Tom Reagan died Friday morning, Feb 17, 2017 in Raleigh, North Carolina. If you are involved with animal rights, liberation, philosophy, animal activism or advocacy, you may have already heard this. For those who don’t know who Tom Regan is, sit down and read a bit from one of the people who has changed the world for the better.
An excerpt from The Philosophy of Animal Rights
by Dr. Tom Regan
The other animals humans eat, use in science, hunt, trap, and exploit in a variety of ways, have a life of their own that is of importance to them apart from their utility to us. They are not only in the world, they are aware of it. What happens to them matters to them. Each has a life that fares better or worse for the one whose life it is.
That life includes a variety of biological, individual, and social needs. The satisfaction of these needs is a source of pleasure, their frustration or abuse, a source of pain. In these fundamental ways, the nonhuman animals in labs and on farms, for example, are the same as human beings. And so it is that the ethics of our dealings with them, and with one another, must acknowledge the same fundamental moral principles.
At its deepest level, human ethics is based on the independent value of the individual: The moral worth of any one human being is not to be measured by how useful that person is in advancing the interest of other human beings. To treat human beings in ways that do not honor their independent value is to violate that most basic of human rights: the right of each person to be treated with respect.
The philosophy of animal rights demands only that logic be respected. For any argument that plausibly explains the independent value of human beings implies that other animals have this same value, and have it equally. And any argument that plausibly explains the right of humans to be treated with respect, also implies that these other animals have this same right, and have it equally, too.
It is true, therefore, that women do not exist to serve men, blacks to serve whites, the poor to serve the rich, or the weak to serve the strong. The philosophy of animal rights not only accepts these truths, it insists upon and justifies them.
But this philosophy goes further. By insisting upon and justifying the independent value and rights of other animals, it gives scientifically informed and morally impartial reasons for denying that these animals exist to serve us.
Once this truth is acknowledged, it is easy to understand why the philosophy of animal rights is uncompromising in its response to each and every injustice other animals are made to suffer.
It is not larger, cleaner cages that justice demands in the case of animals used in science, for example, but empty cages: not “traditional” animal agriculture, but a complete end to all commerce in the flesh of dead animals; not “more humane” hunting and trapping, but the total eradication of these barbarous practices.
For when an injustice is absolute, one must oppose it absolutely. It was not “reformed” slavery that justice demanded, not “re- formed” child labor, not “reformed” subjugation of women. In each of these cases, abolition was the only moral answer. Merely to reform injustice is to prolong injustice.
The philosophy of animal rights demands this same answer– abolition–in response to the unjust exploitation of other animals. It is not the details of unjust exploitation that must be changed. It is the unjust exploitation itself that must be ended, whether on the farm, in the lab, or among the wild, for example. The philosophy of animal rights asks for nothing more, but neither will it be satisfied with anything less.
You can read this short essay in its entirety on the Animal Voices Tom Regan website.
A personal note:
I met Tom thirty-two years ago. I was 31.∗ I was exhibiting two of the nine-piece The Dante Series in a small gallery in Washington, DC. The mixed media large drawing series is based loosely on the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno and narrates the atrocities of animal experimentation from a more contemporary Dante and Virgil perspective. Tom had seen the pieces in the gallery, leaving his card with the gallery director and asking me to call him with. I nearly fell over when I read his name on the card. I had already been involved in activism for animals, all my work during graduate school and before was about our treatment of animals, had been a vegetarian for some time, and had Tom’s book The Case for Animal Rights on my bookshelves—I still hadn’t read it—so I knew exactly who Tom was. I was bowled over that he had not only seen the work, but liked it enough to want to talk with me about it.
Since he had left town soon after leaving the card, we talked on the phone and then a few months later, he called at my dilapidated apartment building for a studio visit and chat. So began my friendship with Tom and Nancy, Tom’s wife. I had friends in Durham, North Carolina so I would visit when in the area with my son, Calder, then just a child. I was involved a bit in the first exhibition and performance of the pioneering artist Rachel Rosenthal of “The Others.” Tom sometimes came to DC, and so until I moved to Ohio for my doctorate we were able to see each other relatively often.
I was so lucky to have known Tom not only as a thinker, but a person of great generosity and thoughtfulness. We had both been born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, though he was of Irish descent and I was Italian. But we shared a kind of Pittsburgh casualness and a distaste for pretense. His sense of humor and humility was always one of the things that put people at ease when talking with him. Both he and Nancy were supportive of me and my work, both as an artist and a writer. But more importantly, they were also generally supportive of the crucial role of the arts in changing our relationship with animals. In this, as in so many ways, they were pioneers. Their Culture and Animal Foundation, founded in 1988, was able to help a number of artists, writers, performers, and filmmakers produce work that was often very difficult to get funding for. Their activism through the foundation helped these artists to speak out although what they said was not often understood or believed in by the general art world. Some of that has changed. But it was certainly the case prior to CAF’s founding and its early days. Without Tom and Nancy and CAF, much of what we know of as human-animal studies in all its variations and perspectives would not exist. Or it might, but would be much the poorer for it.
To Tom and Nancy, I hold you dear in my heart. Tom, you will be missed and certainly never forgotten.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom and Nancy for an Antennae issue on animal rights in 2011. Both my interview with the Regans and Chapter 3 of Animal Rights and Wrong (also reprinted in Antennae Issue 19 Winter) are available here).
∗ I can subtract, my birthday is in November.