Add Feeds
Publisher Windows
Streaming Headlines
Streaming Windows

Log out

Social Connect

OR Log into your Account below
Want One? Create New Account
The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights (in a Little Historical Context)

The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights (in a Little Historical Context)

| by Roger Yates | Posted in Vlog

Much is made of the unique, ground-breaking, elements of The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. However, its major characteristics, abolitionism, sentience, and others are “borrowed” from Tom Regan and Peter Singer.


The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights is essentially a direct descendent of Tom Regan’s The Abolitionist Position of Animal Rights, which was developed first in the early 1980s.


For example, in a chapter entitled “The Case for Animal Rights,”* in the 1985 Peter Singer edited collection, In Defence of Animals, Regan writes:


“I regard myself as an advocate of animal rights — as a part of the animal rights movement. That movement, as I conceive it, is committed to a number of goals, including:

  • the total abolition of the use of animals in science;
  • the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture;
  • the total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping.”



Regan proceeds to outline his position which is opposed to animal welfare reform and in favour of rights-based animal rights:


There are, I know, people who profess to believe in animal rights but do not avow these goals. Factory farming, they say, is wrong - it violates animals’ rights - but traditional animal agriculture is all right. Toxicity tests of cosmetics on animals violates their rights, but important medical research — cancer research, for example — does not. The clubbing of baby seals is abhorrent, but not the harvesting of adult seals. I used to think I understood this reasoning. Not any more. You don't change unjust institutions by tidying them up.

What's wrong — fundamentally wrong — with the way animals are treated isn't the details that vary from case to case. It's the whole system.


Regan then spells out that it is the property status of other animals that constitutes the fundamental moral issue in human relations with other sentient beings.


The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals - as our resources - the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.


So, these are major building blocks of The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights: rights, abolitionism, property status, rights not welfare.


Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) has recently released a cleaned-up version of a famous 1988 speech by Tom Regan (see here) in which he once again explains that his stance is The Abolitionist Position of Animal Rights.



However, one of the controversial aspects of Regan’s The Case has been the concept of subject-of-a-life. If a being is a subject-of-a-life, then she is a rights-bearer. This is what the Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (2004) says on the concept:


Subjects-of-a-life are characterized by a set of features including having beliefs, desires, memory, feelings, self-consciousness, an emotional life, a sense of their own future, an ability to initiate action to pursue their goals, and an existence that is logically independent of being useful to anyone else's interests. Such an individual has inherent value independent of its utility for others… Being a subject-of-a-life is [Regan’s] criterion for inclusion of an individual in the moral community.


In his book, The Case for Animal Rights, which was published in 1983 when the whole notion of animal rights was much more scoffed at than it is now, Regan drew the criteria of subject-of-a-life deliberately conservatively, meaning that it mainly (but by no means only) applied to mammals of one year and older. One of Regan’s cherished principles, however, is that moral lines should be “drawn in pencil” because they are going to change as knowledge increases.



What The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights does is replace subject-of-a-life with the notion of animal sentience, which was developed by Peter Singer in the 1970s, borrowing heavily on the work of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham.


In 2006, Ian J.H. Duncan published an interesting paper entitled, “The changing concept of animal sentience” (Applied Animal Behaviour Science 100 (2006) 11–19) in which he charted how acceptance of animal sentience changed over time in both “lay people” and philosophers. He says:

During the Enlightenment, the arguments of Aristotle, Aquinus, Descartes and Kant that animals were non-sentient were challenged. For example, the Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote “Is it not experience, which renders a dog apprehensive of pain, when you menace him or lift up the whip to beat him?” (Hume, 1739). However, it was Bentham, the English social reformer, who got right to the nub of the issue when he wrote ”The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” (Bentham, 1823).


If you are new to the animal advocacy movement, and you’ve been told that The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights is the big cheese, please don’t forget where, and from whom, it got it’s major ideas from.

* as distinct from Regan’s 1983 book of the same name.

Get Involved! If you have a great Vegan news feed, blog, podcast or video channel that you’d like us to include your focus on in the site, then please just contact us at with details!

Post Comment
Join the conversation!Log in to leave a comment.

Latest News

from Vegfest UK


Wealth of information for budding vegans and activists to take home from 7th year annual vegan festival at Olympia London

The support for both new vegans and vegan activists has always been

Animal Aid to host Wildlife Summit at VegfestUK London 2019

One of the UK’s leading animal protection groups Animal Aid will be

Sanctuaries Fair raising funds for animal sanctuaries at flagship vegan festival at Olympia London

The Sanctuaries Fair is a new initiative at the flagship vegan

Plant Fuelled Sportspeople and Fitness Personalities to share insights at VegfestUK London

How best to achieve optimal fitness without animal products? How

Liven up your Summer Vegan BBQ with Encona Sauces and this sizzling recipe for Spiced Sweet Potato Patties

Vegan barbecues are set to be all the rage this summer, with every

Art of Compassion Project release new book in support of Veganuary

The Art of Compassion is the first book of its kind—a collection of

Best of Brighton Holiday Lettings – Apartments, cottages and holidays in Brighton

Best of Brighton Holiday Lettings is one of Brighton’s leading

Encona Sauces – show sponsors of VegfestUK Brighton 2019

A massive welcome to Encona Sauces – show sponsors of VegfestUK

VegfestUK Brighton taking a break for 2020

The organisers of the annual VegfestUK Brighton event have

VegfestUK Brighton 2019 – Event Programme now available to view online

The full event programme for the first VegfestUK event of the year

BS Food Vegan and Organic Certified Sport and Wellness Supplements

A world where people, wildlife and nature can thrive together BS

Animal Think Tank to Host Movement Building Stream at Brighton Vegfest 2019

VegfestUK Brighton 2019 will feature a brand-new series of talks

BS Food Vegan and Organic Certified Sport and Wellness Supplements

A world where people, wildlife and nature can thrive together BS

Plant Based Health at VegfestUK Brighton 2019 – full schedule of talks and panels confirmed

The full lineup of speakers and topics have just been confirmed in

Celebrate Veganuary by visiting your local vegan festivals

As Veganuary is well and truly underway and we look forward to a

Global Feast of Plant-Based Cuisine at VegfestUK Brighton 2019

VegfestUK Brighton has in store a wide range of delectable and

VegfestUK Brighton 2019 – Advance Tickets now on sale with BOGOF until end of February

Advance tickets to the 11th VegfestUK Brighton are now on sale,

VegfestUK organisers welcome exciting new features at Brighton 2019 – Animal Think Tank, Plant-Based Health, Permaculture, Fitness, Yoga. Radical Veganism

The organisers of one of the UK’s biggest vegan events VegfestUK

Animal Think Tank makes its debut at VegfestUK Brighton 2019

VegfestUK Brighton 2019, one of the biggest vegan festivals in the

Plant-based Health Professionals UK to host health talks at VegfestUK Brighton 2019

VegfestUK – organisers of some of the UK’s largest vegan events –

About The Vegfest Express
Brought to you by Vegfest UK
Get the latest Vegan Recipes, Videos, Podcasts and News on Animals, Environment and Vegan Products, all curated by experts in the field. Want your blog or site featured on The Vegfest Express? Contact Us!
Contact Us
Follow Us