Writing And Research
"After my graduation, when I embarked on my teaching
career, my classes in moral philosophy initially mimicked those I had had
as a graduate student. But I was never wholly satisfied with this way of doing
moral philosophy. What had originally attracted me to the subject were my
deep worries over what things are just and unjust, right and wrong, good and
bad. And yet here I was teaching moral philosophy, and doing research in the
field, in ways that required that I set these important questions aside. Perhaps
I would have managed to leave them permanently behind me had it not been for
a development over which neither I nor any other ordinary person had much
control. Before any of us quite realized it America was at war with Vietnam.
And that fact changed a great deal, including the direction of my own intellectual
development. The dilemma I faced at the time was quite simple. Every evening
on the news I sat and watched people being killed. Americans and Vietnamese.
Young men the age of most of my students. Women and children. And here I was,
an educated moral philosopher, worrying about the meaning of the word "right"
and whether there is such a thing as the naturalistic fallacy. I could see
myself fiddling with my profession while Vietnam burned. Something had to
give. And since it was beyond my power to stop the war (though I worked politically
to help end it), I decided to approach the philosophical side. I began to
think about how my training as a moral philosopher could be applied to the
questions that were being asked about the war. Ought we to be there? Was the
war a just war? Is violence ever justified? Once the logic of these questions
took root in my mind they acquired a life of their own. I was along for the
ride-of-ideas. Or so it now seems. As strange as it may sound, the immediate
ancestor of my views about animal rights was my first crude attempt to come
to terms morally with the war in Vietnam."
—Tom Regan, The Bird in the Cage: A Glimpse of
My Life—An Autobiography
collected essays document the early development of his articulation of a rights-based
understanding of the moral ties that bind us to other animals. Some are as
New Introductory Essays in Environmental Ethics, edited
by Tom Regan, N.Y: Random House, 1985; All That Dwell Therein: Essays
on Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics, Berkeley: University of California
Prophet: G. E. Moore and the Development of His Moral Philosophy.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986. Regan has reviewed many books
about philosophy and philosophers. One example is Nicholas Griffin’s book,
Russell’s Idealist Apprenticeship, published by Oxford University Press.
and President Jimmy Carter are pictured above (1984). Regan was a fellow at
the National Humanities Center at this time. Regan also helped to organize
a National Bioethics Institute at NC State University in 1999.