Animal Rights Activists - Historical Development in The West - 18th Century: Centrality of Sentience - Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham

Four years later, one of the founders of modern utilitarianism, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), although opposed to the concept of natural rights, argued that it was the ability to suffer that should be the benchmark of how we treat other beings. If rationality were the criterion, he argued, many humans, including infants and the disabled, would also have to be treated as though they were things. He did not conclude that humans and nonhumans had equal moral significance, but argued that the latter's interests should be taken into account. He wrote in 1789, just as African slaves were being freed by the French:

The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

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Famous quotes by jeremy bentham:

    The schoolmaster is abroad! And I trust to him armed with his primer against the soldier in full military array.
    Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)

    The age we live in is a busy age; in which knowledge is rapidly advancing towards perfection.
    Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)