Stephen Richard Lyster Clark (born 30 October 1945) is an English philosopher and professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Liverpool. Clark specialises in the philosophy of religion and animal rights, writing from a philosophical position that might broadly be described as Christian Platonist. He is the author of 19 books, including The Moral Status of Animals (1977), The Nature of the Beast (1982), Animals and Their Moral Standing (1997), G.K. Chesterton (2006), Philosophical Futures (2011), and Ancient Mediterranean Philosophy (2012), as well as 77 scholarly articles, and chapters in another 109 books. He is a former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Philosophy (1990–2001).
Clark was born on 30 October 1945 in Luton, Bedfordshire, though the family came originally from Shropshire/Staffordshire. His father, D. A. R. Clark, was an apprentice railway engineer who became a technology teacher, and was later appointed principal of Middlesbrough Technical College, now the University of Teesside, then principal of Nottingham Technical College, now Trent University. His mother, M. K. Clark, was a teacher and the daughter of Samuel Finney. Clark was raised in the Anglican tradition.
After attending Nottingham High School (1956–1964), he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford (1964–1968), graduating with a first-class honours degree in greats (classics) in 1968, followed by a fellowship at All Souls (1968–1975). He was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1973. Brannon Hancock writes that the philosophers Arthur Prior and Sir Anthony Kenny had a great intellectual influence on Clark at Balliol, while Robin Zaehner was one of his greatest influences at All Souls.
After Oxford, he lectured in moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow for nine years, until he was appointed professor of philosophy at Liverpool in 1984. He retired from this post at the end of 2009. He has also been a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University and held an Alan Richardson Fellowship at Durham University. He is married to Gillian Clark, with whom he has three children, Samuel, Alexandra, and Verity.
Clark has delivered a number of prestigious lectures, including the 1981–1982 Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, entitled "From Athens to Jerusalem", the Stanton Lectures in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Cambridge (1987–1989), and the Wilde Lectures at the University of Oxford (1990). He has also delivered the Scott Holland Lecture at the University of Liverpool (1992), the Aquinas Lecture at the University of Oxford (1994), the Read Tuckwell Lecture at Bristol University (1994), the Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture at the University of Durham (1995), and the Aquinas Lecture at the Catholic University of Leuven (2000).
Clark served on the British government's Animal Procedures Committee, a group that advises the Home Secretary on animal testing, from 1998 until 2006. He has also been involved with the Boyd Group, a think tank set up by researchers involved in animal testing, and others who oppose it.
Clark argues that the moral basis of humanism – that all human beings have equal moral status – is now so entrenched, in theory if not in practice, that we fail to consider what a radical idea it used to be. He writes that behind this idea is the notion that human beings are in some way uniquely gifted, perhaps with a share in the divine. This human/non-human divide was promoted to prevent human beings from being treated like animals on some utilitarian calculation, rather than as ends in themselves.
He writes that we now know non-human animals to be much closer to humans than was previously thought, and therefore similar considerations must be extended to them. He highlights the incongruity of modern thinkers being willing to ignore the idea that human beings were made in the image of God, yet unwilling to accept what he argues is the moral conclusion that stems from the rejection of that idea, namely that we ought not to treat non-humans with radically less consideration than we treat humans. He writes: "If species differences are only racial differences 'writ large,' and it is plainly wrong to make such racial differences a ground for radically different treatment ... we have to concede that if it is wrong to injure humans it must also be wrong to do identical or very similar injury to non-humans." He argues that "[t]his is often all that is meant by the claim that 'animals have rights.'"
What our forebears lacked was a full understanding of the extent to which our welfare depends upon the health of the global ecosystem and the extent to which our evolutionary cousins can be hurt, harmed and injured in ways analogous to ourselves. The question before us is not simply "how may we produce the greatest ratio of pleasure to pain" (a wholly vacuous program), nor yet "what rights do creatures have before the community formulates them," but how may we best order the communities (social and global) of which we are parts? The answer, I believe, must lie in our taking seriously what we already know, that more matters even to animals than their own plain or pleasure, and that our survival even as a species depends upon being able to maintain or create substantial and civil ecosystems at household, civil, national and global levels.