Animals and Oxford

Oxford has been the home of some of the most intense ethical debates about the status of animals.

Some of the most celebrated figures in Oxford history have been outspoken advocates of animals.

  • Oxford scientist Robert Boyle in c.1640 ascribed reason to animals holding that they ‘partake of that beam of divinity as well as we …’ and maintained ‘I have esteem’d mercy to beasts to be one of the purest acts of charity.’
  • James Granger, Vicar of Shiplake, Oxford, preached the first recorded sermon against animal cruelty in 1772.
  • John Wesley, founder of Methodism and Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, preached in favour of an afterlife for animals on the grounds that God’s justice required recompense for their earthly suffering in 1791.
  • John Henry Newman, Vicar of St Mary’s University Church, Oxford, in the course of a sermon on Good Friday in 1842 maintained that the sufferings of animals were morally equivalent to the unprotected and innocent sufferings of Christ himself.
  • Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson), a ‘Student’ (meaning ‘Fellow’) of Christ Church, Oxford, published his own anti-vivisection tract entitled Some Popular Fallacies about Vivisection in 1875.
  • Philanthropist and feminist, Frances Power Cobbe, associated with Harris Manchester College, Oxford, launched the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection in 1875.
  • John Ruskin resigned his Slade Chair of Fine Art at Oxford in 1885 following the vote endowing vivisection in the University.
  • Bodley’s Librarian, E. B. Nicholson, published The Rights of An Animal in 1879 – one of the first modern works on animals.
  • In 1922, Albert Schweitzer gave the Dale Lectures at Mansfield College, Oxford, in which he first publicly stated his philosophy of reverence for life.
  • New Testament scholar and Vice-Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, C. J. Cadoux in 1942 argued in a public lecture that: ‘Since it has been proved that flesh eating is not normally indispensable for a healthy life, it follows that vegetarianism is morally right …’
  • C. S. Lewis, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, wrote a paper against vivisection published by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society in 1947.
  • Austin Farrer, Warden of Keble College, Oxford, published his Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited in 1962, which comprises his detailed discussion of the problem of animal pain.
  • Three Oxford research students (Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris) published their landmark book Animals, Men and Morals in 1971, which marked the beginning of modern philosophical interest in animals.
  • Former Lecturer in Philosophy at University College, Oxford, Peter Singer published Animal Liberation in 1975.
  • Former Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, Stephen R. L. Clark published The Moral Status of Animals in 1977.
  • In 1982, Keith Ward (now Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford) wrote that a God of love would not ‘create any being whose sole destiny was to suffer pain’, and that, because of this, ‘Immortality, for animals as well as humans, is a necessary condition of any acceptable
    theodicy …’ (Rational Theology and the Creativity of God, Oxford: Blackwell, 1982, pp. 201-22).
  • In 1992, Andrew Linzey was appointed to the world’s first post in Theology and Animal Welfare at Mansfield College, Oxford.
  • Peter Singer co-edited The Great Ape Project in 1993, which demanded the ‘extension of the community of equals to include the Great Apes’. Signatories included Stephen R. L. Clark, Colin McGinn (formerly Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy at Oxford) and Richard Dawkins, Fellow of New College, Oxford.
  • In 2006, the new Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics was established.