17 January 2004

Carl Cohen on Speciesism

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. The analogy between speciesism and racism is insidious. Every sensitive moral judgment requires that the differing natures of the beings to whom obligations are owed be considered. If all forms of animate life—or vertebrate animal life?—must be treated equally, and if therefore in evaluating a research program the pains of a rodent count equally with the pains of a human, we are forced to conclude (1) that neither humans nor rodents possess rights, or (2) that rodents possess all the rights that humans possess. Both alternatives are absurd. Yet one or the other must be swallowed if the moral equality of all species is to be defended.

(Carl Cohen, "The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research," in Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics, 6th ed., ed. Ronald Munson [Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000], 538-44, at 541 [essay first published in 1986])