Tom Regan, a long term defender of sentient animals, died yesterday. Regan was an activist since the 1970s, a moral philosopher who taught at North Carolina State University, and, together with Nancy Regan, the cofounder of the Culture and Animals Foundation. He was well known among animal activists all around the world for his writings and for being a renowned spokesperson against animal exploitation. For an example of this, you can watch this video where he presents the basic argument to respect animals:
The moral consideration of animals has been defended from many different ethical viewpoints. Tom Regan was a main representative of those who have held a rights view, according to which we shouldn’t harm individuals with an experiential wellbeing. His views were defended in the several books he wrote, among which the most important one was his 1983 The case for animal rights, where he provided extensive argumentation in favor of animal consciousness, and claimed that all sentient beings, by having a wellbeing, should be respected and protected by rights. In addition, he also edited several books. He coedited with Peter Singer a collection of essays named Animal rights and human obligations that helped to trigger the debate about this issue in the late 1980s.
He also wrote many papers, some of which are listed here, such as, for instance, “Do animals have a right to life?”. You can also see more books from him and further information about his work at his personal page, as well as at his page at the North Carolina State University.
It is remarkable that despite Regan’s training as a philosopher, he was quite able to explain animal ethics easily not only to other fellow philosophers, but also to general audiences. For an example of this, you can watch this other video of a TV show where he calmly presents the reasons not to harm animals to an audience including butchers and other people supporting animal exploitation:
Regan’s views have been discussed by many philosophers and advocates who have also criticized some of his views. His deontological approach to ethics was criticized by many, as was his opinion that the lives of nonhuman animals might be sacrificed for the sake of the lives of humans. His idea that animals in nature should be in general left alone has also met strong responses to the contrary among animal ethicists and activists, who have several reasons to disagree. Nevertheless, his work remains a very important contribution to the cause against speciesism.
For all these reasons, we are grateful. It’s not our intention at Animal Ethics to idolize him above any other activists, as we believe the work of all animal activists deserves applause, but we do want to sincerely thank him very much for all he did for a better world for all sentient beings.