Tom Regan didn't start out worrying about the rights of the furry
and finned to live a full and happy life. As a young man growing up
in gritty Pittsburgh, he earned his cash from butchering meat in a
Today, some 40 years later, Mr. Regan is firmly on the other side
of the farmyard fence. His day job is as a professor at North
Carolina State University, but he's also a devoted vegan,
philosopher, filmmaker, and author. And he's become known as an
intellectual firebrand for the animal-rights movement - a once-
esoteric subject that is now common in philosophy departments from
Harvard to Stanford.
Regan's extensive archive of drafts, notes, and memorabilia - "a
time slice of the conversations about animal rights over the past
40 years," as he calls them - went on display last week at N.C.
State's D.H. Hill Library. When the exhibit closes, his will become
the first animal-rights annals ever included in a public
university's permanent collection.
"The animal-rights movement has been around long enough to start
becoming a ... historical subject in and of itself," says Bernard
McTigue, head of special collections at N.C. State. He acknowledges
that it's a sensitive issue, especially for a land-grant university
whose roots are intertwined with agriculture, but adds, "We're not
advocating animal rights; we're simply documenting a cultural and
Regan's decision to forgo meats and cheeses is not rooted in a
sense that animals have a soul. Instead, it's that they are, in
many ways, on the earth for the same reasons as humans.
"The animals that we raise for food or trap for fur are like us
in fundamental ways," says the gray-bearded professor. "They are in
the world, they're aware of the world, they're aware of what
happens to them as beings in the world.... They have a life whose
quality matters to them, just like you and me."
Often called the intellectual leader of the animal-rights
movement, Regan "is the foremost philosopher in this country in the
field of the moral status of nonrational animals," says Bob Bryan,
former chairman of the N.C. State Philosophy and Religion
Regan has lectured from Stockholm to Melbourne about the
importance of recognizing animals as part of the evolving field of
ethics. His books, "The Case for Animal Rights" and "In Defense of
Animal Rights," are widely acknowledged as having cemented the
roots of the modern animal rights movement in academia.
To be sure, vegetarianism harks back to Plato and Plutarch. And
in America, the first cruelty busts happened in the late 19th
century in New York. But society viewed animals largely as chattel,
until Regan and a handful of other philosophers (including Peter
Singer, a controversial professor at Princeton) pushed animal-
rights issues into the academic mainstream.
Indeed, this academic focus has dramatically altered how
Americans approach the ethics of husbandry, some observers say.
Once-radical ideas have been firmly woven into society: Today, you
can find vegetarian platters at rural hospitals, unthinkable 10
years ago. …