Tom Regan, Pioneer Animal Rights Philosopher Died February 17, But His Work & Influence Endure

By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

Philosopher Tom Regan, who wrote The Case For Animal Rights, died on February 17, 2017 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

The Case For Animal Rights book cover

I first met Tom Regan right around the time that his book The Case For Animal Rights was published in 1983. Since that book was more academic than Peter Singer’s 1975 Animal Liberation, it probably was more dipped into by activists than read cover to cover. But Regan transcended Singer by arguing that nonhuman animals have not only “interests” but RIGHTS and INHERENT VALUE. Sentient beings are Subjects-of-a-Life, Regan argued, in the irreducible sense that “their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their utility for others.”

Tom Regan in his many writings following The Case For Animal Rights wrote expressively and movingly about animals and about his own early life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and his evolution from being an avid boyhood fisherman and meat eater to becoming a passionate vegan advocate for animals and animal rights.

“I Am Extremely Against Animal Abuse All the Time!”

I attended Tom’s outdoor presentations in the 1980s and later, where he said of the Establishment versus himself: “They say we’re EXTREMISTS for caring about animals! I AM an EXTREMIST. I am EXTREMELY against animal abuse, and I am against it All the Time!”

This is a paraphrase of a speech I heard him give one year. It was passionate and fiery and interesting too when you compare that oratory with his earliest foray into animal rights in a clip from The Animals Film where he appears reading from a paper, but delivering words that echo in all of us who are working for animals to this day and always will.

I am eternally grateful to Tom Regan, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at North Carolina State University and the recipient of numerous achievement awards, for his establishment in philosophy and the arts of the case for animal rights. And I am honored by his kind words of appreciation for my own animal rights work through United Poultry Concerns in his 2013 Interview with the Eugene Veg Education Network, where he called me his “bellwether in the political storms that Animal Rights Advocates have to face.”
Karen Davis

Tom Regan standing in front of animal mural
Tom Regan: A Man for ALL Creatures