On August 9th, 2019, Sherry F. Colb gave the second Annual Tom Regan Memorial Lecture at University of Colorado Boulder. The lecture was part of The Twelfth Annual Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress (RoME 2019).
Sherry F. Colb, who sadly passed away in 2022, was Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School, where she taught courses in animal rights, evidence, and criminal procedure. She published articles in a variety of law reviews and wrote several books including Beating Hearts: Abortion and Animal Rights, Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger?: And Other Questions People Ask Vegans, and When Sex Counts: Making Babies and Making Law.
Colb titled her talk “Subjects of a Death” because one of the rights Regan championed for animals is the right not to be killed/the right to live free of humans’ lethal exploitation. Colb sought to honor Regan by critically engaging with his work and suggesting ways it might be even better. After lauding Regan for defending the view that all subjects of a life—both human and nonhuman—have intrinsic value and an equal right to be treated in ways that respect their value, Colb observed that a hierarchy of value still seems to exist in Regan’s philosophy. That hierarchy manifests itself in triage situations like lifeboat scenarios. If four humans and a dog are in a lifeboat and one must be thrown overboard to save the others, then, according to Regan, the dog must be thrown overboard. Regan defended this view on the grounds that humans enjoy more opportunities for satisfaction than the dog and that, therefore, death would harm the humans worse than it would harm the dog. Colb questioned whether it’s really true that humans can enjoy more opportunities for satisfaction than animals (noting, e.g., her dog’s penchant for table scraps), argued that sentience is sufficient for possessing full and equal moral rights, and rejected all hierarchies that de facto place humans above animals.
She left the audience with the parting thought that the best way to honor Regan’s legacy is to pledge not to pay the slaughterhouse to carry out its cruel, painful, and lethal work, no matter what one might do on a magic lifeboat.
Alastair Norcross, Professor of Philosophy at CU-Boulder and organizer of the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, which co-sponsored the lecture with CAF, welcomed the assembly, and CAF Board Member and professor of philosophy Mylan Engel introduced Colb. Inviting Colb to give the second Regan Memorial Lecture was particularly fitting since she, like Regan, champions the view that animals have full moral rights, including the right not to be harmed and the right not to be killed. In the photo below are (from left): Alastair Norcross, CAF board members Gary Comstock and Mylan Engel, Karen and Nancy Regan, Sherry Colb, and legal scholar Michael Dorf.
Over 150 people attended the lecture, including philosophers and ethicists from around the world, as well as local members of the Boulder community. To watch a recording of the full lecture, including introductions and the question-and-answer session, click here.