Tom Regan

American philosopher

Tom Regan (November 28, 1938February 17, 2017) was an American philosopher who specialized in animal rights theory. He was professor emeritus of philosophy at North Carolina State University, where he taught from 1967 until his retirement in 2001.

We must empty the cages, not make them larger.



Empty Cages (2004)

Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0-7425-4993-3.
  • People like me, people who believe in animal rights, feel the same way about eagles and elephants, pigs and porpoises, as most people feel about cats and dogs. Don't get me wrong. Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) don't want pigs sleeping in our beds or elephants riding in our cars. We don't want to make “pets” of these animals. What we want is something simpler: we just want people to stop doing terrible things to them.
    • Prologue
  • I would never have become an animal rights advocate if I had not first been a human rights advocate, especially for those humans (the very young and the very old, for example) who lack the understanding or power to assert their rights for themselves.
    • Prologue
  • From my reading of Gandhi I had learned how some people in India regard eating cow as unspeakably repulsive. I realized I felt the same way about cats and dogs: I could never eat them. Were cows so different from cats and dogs that there were two moral standards, one that applies to cows, another that applies to cats and dogs? Were pigs so different? Were any of the animals I ate so different?
    • Ch. 2
  • The less gifted do not exist to serve the interests of the more gifted. The former are not mere things when compared to the latter, to be used as means to the latter's ends. From the moral point of view, each of us is equal because each of us is equally a somebody, not a something, the subject-of-a-life, not a life without a subject.
    • Ch. 3
  • What I had learned about human rights proved to be directly relevant to my thinking about animal rights. Whether any animals have rights depends on the true answer to one question: Are any animals subjects-of-a-life? This is the question that needs to be asked about animals because this is the question we need to ask about us.
    • Ch. 4
  • The task facing ARAs is daunting: we must empty the cages, not make them larger.
    • Ch. 4
  • No wonder Muddlers initially think that becoming a vegetarian is like taking a vow of culinary abstinence mixed with voluntary poverty.
    Of course, in time Muddlers discover that there is an incredibly delicious, colorful, and nutritious animal-free cuisine out there to be discovered, a menu of possibilities that includes foods from every nation and ethnicity in the world. It is the great new food we gain, not the customary old food we lose, that is the real surprise, something all of us have to discover for ourselves.
    • Ch. 6
  • Then there are those proverbial “bird brains” of the barnyard, chickens, surely the most maligned and abused animal on the face of the earth, and—just as surely—among the brightest, most social birds we'll find anywhere. … Chickens not only are capable of learning, they are also capable of teaching one another. It turns out that chickens are not as dumb as popular mythology makes them out to be.
    • Ch. 6

Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (2004)

Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. Lantern Books, 2004. ISBN 978-1590560549
  • So the real question, I believe, is not whether some ARA's use violence. The real question is whether they are justified in doing so. Here are the main outlines of a possible justification. 1. Animals are innocent. 2. Violence is used only when it is necessary to rescue them so that they are spared terrible harms. 3. Excessive violence is never used. 4. Violence is used only after nonviolent alternatives have been exhausted, as time and circumstances permit. 5. Therefore, in these cases, the use of violence is justified.
    • How to Justify Violence, p. 233
  • Animals are drowned, suffocated, and starved to death; they have their limbs severed and their organs crushed; they are burned, exposed to radiation, and used in experimental surgeries; they are shocked, raised in isolation, exposed to weapons of mass destruction, and rendered blind or paralyzed; they are given heart attacks, ulcers, paralysis, and seizures; they are forced to inhale tobacco smoke, drink alcohol, and ingest various drugs, such as heroine or cocaine.
    • How to Justify Violence, p. 235
  • And they say ARAs are violent. The bitter truth would be laughable if it were not so tragic. The violence done to things by some ARAs (buy which I mean the violent destruction of insensate property) is nothing compared to the violence done to feeling creatures by the major animal user industries. A raindrop compared to an ocean. On a day-to-day basis, by far the greatest amount of violence done in the "civilized" world occurs because of what humans do to other animals. That the violence is legally protected, that in some cases (for example, vivisection) it is socially esteemed, only serves to make matters worse.
    • How to Justify Violence, pp. 235-236
  • Finally, and lamentably, one thing seems certain. Unless the massive amount of violence done to animals is acknowledged by those who do it, and until meaningful steps are taken to end it, as certain as night follows day, some ARAs, somewhere, somehow, will use violence against animal abusers themselves to defend the rights of animals.
    • How to Justify Violence, p. 236

Quotes about Tom Regan

  • The principal theoretician of the animal rights movement.
    • Matthieu Ricard, A Plea for the Animals, trans. Sherab Chödzin Kohn (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2016), p. 38.
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