The Chief Executive's Blog
The Question Is, Can they suffer?
In his book Speciesism, Painism and Happiness, Richard Ryder brings together his previous arguments on animal ethics and combines them into thought provoking possibilities for debate on adopting a unified approach to morality and legislation on the rights of animals.
Dr Ryder argues that moral principles and ideals such as justice, freedom and equality, for example, are “mere stepping stones to the ultimate good, which is happiness; and happiness is made easier by freedom from all forms of pain and suffering”. Dr Ryder’s term “Painism” is the term he uses to encompass this new-world moral theory in the hopes of creating a “fresh and unified moral outlook” amongst mankind, in other words, extending our care and concern for any species that is “painient”, e.g. able to experience pain and suffering. Given animals do experience pain, that they do scream and writhe like us when in pain, that they can suffer, it gives them moral status, and therefore, we should include them in our moral circle.
He goes on to cite recent research that shows that many animal species show empathy and therefore, further demonstrates that animals have their own morality. For example, elephants mourn their dead. This empathy also extends towards humans; an example being dolphins protecting humans from shark attacks.
Dr Ryder also looks at consciousness, stating that it is scientifically accepted that “it is a function of the awake brain and it is correlated with activity in the brain’s cortex”. He concludes that as mammals and many other animals have brains with similar cortices and chemical neurotransmitters, “it is reasonable to assume that these species are also conscious”.
According to Dr Ryder, to not include animals in our moral circle and actively exclude and exploit animals is to discriminate against them; what he calls Speciesism, the animal equivalent of human racism or sexism.
Dr Ryder, a proponent of the ethical treatment of animals since the 1970s claims that the theory of full inclusion of animals within a moral society is slowly becoming a reality, although still highly debated. It would seem he could be right as can be seen, for example, with the current transposition to UK law of EU Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used in scientific procedures, which has recently come into force across the European Union. In an explanatory statement of the aim of the Directive, it was clearly stated that “The ultimate goal should be to replace the use of animal experiments altogether”.
The theory and implications of Painism, however, are considerable and go far beyond the mere treatment of animals; it delves into the very foundations of human society and our perspective of morality but his arguments are compelling, particularly in his comparisons of Utilitarianism vs. Rights theories.
He asks us to look deeply into the question of the oppression of a whole species and suggests that we should concentrate on the individual, rather than the race, nation, group or species that suffers an important principle of “Painism”. Logically, he explains, if we care about the suffering of humans then we should care about the suffering of non-humans. It is about cultivating compassion, extending the same moral and legal rights to animals and abolishing the exploitation of them by stepping down from our self-righteous pedestal of believing ourselves to be superior to other species.
Would we, for example, experiment on a human without his or her consent? Would we sit idly by and watch them suffer pain or distress without doing anything to remove their suffering, even though it might (and I emphasise the word “might”) offer some mild benefit or convenience to millions of others?
Would we be comfortable watching a human, poisoned with a toxic household product, linger in agony for hours or days before dying? Would we use mentally disabled adults, for example, who are unable to communicate, to factory farm human babies to be used for drug testing? Then why do we accept that it is morally acceptable to do the same with animals?
Dr Ryder’s book is uncomfortable at times but deeply provoking and filled with arguments that are borne from his simple truths that we must go further in creating a universal and unified moral outlook that “recognises the rights, interests or welfare of the animals themselves”.