Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 409-419

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Ryder’s Painism and His Criticism of Utilitarianism

  • Joost LeuvenAffiliated with
  • , Tatjana VišakAffiliated withEthics Institute, Utrecht University Email author 


As a member of the British Oxford Group, psychologist Richard Ryder marked the beginning of the modern animal rights and animal welfare movement in the seventies. By introducing the concept “speciesism.” Ryder contributed importantly to the expansion of this movement. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to Ryder’s moral theory, “painism”, that aims to resolve the conflict between the two predominant rival theories in animal ethics, the deontological of Tom Regan and the utilitarian of Peter Singer. First, this paper examines the kernel and historical sources of Ryder’s painist theory, linking it to the work of John Rawls and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Second, it examines Ryder’s critique of utilitarianism. It is argued that his critique of Singer’s use of the word “sentience” is unconvincing and that his critique of utilitarian aggregation as not taking a full account of the metaphysical separateness of persons, has already been countered and dealt with. Finally this paper looks at some of the counterintuitive implications of Ryder’s theory and argues that utilitarianism might have more resources for dealing with its own alleged counterintuitive implications than Ryder acknowledges.


Richard Ryder Painism Animal ethics Utilitarianism Aggregation