Anti-speciesism is a current of philosophical and moral thought, formalized in the 1970s by Anglo-Saxon philosophers, who defend a revival of animalism, and consider that the species to which an animal belongs is not a relevant criterion to decide how to treat it and what moral consideration to give it. The philosophers Richard D. Ryder and Peter Singer developed the concept of “anti-speciesism”, opposing it to speciesism (a concept defined on the model of racism and sexism), placing the human species above all others and giving higher moral consideration to certain animal species (notably cats, dogs, horses and other pets) than to others (wild animals, farm animals).
The word “speciesism” was introduced in 1970 in a leaflet against animal testing in the laboratory, by the British psychologist Richard D. Ryder, member of the Oxford group academics who publish in 1971 the founding work of the anti-speciesist thought Animals, mens and morals. This term was taken up in 1975 by one of these researchers, the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer. The latter designates a form of discrimination concerning the species, put in parallel with all forms of domination of one group over another (racism, sexism). Ryder first establishes a parallel between speciesism and racism. Extending this parallel, anti-speciesism defines speciesism by analogy with racism and sexism.
In practice, according to anti-speciesism, speciesism justifies the exploitation and use of animals by humans in a way that would not be considered acceptable if they were humans. Thus, according to anti-speciesism, speciesism is a reprehensible ideology, and an “animal liberation movement” is necessary to put an end to it.
Peter Singer specifies in his book Animal Liberation:
“There can be no reason – apart from the selfish desire to preserve the privileges of the exploiting group – to refuse to extend the fundamental principle of equal consideration of interests to members of other species.”
The equality advocated by anti-speciesism concerns individuals, not species. The species can intervene, but only to the extent that it results from it some relevant characteristic for the determination of the interests. This is why it is less serious, writes Singer, to give a slap (of the same intensity) to a horse than to a human baby; because the horse’s skin is thicker than that of the baby, and its effective suffering will therefore be less. Thus, anti-speciesist authors do not advocate equal treatment between species.
If the neologism was formed in 1970 by Richard D. Ryder, the notions of anti-speciesism and speciesism were already in germ after the Second World War which saw the questioning of the triumph, economic, scientific and technological of Western society. In a context dominated by the need to rebuild the destroyed economy, traditional extensive breeding is giving way to intensive breeding which is based on zootechnics, imposing the design of an animal-machine at the service of man. The consumption of meat is increasing. The rural exodus profoundly changes the relationship between men and domestic animals. Productivism very quickly induces many environmental problems: deforestation, loss of biodiversity, land regression and degradation. Shortly after the end of the Second World War and during the following decades, an ethics of nature thus developed which called into question this progress and reacted to an anthropocentric ethics, which it considered incomplete or insufficient. It is in this context that emerged in contemporary philosophical debates in the early 1970s, two fields of research, environmental ethics and animal ethics, dominated by the work of Anglo-Saxon philosophers who popularized these thematic in many scientific books and articles. Many philosophers from the second field defend a revival of applied ethics no longer through the movement of animal protection but that of so-called animal liberation and popularize the central notion of “anti-speciesism”.
Debates in the 1980s led to the break between consequentialist animal ethics, which focused on sentient animals (the main ethical criterion of moral consideration and the law), and ecocentric environmental ethics, which extended moral considerations. no longer to sentient animals but to all living beings within ecosystems, the first being in favor of interventionism (moral duty to intervene on suffering animals, whether they are wild or exploited by humans) which enter in conflict with the conservationist thought of the second which values the naturalness or the autonomy of ecological systems. The difference in objective and argumentation of these two fields of research places them in a situation of rivalry which reaches a paroxysm when the philosopher John Baird Callicott accuses the supporters of animal ethics who claim to be anti-speciesists of projecting onto animals their good outlook on life and their fear of suffering.