Speciesism is the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership. The term was created by British psychologist Richard D. Ryder in 1973 to denote a prejudice against non-humans based on physical differences that are given moral value "I use the word 'speciesism'," he wrote in 1975, "to describe the widespread discrimination that is practised by man against other species ... Speciesism is discrimination, and like all discrimination it overlooks or underestimates the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against."

The term is mostly used by animal rights advocates, who argue that it is irrational or morally wrong to regard sentient beings as objects or property.

Philosopher Tom Regan argues that all animals have inherent rights and that we cannot assign them a lesser value because of a perceived lack of rationality, while assigning a higher value to infants and the mentally impaired solely on the grounds of being members of a specific species. Others argue that this valuation of a human infant, a human fetus, or a mentally impaired person is justified, not because the fetus is a fully rational human person from conception, nor because the mentally impaired are rational to the same degree as other human beings; but because theteleological and genetic orientation of any human being from conception is to develop into a rational human being and not any other creature, and because all humans have an implicit origination from two genetically human beings, and hence, both a primary genetic orientation and primary origination as the reproduction of other human beings, even if in a not fully developed state or if partially impaired. In this view, anyone who is born of human parents has the rights of human persons from conception, because the natural process of reproduction has already been initiated in biologically human organisms. Peter Singer's philosophical arguments against speciesism are based instead on the principle of equal consideration of interests, and he has been said to support a sort of personism version of humanism.

One of the best arguments that show that speciesism is an arbitrary discrimination is called argument from marginal cases. The argument from marginal cases is a philosophical argument regarding the moral status of animals. Its proponents hold that if members of society such as infants, the senile, the comatose, and the cognitively disabled do have direct moral status, animals do have a direct moral status, too, since there is no known morally relevant ability that those marginal-case humans have that animals lack. The "moral status" may refer either to a right not to be killed or made to suffer, or to a general moral requirement to be treated in a certain way.


Some philosophers, scientists, and the vast majority of humans defend speciesism as an acceptable if not good behavior for humans. Carl Cohen, a Professor of Philosophy at the Residential College of the University of Michigan, writes:

“    I am a speciesist. Speciesism is not merely plausible; it is essential for right conduct, because those who will not make the morally relevant distinctions among species are almost certain, in consequence, to misapprehend their true obligations.    ”

Jeffrey Alan Gray, British psychologist and a lecturer in experimental psychology at Oxford, similarly wrote that:

“    I would guess that the view that human beings matter to other human beings more than animals do is, to say the least, widespread. At any rate, I wish to defend speciesism...    ”

A common theme in defending speciesism tends to be the argument that humans "have the right to compete with and exploit other species to preserve and protect the human species".


Gary Francione's position differs significantly from that of Singer, author of Animal Liberation (1975). Singer, a utilitarian, rejects moral rightsas a general matter and, like Ryder, regards sentience as sufficient for moral status. Singer maintains that most animals do not care aboutwhether we kill and use them for our own purposes; they care only about how we treat them when we do use and kill them. As a result, and despite our having laws that supposedly protect animals, Francione contends that we treat animals in ways that would be regarded as tortureif only humans were involved.

Richard Dawkins touches briefly on the subject in The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, elucidating the connection to evolutionary theory. He compares former racist attitudes and assumptions to their present-day speciesist counterparts. In a chapter of former book entitled "The one true tree of life", he argues that it is not just zoological taxonomy that is saved from awkward ambiguity by the extinction of intermediate forms, but also human ethics and law. He describes discrimination against chimpanzees thus:

“    Such is the breathtaking speciesism of our Christian-inspired attitudes, the abortion of a single human zygote (most of them are destined to be spontaneously aborted anyway) can arouse more moral solicitude and righteous indignation than thevivisection of any number of intelligent adult chimpanzees! The only reason we can be comfortable with such a double standard is that the intermediates between humans and chimps are all dead.    ”

Dawkins more recently elaborated on his personal position towards speciesism and vegetarianism in a live discussion with Singer at The Center for Inquiry on December 7, 2007.

“    What I am doing is going along with the fact that I live in a society where meat eating is accepted as the norm, and it requires a level of social courage which I haven't yet produced to break out of that. It's a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery. Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery.    ”

David Nibert seeks to expand the field of sociology "in order to understand how social arrangements create oppressive conditions for both humans and other animals". He compares speciesism to racism and sexism.

Some have suggested that simply to fight speciesism is not enough because intrinsic value of nature can be extended beyond sentient beings, termed the ethic of "libertarian extension". This belief system seeks to apply the principle of individual rights not only to all animals but also objects without a nervous system such as trees, plants and rocks.

Ryder rejects this in writing that "value cannot exist in the absence of consciousness or potential consciousness. Thus, rocks and rivers and houses have no interests and no rights of their own. This does not mean, of course, that they are not of value to us, and to many other painients, including those who need them as habitats and who would suffer without them."

Great Ape Personhood

Great Ape personhood is a concept in which the attributes of the Great Apes are deemed to merit recognition of their sentience and personhood within the law, as opposed to mere protection under animal cruelty legislation. This would cover matters such as their own best interest being taken into account in their treatment by people.

Animal Holocaust

David Sztybel holds that the treatment of animals can be compared to the Holocaust in a valid and meaningful way. In his paper Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust? using a thirty-nine-point comparison Sztybel asserts that the comparison is not offensive and that it does not overlook important differences, or ignore supposed affinities between the human abuse of fellow animals, and the Nazi abuse of fellow humans. The comparison of animal treatment and the Holocaust came into the public eye with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' "Holocaust on your Plate" exhibit. Sztybel equates the racism of the Nazis with the speciesism inherent in eating meat, or using animal by-products, particularly those produced on factory farms. Y. Michael Barilan, an Israeli physician who in his article "Speciesism as a precondition for justice", writes that speciesism is not the same thing as "Nazi racism" because Nazi racism extolled the abuser and condemned the weaker and the abused. He describes speciesism as the recognition of rights on the basis of group membership rather than solely on the basis of moral considerations.


  • The Animals Film (1981)
  • Earthlings (2005)
  • Behind the Mask (2006)
  • The Superior Human?(2012)

In Fiction

In science fiction and works of fantasy speciesism takes on a role similar to racism, discriminating against other sentients based on a sense of superiority. It varies from humans being superior to non-humans, non-humans being superior to humans, or certain non-humans being superior to other non-humans. Such exists on either a terrestrial, extraterrestrial, extragalactic, or extradimensional plane.



(Rev.) John Tuohey writes that the logic behind charges of speciesism fails to hold up, and that, although it has been popularly appealing, it is philosophically flawed. Tuohey claims that, even though the animal rights movement in the United States has been influential in slowing and in some cases stopping biomedical research involving animals, no one has offered a clear and compelling argument for the equality of species. Nel Noddings has criticized Peter Singer's concept of speciesism for being simplistic, and failing to take into account the context of species preference as concepts of racism and sexism have taken in to account the context of discrimination against humans. Some people who work for racial or sexual equality have said that comparisons between speciesism and racism or sexism are insulting, for example Peter Staudenmaier writes:

The central analogy to the civil rights movement and the women’s movement is trivializing and ahistorical. Both of those social movements were initiated and driven by members of the dispossessed and excluded groups themselves, not by benevolent men or white people acting on their behalf. Both movements were built precisely around the idea of reclaiming and reasserting a shared humanity in the face of a society that had deprived it and denied it. No civil rights activist or feminist ever argued, “We’re sentient beings too!” They argued, “We’re fully human too!” Animal liberation doctrine, far from extending this humanist impulse, directly undermines it. -Peter Staudenmaier

Some opponents of the idea of speciesism believe that animals exist so that humans may make use of them, be it for food, entertainment or other uses. This special status conveys special rights, such as the right to life, and also unique responsibilities, such as stewardship of theenvironment.

Carl Cohen argued that racism and sexism are wrong because there are no relevant differences between the sexes or races. Between people and animals however, there are significant differences, and they do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and as such have no rights. Animal rights advocates point out that because many humans do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and yet have rights, this cannot be a morally relevant difference.

Objectivism holds that man as the only being with a conceptual consciousness, as the animal possessing a reasoning faculty and the ability to think, which is the key characteristic setting him apart from other animals, and with his life as the standard of moral value, is the onlyspecies entitled to rights. "To demand that man defer to the "rights" of other species", it is argued, "is to deprive man himself of the right to life".

Another view against Speciesism comes from Moral Subjectivist animal rights proponents who argue that the real issue is a belief in humansupremacy or supremacism, since all races and both sexes can be racist or sexist, but only humans can be shown to be "speciesist," making ideological judgements and ethical laws that discriminate based upon arbitrary and subjective criteria of value conveniently determined by those who stand to benefit from the discrimination they wish to justify. Like those who engage in racial or gender supremacy, this belief is not shown to be honored by natural laws or observation of Nature, and the reality of human predation upon fellow humans shows that devotion to one's species, at least in the case of humans, is anything but monolithic (given the existence of crime, war, discrimination, etc.).

'Speciesism (like the term Anthropocentrism) invites dubious suggestions that it is unavoidable, other species do the same, and that it is not necessarily negative or connected to an articulated belief in supremacy. As far as we can observe, only humans can engage in it. We have no proof that lions walk around thinking: "Lions are better than everything else. We deserve special rights." ...Some have said that if humans have to recognize rights for lions, then lions have to recognize rights for humans--but this concept of reciprocal moral regard or contractualism is another subjective criteria. There are humans (children, mentally handicapped, criminals) who receive rights even though they cannot reciprocate (or refuse to in the case of criminals). One would not expect a blind man to be able to read road signs, so why would one expect a lion to be able to understand human concepts of morality? It is a double standard, and if anyone thinks they can get lions and spiders to follow human concepts of morality, best of luck in trying.'


Some believers in human exceptionalism base the concept in the Abrahamic religions, such as the verse in Genesis 1:26 "Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” " Animal rights advocates argue that dominion refers to stewardship and does not denote any right to mistreat other animals, which is consistent with the Bible. Buddhism, despite its reputation for respect for animals, explicitly accords humans a higher status in the progression of reincarnation. Animals may be reincarnated as humans, conversely, humans based on his behavior/action can be demoted to the next life to non-human forms; but only humans can reach enlightenment. Similarly in Hinduism, animals are respected, as it is believed that each animal has a role to play. Hindus are therefore vegetarians with a deep respect for Cows. Felipe Fern├índez-Armesto writes that early hunter-gatherer societies such as theInnu and many animist religions lacked a concept of humanity and placed non-human animals and plants on an equal footing with humans.


Others take a secular approach, such as pointing to evidence of unusual rapid evolution of the human brain and the emergence of "exceptional" aptitudes. As one commentator put it, "Over the course of human history, we have been successful in cultivating our faculties, shaping our development, and impacting upon the wider world in a deliberate fashion, quite distinct from evolutionary processes. Constance K. Perry asserts that the use of 'non-autonomous' animals instead of humans in risky research can be based on solid moral ground and is not necessarily speciesism.

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