Richard Ryder has a special place in the history of the Animal Rights movement. He is the inventor of the term ‘Speciesism’, a central idea in Animal Rights.
He was born Richard Hood Jack Dudley Ryder in Dorset, England in 1940. After studying psychology and working in animal research laboratories, he began to speak out about animal experimentation, organising protests against animal experiments and blood sports. In the late 1960s he joined a group of young philosophers and writers loosely centered around Oxford University called the ‘Oxford Vegetarians’ or the ‘Oxford Group’. In 1971 a book of selected essays emerged from the group, with a contribution by novelist Brigid Brophy. The book was called ‘Animals, Men and Morals’ which argued clearly in favour of animal liberation/animal rights, rather than simply for compassion in the way animals are used. The editors wrote in the introduction: “Once the full force of moral assessment has been made explicit there can be no rational excuse left for killing animals, be they killed for food, science, or sheer personal indulgence.” These were truly groundbreaking ideas at the time.
In 1970 Ryder had a Eureka moment when he thought of the word ‘Speciesism’ to describe the assumption of superiority that humans have over non-human animals. Shortly after this a young moral philosopher who had been influenced by the Oxford Vegetarians approached Ryder about a book he was planning and asked him to co-author it with him. The young man was Peter Singer, and the book the seminal Animal Liberation, published in 1975. Ryder turned down the offer, but his influence was demonstrated in Singer popularizing the term ‘speciesism’ in the book.
Ryder’s accomplishments in the field of animal rights are extensive. In 1972 he joined the Council of the RSPCA, becoming its chairman in 1977, during which time he tried to get rid of reactionary and pro-hunting elements within the organisation. Also in 1977 he helped to organize the first academic animal rights conference, which was held at Trinity College, Cambridge. The conference produced a “Declaration against Speciesism”, signed by 150 people. In the 1980s he toured Europe, America and Australia, appearing on television and lending his assistance to campaigns to protect whales, seals, elephants and farm animals. In 2004 he helped form the major coordinating and lobbying organisation in the European community, who “speak for animals and for the millions of European citizens who are concerned about the way animals are treated” The group was instrumental in animals now being recognised in EU law as sentient beings.