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. This summer, Orange County, Calif., banned the use of animals in entertainment acts. And consumer patterns have changed, too. Non-animal-tested cosmetics, for instance, are often sought after.
Regan envisions a type of 'bill of rights' for animals, including the abandonment of pet ownership, elimination of a meat-based diet, and new standards for biomedical research on animals. Essentially, he wants to establish a new kind of solidarity with animals, and stop animal husbandry altogether.
"In addition to the visible achievements and changes, there's been what I might call an invisible revolution taking place, and that revolution is the seriousness with which the issue of animal rights is taken in the academy and in higher ed," Regan says. "Thirty years ago, I can tell you that there was no interest, no respect, no work being done by people in the academy when it comes to animal rights. In contrast, there's been more written by animal-rights philosophers in the past 30 years than had been written in the previous 3,000 years."