Animal Rights:

A History

Richard Ryder 

The Deeper Minds Of All Ages Have Had Pity For Animals
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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

Richard Ryder

The suffering of pain and distress has become the central issue in ethics today.
Richard Ryder in Animal Experimentation: good or bad.

Oxford Psychologist Richard Ryder, full name Richard Hood Jack Dudley Ryder, was born in 1940. Having worked in animal research laboratories he came to public attention in 1965  when he began to speak out against animal experimentation and organised protests against animal experiments and blood sports. He became one of the leading pioneers of the animal rights movement and was amongst a group of Oxford writers who in the early 1970s revived interest in the ethical treatment of animals.

His accomplishments in the field of animal rights are extensive:

In 1972 he joined the council of the RSPCA becoming its chairmen in 1977, during which time he lead the long campaign to rid that body of reactionary and pro-hunting elements. In addition he successfully organized  private campaigns for the introduction of Dog Wardens and to stop the hunting of otters in Britain. In the 1980's Ryder toured Europe, America and Australia, appeared on television and assisted in a number of campaigns to protect whales, seals, elephants and farm animals and campaigned against use of testing animal in the cosmetic industry.*1)

Ryder was also once president of the Liberal Democrat Animal Protection Group in 1980 and twice ran for Parliament. In April 2004 he became Director of the Political Animal Lobby and later became Mellon Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Tulane University New Orleans.

Richard Rydar has for over thirty years developed new ethical ideas which relate to the involvement of animals within the sphere of moral consideration, a revolutionary step which has led to international animal protection legislation.  After a long and hard campaign Ryder established the Eurogroup for animals - the major coordinating and lobbying organisation in the European community who "speak for animals and for the millions of European citizens who are concerned about the way animals are treated"*2)The group takes credit for the fact that animals are now recognised in EU law as sentient beings .

He is perhaps best well known for the word and concept now so common place amongst advocates of animal rights - speciesism. A word that has since 1985 had an entry in the Oxford Dictionary and is frequently debated in philosophical circles.

In essence the term speciesism refers to discrimination or exploitation of
non-human animal species by humans based on the assumed superiority of human beings often encouraged by religious or cultural belief capitalised in modern times by profit and greed. This prevalent notion has led to the
widespread cruelty and abuses of countless billions of sentient beings, the endangerment and extinction of many species and environmental damage. There are few creatures or their habitats that man has not exploited or caused other detriment.

Richard Ryder first coined the term speciesism in 1970 in a privately-printed leaflet published in Oxford that same year, the term has become the basis of the animal rights movement.

Read the original leaflet:

Speciesism Again: the original leaflet
Richard D Ryder

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.

The word ‘species’, like the word ‘race’, is not precisely definable. Lions and tigers can interbreed. Under special laboratory conditions it may soon prove possible to mate a gorilla with a professor of biology –will the hairy offspring be kept in a cage or a cradle?

It is customary to describe Neanderthal Man as a separate species from ourselves, one especially equipped for Ice-Age survival. Yet most archæologists now believe that this nonhuman creature practised
ritual burial and possessed a larger brain than we do. Suppose that the elusive Abominable Snowman, when caught, turns out to be the last survivor of this Neanderthal species, would we give him a seat at the
UN or would we implant electrodes in his super-human brain?

I use these hypothetical, but possible examples, to draw attention to the illogicality of our present moral
position as regards experiments with animals.

Continue reading ( includes an introduction)

Ryder considered Speciesism as on a par with racism and wrote extensively on the issue.

In 1975 Ryder wrote :

"I use the word 'speciesism', to describe the
widespread discrimination that is practised by man against other species ... Speciesism is racism, and both overlook or underestimate the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against."

Speciesism like racism is discrimination, and was considered by Ryder as an issue which was just as serious. The term is well used amongst animal rights advocates who contend that it is morally wrong to consider or use other sentient beings as objects or property in just the same way that it would be to consider or use other human beings of a different race or gender or indeed any other difference, such as intellectual differences and so on.


Below Richard Ryder describes when and how this idea first came to him:

The word speciesism came to me while I was lying in a bath in Oxford some 35 years ago. It was like racism or sexism - a prejudice based upon morally irrelevant physical differences. Since Darwin we have known we are human animals related to all the other animals through evolution; how, then, can we justify our almost total oppression of all the other species? All animal species can suffer pain and distress. Animals scream and writhe like us; their nervous systems are similar and contain the same biochemicals that we know are associated with the experience of pain in ourselves.

Our concern for the pain and distress of others should be extended to any "painient" - pain-feeling - being regardless of his or her sex, class, race, religion, nationality or species. Indeed, if aliens from outer space turn out to be painient, or if we ever manufacture machines who are painient, then we must widen the moral circle to include them. Painience is the only convincing basis for attributing rights or, indeed, interests to others.

Richard Ryder  Writing in the Guardian Newspaper:

In 1985 he advocated a philosophy which he called painism , briefly described above, he argues that all beings who feel pain deserve rights and have as a consequence a moral status.

Ryder defines pain as “any form of suffering or negative experience, including fear, distress and boredom, as well as corporeal pain itself. Such things as injustice, inequality and loss of liberty naturally cause pain.” Pain, so Ryder says, “is the great evil, and inflicting pain upon others is the only wrong.” Ryder, of course, rejects speciesism, arguing that many species are painient. He cites three types of evidence to support this: the anatomical evidence of effective nervous systems, the behavioural evidence of avoidance (and other) behaviours and the neurochemical evidence of substances known to be associated with the transmission of pain. Thus the scope of all moral systems should be extended to cover all painient things and not just the human animal, Ryder claims. This is the neglected moral implication of Darwinism. “Pain is pain regardless as to who or what suffers it” Ryder says. “X amount of pain in a dog or a cat matters just as much as X amount of pain in a human being. It is the pain that matters, not the species.”

Extract for Richard Ryder's website, continue reading:

Ryder rejected Utilitarianism, the idea that the pain of the few is acceptable if the result is of benefit to the many, a philosophy often used to justify animal experimentation. Below are extracts from, The Ethics of Painism: The Argument Against Painful Experiments
Richard D. Ryder

"I have been asked to look at the ethical objections to using animals in research. I shall conclude that what is wrong is the causing of unconsented-to pain.

The objections are the same as the objections to using human beings for the same purpose. If it is wrong to inflict cruelty upon a child, how can it be right to do so to a dog or even to a rat? I ask this question seriously. As rational beings, scientists should also ask themselves this question. I do not think they will be able to find a convincing answer. They may find answers based upon sentiment or self-interest but they will be hard pressed to find an answer that is just and rational. As scientists, we believe that we are all animals. Why, then, do we believe that we can do to other species what we would not dream of doing to our own? Where is the logic in this? Do we exploit white people because they are white? Should we exploit women because they are female? To exploit an individual because it is of another species is speciesism, which is a very similar sort of prejudice to sexism and racism. It is irrational."

After discussing consciousness

"I believe that many nonhumans are conscious. We know with reasonable certainty that consciousness emerges from brains, and we know that many other species have similar brains to ours"

and Pain

"Morally speaking, consciousness is supremely important, and of special relevance is that part of consciousness which is the experience of pain. By "pain," I mean all forms of suffering—that is to say, I include fear, grief, anxiety, distress, the effects of captivity and boredom. I refer to all negative experiences."

before presenting his argument against the philosophy of Utilitarianism as justification of animal experimentation

"Utilitarian theory argues that the pains of one individual can be traded off against the aggregated benefits to others. This is the situation we have in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986. This means that Utilitarianism will justify torture if it leads to advantages to others that are considered to be “greater” in total than the pain inflicted. This must be wrong; around each individual is the boundary of its own consciousness, and so, surely, such aggregations make no sense. There exists a barrier between individuals through which consciousness cannot pass. However much I empathise or sympathise with your pain, I can never feel that same pain,"

Read more concerning Richard Ryder and Utilitarianism, a complex issue well described in the article below which also includes further information concerning  Painism and Speciesism and their implications.

More on Painism and Speciesism

Below is a selection of the various writings of Richard Ryder and a video regarding Painism and Speciesism:

In this video Rydar proposes the need for a bill of Animal rights, among other issues he discusses painism and Speciesism and evolutionary kinship.

Animal Rights Bill - Richard Ryder Speaks


Excepts from Speciesism
A Summary of talk given by Dr Richard D Ryder

"We have heard a lot recently about the controversy over "chimeras" — the production of combined human and cow or rabbit eggs. I am actually on the side of the scientists on this one. As usual the ethical pundits in this country get hot and bothered about phoney issues. The current chimera controversy is, in my opinion, a moral red-herring, for the simple reason that no additional suffering is involved. Experimenting upon animals is an altogether different matter. Eggs and day-old embryos do not suffer, whereas fully formed animals can and do suffer.

I think I first spoke publicly about speciesism some 37 years ago, here in Oxford. Over the next few years I wrote and spoke about the idea repeatedly, sometimes on radio and television. I had coined the word one day as I lay in my bath at the Old Manor House in the village of Sunningwell which nestles in a valley below Boars Hill. I mention this for reasons of nostalgia, as I know there is at least one distinguished academic here today who remembers that beautiful old Tudor house and the happy times we all had there.

I thought up speciesism really as a slogan. I was not a trained philosopher but a psychologist, and it was chiefly the psychological aspects of the word speciesism that appealed to me. It seemed at that time that we had all gone to sleep on the issue of animals. On the one hand we all accepted Darwinism and therefore its message that we are all animals, and yet the moral implications of Darwin were still being denied. (They still are!) "

"As I looked around me in the 1960s I was shocked. Everywhere there was evidence of violence and injustice to the other animals whether in factory farms, the hunting field or in laboratories, and yet nobody seemed to be complaining about it. Why not? Who said that morality should be limited to the treatment of only one species — the species that happens to be our own? To me it sounded like some sort of special pleading... species snobbery... zoological elitism. If morality is to be taken seriously then, surely, it must apply to all sentient species. To draw the line at one species or another is artificial, spurious and thoroughly unDarwinian."

Summary of talk given by Dr Richard D Ryder
30 January 2007 Mansfield college, Oxford

Read more Unfortunately this link is no longer available and I cannot find the remainder of the above talk.

Speciesism in the Laboratory
by Richard Ryder
In PETER SINGER (ed), In Defense of Animals
New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985, pp. 77-88

The mid-1980s sees the entrenchment of animal experimentation as a political subject. No longer is it a fringe issue, a reform campaign espoused only by eccentrics; it is now a movement which has considerable public support in nearly all Western countries. Like most successful movements, it has a following at all levels in society and embraces a wide range of differing personalities and styles, conservative and radical, old and young, militant and constitutional.

Several factors in the 1970s gave growing weight to the historic anti-vivisection and animal rights movements. Six of these have been identified by Professor Harlan B. Miller, in Ethics and Animals, as:

  • The momentum of liberation. Once colonialism, racism and sexism have been intellectually (if not practically) vanquished, then the next logical stage in the expansion of the boundaries of the moral in-group is an attack upon speciesism.
  • Increasing scientific evidence that non-humans share intellectual and perceptual faculties in common with mankind. Miller emphasizes recent evidence of high intelligence in apes. (But, in addition, the new evidence that all vertebrate classes share with man the biochemical substances associated with the transmission of pain is of equal, or even greater, significance.)
  • The ethical debate over abortion. Miller claims that this has moved the 'concept of a person' to the centre of the stage.
  • The decline in dualistic views separating mind from body. The greater acceptance that the substance of central nervous systems (as they exist in many animals) is 'somehow identical with' mental life and consciousness.
  • The development of behavioural sciences (such as sociobiology and ethology) which attempt to draw conclusions about human behaviour from observations of other animals. This has spread the view that homo sapiens is one species among other species.
  • The rise of the environment and ecology movements, which have indicated an increasing 'awareness of nature' and of humanity's interdependence with other species'.

Miller adds a seventh factor in parenthesis. The popularity of science fiction and recent advances in astronomy have widened the view that the universe may contain other alien intelligences.

Continue reading:


An interview with Richard Ryder in which he discusses speciesism, painism and other animal rights issues

DMJ: You began your career as a psychologist, working in a laboratory where animals were used. What was it that turned you against this work?

Richard D. Ryder: I was appalled to read about all the cruelty that was being inflicted: animals blinded, starved, shocked and having their brains surgically damaged. So-called psychologists were terrifying and torturing animals all over the world in experiments. But that was in the 1960s. Today, thank goodness, the situation is marginally better, at least in Britain.

DMJ: You invented the term ‘speciesism’. How did that come about?

Continue reading the interview:

Richard D. Ryder on Speciesist Language

Some aspects of the language I use may surprise the reader. This is because I have tried, when appropriate in the context, to dismantle the speciesism inherent in the words we use. Phrases like 'men and animals', for example, insult not only women but nonhumans also, for humans are animals too.

Using the word 'animal' in opposition to the word 'human' is clearly an expression of prejudice. So how can this be avoided when describing those sentient creatures who are not of the human species? Does a phrase such as 'animals and human animals' help? It might, but it is rather clumsy. Slightly less cumbersome is the phrase 'nonhuman animal' and its inevitable abbreviation 'nonhuman'. To some this may itself sound speciesist, in that it could be asserting that human is the norm and that nonhuman is inferior. All I can say is that no such inferiority is intended or understood. In the absence of other appropriate words I use 'nonhuman' or 'nonhuman animal' in the hope that their use reminds the reader, as it does me, of the kinship between those of my own species and others.

Admittedly, in dealing with the past, it is difficult to use new terms and concepts consistently, so the early chapters do contain some speciesist phrasing. I defend the use of the word 'animal' in the title on the grounds that the revolution to which I refer applies to the human animal as well as to others; and because the revolution, to a large extent, is about the concept of 'animal' itself.

The hostility towards so-called ant[h]ropomorphism during this century has been so extreme that the use of certain adjectives, pronouns such as 'he' or 'she' and verbs in a nonhuman context has been abhorred, particularly by those intellectuals who should have known better. Nevertheless, if I believe it appropriate I have, and without shame, deliberately attributed behavioural and emotional qualities to nonhumans which some may regard as far-fetched. So, if I believe a dog is angry then I say so, and if she is a dog who feels angry with speciesists, then I sympathize!

Richard D. Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989],  quoted in


Richard Ryder has authored many books on the issue of animal rights

Richard Ryder was amongst several writers  Bridget Brophy who contributed to the influential philosophical work Animals Men and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-humans edited by the Oxford philosophers Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris and published in 1971. Here he outlines the concept of speciesism.

Victims of Science : The use of animals in research

Here Rydar discusses the abuses of experimentation on laboratory animals, in particular the extensive use of animals in testing the toxicity of various substances. Also included is a short history of vivisection and antivivisection movements and the legislation in a number of countries is reviewed. A section "agricultural research" focuses on  cruel research projects carried out by the veterinary profession.

Published in 1975 this was Ryder's first book which was hailed by the Spectator as “a morally and historically important book”. It was of considerable influence and in 1985 led to both European and British legislation to protect laboratory animals.

Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism

First published in 1989 this book provides a fascinating history concerning the treatment of animals and man's relationship with them from ancient times to the present day. Later revised editions includes the concept of painism and the more recent history of the animal rights movement.

Painism: A Modern Morality

In this book the ethics of painism is expanded beyond the treatment of animals and covers human situations also.

The Political Animal: The Conquest of Speciesism

This book discusses the ethical aspects of animal rights and raises fundamental questions concerning the nature of altruism and the relationship between humans and other species. Includes an historical over view and covers animal exploitation and painism and concludes with how the political debate over animal welfare has developed.

Richard Ryder Quotations

"Some will take refuge in the old cliché that humans are different from other animals. But when did a difference justify a moral prejudice? When did those with black hair have a right to mistreat those with red hair...or even those with blue or purple hair...Surely the crucial similarity that men share with other animals is the capacity to suffer? Regardless of the number of legs or the woolliness of our fur, we can all suffer..."


What are we doing when we brainwash children in schools to cut open their fellow animals? Are we dangerously desensitizing them? Some of the most warped and blunted people I know are those who have gone through training of this sort."

"The cruel experimenter cannot be allowed to have it both ways. He cannot, in the same breath, defend the scientific validity of vivisection on the grounds of the physical similarities between man and the other animals, and then defend the morality of vivisection on the grounds that men and animals are physically different. The only logical alternatives for him are to admit he is either pre-Darwinian or immoral."

'I believed, first, that people too often spoke of "rights"  as if they had some independent existence - this seemed irrational to me. The essential qualification for rights is, therefore, Painience - the capacity to suffer pain or distress of any sort.'

Various writings from Richard Rydar :

by Richard Ryder

In PAOLA CAVALIERI & PETER SINGER (eds.), The Great Ape Project
New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1993, pp. 220-222

Chimpanzees make love rather like humans do, but they do not usually run the risk of contracting syphilis. Not unless they are in a laboratory. An image that ever haunts me is the photograph reproduced in a Danish medical journal of the 1950s of a pathetic little chimpanzee dying of experimental syphilis, covered in skin lesions. I used it in my first two animal rights leaflets of 1970.[1]

Precisely because our chimpanzee cousins overlap more than 98 per cent of their genes with us they have been, and continue to be, mercilessly exploited in science. Their only protection has been their cost.

Chimpanzees share with us tool-making and tool-using capacities, the faculty for (non-verbal) language,[2] a hatred of boredom, an intelligent curiosity towards their environment, love for their children, intense fear of attack, deep friendships, a horror of dismemberment, a repertoire of emotions and even the same capacity for exploitative violence that we ourselves so often show towards them. Above all, of course, they show basically the same neural, behavioural and biochemical indicators of pain and distress.

Genetic engineering involving the production of new species of animals (sometimes containing human genes, as in the case of the Beltsville pigs and some cancer-prone mice) is making a nonsense of our traditional morality, based as it is upon speciesism. For centuries, and even today, the lay person has attached far too much importance to species differences, unaware that the boundaries between species are far from impermeable. Lions and tigers can interbreed and produce hybrids which are themselves fertile. Species of the Primate order (of which the human is a member) can also interbreed, although I know of no attested case, yet, of human interbreeding with any of the other apes: sexual attraction across species does not seem strong and mating could, at least in its natural form, prove highly dangerous for the physically weaker human partner!

Chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans, more than any other species, are intuitively recognised as our kin. Yet the implications of Darwinism - that biological kinship could entail moral kinship - are still resisted by vested interests and commercially motivated speciesism. It is interesting that in some instances, trading in chimpanzees for laboratory use has been an activity selected by people with an alleged Nazi background - speciesism, as it affects chimpanzees, appears psychologically close to racism.

Continue reading:

Experiments on Animals
by Richard Ryder
In S. & R. GODLOVITCH & J. HARRIS (eds.), Animals, Men and Morals, New York: Taplinger, 1972

An overview of 1969 animal experimentation statistics followed by reasons for such experimentation including those conducted in the field of psychology and examples of experiments carried out on animals


1)Richard Ryder website


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