, that creature must possess the concepts of a continuing self and/or of life and death. See for example Tooley, Michael, ‘Abortion and Infanticide’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 2, no. 1 (1972), and Glover, Jonathan, op. cit., pp. 157158.

12 See for example Bray, P. F., Neurology in Pediatrics (Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1969), pp. 135 ff.

13 McCormick, , op. cit., p. 174.

14 See the literature cited in note 5.

15 Regan, and Singer, , op. cit., pp. 85 ff.

18 Regan, and Singer, , op. cit., pp. 215 ff.

17 Wilson, , op. cit., p. 191.

18 Ibid., p. 190.

19 Regan, and Singer, , op. cit., pp. 202203.

20 A crucial question here would be how general or specific a sense should be attached to ‘obligation’. If ‘A has an obligation to do X’ means simply ‘A ought to do X’, then we would certainly assert that human beings have obligations towards animals, and that these obligations do not depend for their existence on characteristically human relations.

21 Wilson, , op. cit., p. 10.

22 Wilson, , op. cit., p. 182.

23 See note 3.

24 Wilson, , op. cit., p. 183.

25 Bernstein, Basil, Class, Codes and Control (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971).

26 For a wealth of material, see Sebeok, Thomas, ed., How Animals Communicate (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1977).

27 According to Wilson, none of the non-human species can be said to have an economy, even among themselves (op. cit., p. 557).

28 Wilson claims that there is little interspecies communication among the it non-human animals, mainly for reproductive reasons (op. cit., p. 183).

29 We should like to thank Virgil Aldrich, M. P. Battin, Mendel Cohen, Peter Windt, Tom Harrison, and Stewart Richards for their advice and comments, and Carolann McClure for her typing (and appropriate non-philosophical comments).


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