The Myth of the “Beast-Machine”: Animals Are Not Objects

The Rise for Animals Team, June 24, 2023

Earlier this month, we joined in celebrating World Day Against Speciesism – a day dedicated to opposing the belief system that underpins, empowers, and defends nonhuman experimentation.

But researchers do even worse than adhering to speciesism – they treat nonhuman animals as other than living beings altogether.

As scientists themselves say: “ . . . the animal is perceived only through the objective conditions of its environment. The naturalization of animal consciousness thus perhaps gives us a technical view of animals as beings that can be used by science as mere resources.”

Researchers fully objectify nonhuman animals.

They do this – they “de-animalize” nonhuman animals – in far more subtle ways than the blatant horrors they inflict upon them in experiments.

Inside laboratories, nonhuman animals are:

  • [C]reated, converted into products, purchased, shipped, and conveniently stored.”
  • Treated as “interchangeable and anonymous objects”, identified by numbers posted on their cages and, sometimes, tattooed onto their bodies or denoted by holes punched in their ears.
  • Transformed into “data or silent research collaborators”.
  • Listed under “supplies” in grant applications, listed as  “materials” in scientific publications, and bought through catalogs.
  • Labeled according to their “experimental purpose”, such as “donors”, “bleeders”, “breeders”, and “junk”.
  • Referred to as “preparations”, “specimens”, and “tools”. 

In these ways, the historical conception of animals as “beast machines” is still very much alive today.

Infamous vivisector Rene Descarte is credited with designating nonhuman animals as “beast machines”. According to his conception, nonhumans are mere automata, and their cries of pain are “mere reflex” – “mere mechanical reactions of robots . . . interpreted as the squeaking of unoiled cogs.”

Denying that animals “(despite all appearances to the contrary) were able to suffer”, Descartes’ theory became “widely used as a justification for experimenting on live animals….” This theory became powerful as a “methodological principle, as an approach to research”.

And, today, the “machine of animal experimentation” keeps Descartes’ “beast-machine” theory in practice.

Though the Cartesian “beast-machine” theory has been opposed since its formation (and has been entirely disproven by science itself), the idea that nonhuman animals are nothing more than objects – and, therefore, outside the sphere of moral consideration – remains all too entrenched. 

It continues to serve as a hollow but convenient claim for members of an industry that get paid to torture nonhuman animals with impunity. To cut them apart. To do to them that which would be illegal if done to a human. To kill them.

Nonhuman animals are not objects. They are living beings. And they are the same as humans in all ways that matter.

Nonhuman animals commodified by the research industry need our help. We won’t stop fighting for their freedom until every last cage is empty. Are you with us? If so, make the pledge now: I pledge to keep fighting for better health and effective cures for all, at the expense of none.

I Pledge…