Animal Rights: What They Are, and Why They Matter (Prof. Tom Regan)
A few years ago the Home Box Office (HBO) aired a program called “To Love or Kill: Man vs. Animals.” It told a fascinating and, at the same time, a disturbing story about how different cultures treat the same animals differently. One especially chilling segment took viewers out to dinner in a small Chinese village. You know how, in some American restaurants, patrons get to choose from among live lobsters or live fish? And how, after they make their selection, the animal is killed and the chef cooks a meal of their choice? At this Chinese restaurant, things are the same except the menu is different. At this restaurant, the patrons get to select from among live cats and dogs.

What difference would it make to these diners if they believed that cats and dogs have rights?

- They would not approve of eating them.

- They would want to help them.

- They would want to stop their ill-treatment.

- And helping and stopping their ill=treatment would extend to other animals we eat, whose skin we wear, what we do for entertainment, for example.

Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) are not reformers; we are not trying to improve the conditions of their exploitation--by increasing the size of their cages, say.

ARAs are abolitionists; we are working for empty cages, not larger cages.

Collectively, ARAs are small in number—perhaps 1 % of the world’s population. So you have to wonder: How did we get this way? There are at least three possible answers.

- The DaVincians (after Leonardo). Some people are born that way. Awareness of animal rights is in their genes. They don’t have to be convinced. They are not asking for some sort of “proof.” It’s just the way they are.

- The Damascans (after Saul/Paul). Some have a single life-transforming experience. They are changed in the blink of an eye.

- Some (Muddlers) muddle along. Nothing in the genes. No single life-transforming experience. They acquire bits and pieces of information and ideas until one day they look in a mirror and see an ARA looking back at them.

Though there are different paths, they all lead to the same conclusion: the abolition of the ill-treatment of other animals because such treatment violates their rights.

What does this idea (“animal rights”) mean?

Cannot answer this question by going to the media or by reading opinion polls. Only by thinking independently: the invitation of philosophy.

Philosophy’s invitation is

  • to think logically
  • to be informed
  • to rid ourselves of prejudice

The purpose of my remarks is: to extend the invitation.

Keywords: “To Love or Kill,” DaVincians, Damascans, Muddlers, Larger cages, Empty cages, Philosophy’s invitation




Department of Religious Studies, Hsuan Chuang University

Life Conservationist Association

HongShi Buddhist Cultural and Educational Foundation


Ministry of Science and Technology,Republic of China

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, R.O.C.

Ministry of Education, R.O.C.

Hsuan Chuang University


Hsuan Chuang University Research Center For Applied Ethics

Buddhist HongShi College