The Oxford Group consisted of a group of intellectuals in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s associated with the University of Oxford, who met and corresponded to discuss the emerging concept of animal rights, or animal liberation.
The Oxford Group initially consisted of postgraduate philosophy students, and included Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch, John Harris, David Wood, and Michael Peters (a sociology postgrad). Its members were active in academic circles in Oxford, and through their influence others became interested in the idea of developing a moral philosophy that included non-humans. A particular inspiration was the writing of Brigid Brophy, the novelist. The idea of editing a collection of essays on animal rights emerged, and Brophy and others agreed to contribute. It was the publisher Gollancz (in the person of Giles Gordon) who suggested that such a book would be more interesting if group members contributed, as well as better known authors. The book was published as Animals, Men and Morals in 1971.
It should be said that 'The Oxford Group' title was invented much later by a Wikipedia contributor. There was never any formal grouping as such, but rather a loose collection of people (many, but by no means all, post-graduate philosophers) who were all interested in Animal Rights because of the moral issues raised. Many went on to become vegetarians or vegans, and campaigned or otherwise co-operated in this cause. Only in hindsight might this be regarded as a 'Group'.
The period was a fertile one for the development of the concept of animal rights, both at the academic and activist level. Members of the Oxford Group contributed to a series of scholarly works that examined the moral assumptions underpinning the use of non-human animals, and helped to formulate a counter-position. The group engaged in political activism too, writing and handing out leaflets protesting against animal testing and hunting. Two of its members, Richard D. Ryder and Andrew Linzey, organized the Cambridge Conference on Animal Rights at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1977, the first international conference devoted explicitly to animal rights.
Cambridge Conference on Animal Rights
The conference proceedings were published as Animals' Rights: A Symposium (1979). It produced a declaration – an appeal for animal rights and an end to speciesism – signed by 150 attendees:
We do not accept that a difference in species alone (any more than a difference in race) can justify wanton exploitation or oppression in the name of science or sport, or for food, commercial profit or other human gain.
We believe in the evolutionary and moral kinship of all animals and we declare our belief that all sentient creatures have rights to life, liberty, and the quest for happiness.
We call for the protection of these rights.
People associated with the group
- Roslind and Stanley Godlovitch, husband and wife from Montreal, at the time postgraduate students in philosophy at St Hilda's College and New College, Oxford respectively, co-editors of an influential collection of essays, Animals, Men and Morals (1971)
- John Harris, postgraduate student in philosophy at Balliol College, co-editor of Animals, Men and Morals.
- Ruth Harrison, author of Animal Machines (1964), a criticism of factory farming
- Andrew Linzey, the Oxford theologian, author of Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment (1976), and founder in 2006 of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics
- Brigid Brophy, the novelist, author of an essay, "The Rights of Animals" (1965), which was published in The Sunday Times
- Stephen R. L. Clark, philosopher, studied at Balliol College, Oxford (1964-1968), fellow of All Souls (1968-1975), author of The Moral Status of Animals (1976)
- Patrick Corbett, philosopher, at the time a fellow at Balliol College
- Colin McGinn, philosopher, postgraduate student at Jesus College, Oxford (1972–1974)
- Mary Midgley, philosopher, author of Beast and Man (1978) and Animals And Why They Matter: A Journey Around the Species Barrier (1983)
- Michael Peters, sociologist, formerly of Hertford College, Oxford
- Tom Regan, the American philosopher and author of The Case for Animal Rights (1983), came into contact with the group when he visited Oxford in 1973.
- Richard Ryder, former animal researcher and senior clinical psychologist at the Warneford Hospital, Oxford, author of a 1970 leaflet on speciesism that coined the term, and later of Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research (1975) and Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism (1989); former chairman of the RSPCA.
- Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher, was a postgraduate student at University College, Oxford (1969–1973); he was not himself a member of the Oxford Group at the time, but came to know them. He is author of Animal Liberation (1975)
- David Wood, philosopher, postgraduate student at New College, Oxford (1968–1971)
- Jon Wynne-Tyson, publisher, author of Food For a Future: The Complete Case For Vegetarianism (1979)
- Regan, Tom. "The More Things Change", Between the Species, Spring 1991.
- Phelps, Norm. "The Oxford Group," in The Longest Struggle: Animal Rights from Pythagoras to Peta. Lantern Books, 2007, pp. 205–207.
- Ryder, Richard D. "The Oxford Group," in Marc Bekoff (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Greenwood, 2009, pp. 261–262.
- Finsen, Susan and Finsen, Lawrence. "Animal rights movement," in Marc Bekoff (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Greenwood, 2009.
- Free, Ann Cottrell. "A Tribute to Ruth Harrison", Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly, Fall 2000, Volume 49, Number 4.
- Kean, Hilda. Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800. Reaktion Books, 1998.
- Paterson, David and Ryder, Richard D. Animals' Rights: A Symposium. Open Gate Press, 1979.
- Ryder, Richard D. Animal Revolution. Basil Blackwell, 1989.
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