Dr Richard D Ryder

Dr Richard D Ryder is a British psychologist and philosopher, who invented the concept of speciesism in Oxford in 1970 while co-initiating the modern animal rights movement. In 1971 Ryder contributed to the ground-breaking Animals Men and Morals (ed. Godlovitch and Harris) and, in the following year, he joined the Council of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)- the world's largest and oldest animal welfare organisation- leading the long campaign to rid that body of reactionary and pro-hunting elements, and first becoming its controversial and modernising Chairman in 1977. Ryder organized successful private campaigns for the introduction of Dog Wardens and to stop the hunting of otters in Britain and, in 1975 published his first book Victims of Science - an attack on animal experimentation- which was hailed as “a morally and historically important book”. It had a considerable impact upon Parliament and led eventually to new European and British legislation to protect laboratory animals in 1986.

Ryder toured Europe, America and Australia in the 1980s, and frequently appeared on television, assisting in the campaigns to protect whales, seals, elephants and farm animals, and to ban the use of animals in the testing of cosmetics. He has a MA in Experimental Psychology and a Ph D in Political and Social Sciences from Cambridge University. He became President of the Liberal Democrats Animal Welfare Group, twice ran for Parliament and, with Lord Houghton and others, successfully campaigned to persuade the main British political parties to accept animal protection as a serious political issue. He also founded Eurogroup - the principal coordinating and lobbying organisation for animals in the European community.

After collaborating with Brian Davis (the founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)) Ryder became the Director of the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) – an IFAW subsidiary- which funded animal welfare researchers for the political leaders, initiated approaches to the UN and WTO and made large donations to the three main parties in Britain, leading on eventually to the highly controversial banning of hunting with hounds in 2004 and the new general law to protect animals in 2006.

Throughout the 1990’s, and especially when Mellon Professor of Tulane University, Ryder developed and refined his theory of Painism – an ethical theory that rejects the validity of the aggregation (i.e. the adding up) of the pains and pleasures of several individuals, as found in Utilitarianism, emphasizing instead the moral importance of each individual and especially of the 'maximum sufferer';.

Ryder has also worked for various human charities and writes about trees and psychobiography.

Link to the Wikipedia article on Richard D Ryder


Speciesism is a term coined by Richard Ryder in 1970. The word refers to the widely held belief that the human species is inherently superior to other species and so has rights or privileges that are denied to other sentient animals.

'Speciesism' can also be used to describe the oppressive behaviour, cruelty, prejudice and discrimination that are associated with such a belief. In a more restricted sense, speciesism can refer to such beliefs and behaviours if they are based upon the species-difference alone, as if such a difference is, in itself, a justification.

Ryder used the term as a deliberate 'wake-up call' to challenge the morality of current practices where nonhuman animals are being exploited in research, in farming, domestically and in the wild, and he consciously drew the parallel with the terms racism and sexism. Ryder pointed out that all such prejudices are based upon physical differences that are morally irrelevant. He suggested that the moral implication of Darwinism is that all sentient animals, including humans, should have a similar moral status.

In his first privately published leaflet entitled Speciesism, Ryder asked a number of rhetorical questions: Since Darwin, scientists have agreed that there is no 'magical' essential difference between human and other animals, biologically- speaking. Why, then, do we make an almost total distinction morally? If all organisms are on one physical continuum, then we should also be on the same moral continuum.

The word 'species', like the word 'race', is not precisely definable. Lions and tigers can interbreed. Under special laboratory conditions it may soon prove possible to mate a gorilla with a professor of biology will the hairy offspring be kept in a cage or a cradle?

It is customary to describe Neanderthal Man as a separate species from ourselves, one especially equipped for Ice-Age survival. Yet most archaeologists now believe that this nonhuman creature practised ritual burial and possessed a larger brain than we do. Suppose that the elusive Abominable Snowman, when caught, turns out to be the last survivor of this Neanderthal species; would we give him a seat at the UN or would we implant electrodes in his super-human brain?

A second edition of this leaflet, illustrated and with the name and address of David Wood added, was circulated around the colleges of Oxford University where it was seen by the young Australian philosopher Peter Singer.

A little earlier, the novelist Brigid Brophy, having read some of Ryderís letters about the treatment of animals published in the Daily Telegraph (e.g. 7th April and 3rd May 1969), introduced Ryder to the Oxford philosophers John Harris and Roslind and Stanley Godlovitch who invited Ryder to contribute a chapter on Animal Experimentation to their forthcoming collection of essays entitled Animals, Men and Morals, subsequently published by Gollancz in 1971. In this contribution Ryder bases his moral objection to painful animal experimentation upon his principle of 'speciesism'.

This historic book was subsequently reviewed by Peter Singer who then approached Richard Ryder to find out more about his ideas on the subject. Singer invited Ryder to share the authorship of his forthcoming book, Animal Liberation. Ryder declined, but gave much research material to Singer that had already been used by Ryder for his book Victims of Science (1975). Peter Singer has frequently acknowledged his debt to Ryder for the term speciesism which Singer, as a Utilitarian, has used skilfully. The term is now in most English dictionaries and is much employed by philosophers.

Ryder points out that there is no absolute barrier between species and that transgenic animals and so-called chimeras contain the genes of several species. How would we treat hominids of a different species if some turned up, he asks, or aliens from outer space? The latter may be highly intelligent, autonomous and of a different species, but should intelligence or autonomy or species affect moral status? Suffering, surely is the essential feature.

Above all, Ryder and other anti-speciesists have challenged the usual Judaeo-Christian assumption of Western societies that the human-being has some semi-divine status. 'I have never yet heard' Ryder has said 'any rational argument in support of speciesism ; except, of course, sheer bloody self-interest'.

Ryder went on to become a leading campaigner for animal protection, modernising the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) as its Chairman, and helping to put animals into politics internationally. He also became Director of the Political Animal Lobby, founder of Eurogroup for Animals and first Chairman of the Liberal Democrats Animal Welfare Group. Ryder refers to speciesism in all his main writings.


Painism is a term coined by Richard Ryder in 1990, being a refinement of his term sentientism. Painism became the principle upon which Ryder bases his ethics. He argues that any individual, human or other, who can experience pain, has moral standing. Such painience can be assumed in most species of animal on Earth and may be a capacity elsewhere in the universe among, for example, intelligent aliens, or even in highly developed robots and other machines. Intelligence and painience are not necessarily associated, so Ryder insists. It is possible that there are highly intelligent beings who can feel little or no pain and, vice versa, highly painient creatures who lack intelligence.

Ryder defines pain as ìany form of suffering or negative experience, including fear, distress and boredom, as well as corporeal pain itself. Such things as injustice, inequality and loss of liberty naturally cause pain. Pain, so Ryder says, 'is the great evil, and inflicting pain upon others is the only wrong.'

Ryder, of course, rejects speciesism, arguing that many species are painient. He cites three types of evidence to support this: the anatomical evidence of effective nervous systems, the behavioural evidence of avoidance (and other) behaviours and the neurochemical evidence of substances known to be associated with the transmission of pain. Thus the scope of all moral systems should be extended to cover all painient things and not just the human animal, Ryder claims. This is the neglected moral implication of Darwinism. 'Pain is pain regardless as to who or what suffers it' Ryder says. 'X amount of pain in a dog or a cat matters just as much as X amount of pain in a human being. It is the pain that matters, not the species.'

Where Ryder's theory of painism takes a creative step away from Utilitarianism is in his rejection entirely of the Utilitarian practice of calculating morality by 'adding-up' the pains (and pleasures) of all those individuals affected by an action. A Utilitarian moralist (and hence many politicians and others in the world today) could, theoretically, justify gang rape if the pleasures of all the rapists are found to add up to more than the sufferings of the victim. This, of course, is absurd. But, for Ryder, this is the huge flaw in Utilitarianism and much of Western moral thought, it is also the main problem with democracy, for example, and its 'tyranny by the majority'. (See Richard D Ryder: Putting Morality Back into Politics, Imprint Academic, 2006). Ryder argues that ìpain, to be pain, has to be experienced and, because nobody experiences those 'added-up' totals of pains the Utilitarians play with, then such totals are clearly meaningless. Ryder proposes instead that the pains of each individual matter, and that the badness of an action can be judged by the level of pain felt by the individual who suffers the most by it the 'maximum sufferer'. Each individual experiences only their own pains.

Ryder's theory of painism does offer a way through some of the clashes between the two main secular moralities of the modern world ó Utilitarianism and Rights Theory. 'Painism can deal with the principal problems of both of the old theories' Ryder says 'with the meaningless addings-up of Utilitarianism and with the problem of conflicting rights in Rights Theory.' Rights can only be based upon pain ó there is no other basis that makes sense psychologically.

Although painism rejects the 'addings-up' of Utilitarianism it does not reject the principle of 'trading-off' the pains of one individual against the pains of another. This is the other great problem for all ethical systems, whether it is called 'conflicting rights' or 'cost-benefit'. Should we cause unconsented-to pain to A in order to reduce the pain of B? Ryder's answer is 'sometimes'. He looks at ideas of consent and innocence, and at the probability, intensity, agency and duration of pains. One of theproblems of painful animal experimentation, for example, is that the pain is certain but the alleged benefits are uncertain and in the future. While acknowledging that all such cost-benefit issues are riddled with difficulties Ryder nevertheless suggests that the language of painism can help to find a way through them.

Ryder has worked out and applied this theory of painism to politics (Richard D Ryder: Putting Morality Back into Politics , Imprint Academic, 2006) and more generally (Richard D Ryder: Painism: A Modern Morality, Opengate Press, 2001), claiming some advantages over Rights Theory.

Ryder developed his theory of painism partly when he was working as a psychologist in Oxford and partly when he was Mellon Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Tulane University.


Victims of Science on Amazon

Victims Of Science

:The use of Animals in Research

Davis-Poynter, 1975;
revised edition Centaur Press 1983.
Dutch translation 1980,
Norwegian 1984,
Hungarian 1995,
Russian 1996.

Animal Rights A Symposium

Animals' Rights

:A Symposium

(joint editor)
Centaur Press, 1979


Animal Revolution

:Changing attitudes towards Speciesism

BasilBlackwell Ltd. 1989,
revised edition Berg, Oxford, 2000.

Animal Welfare and the Environment

Animal Welfare and the Environment

Duckworth, 1992

The Political Animal

The Political Animal

:The Conquest Of Speciesism

McFarland, 1998



:A Modern Morality

Opengate Press, 2001

The Calcrafts of Rempstone Hall

The Calcrafts of Rempstone Hall

:The Intriguing History of a Dorset Dynasty

Halsgrove, 2005

Putting Morality Back in to Politics

Putting Morality Back in to Politics

Imprint Academic, 2006

Nelson Hitler & Diana

Nelson Hitler & Diana

:Studies in Trauma and Celebrity

Imprint Academic, 2009

Speciesism Painism & Happiness

Speciesism Painism & Happiness

:A Morality for the 21st Century

Imprint Academic, 2011

The Black Pimpernel

The Black Pimpernel

:He champions justice for animals as well as humans

Animal Books & Media, 2012

Richard D Ryder