The Oxford Group or Oxford Vegetarians consisted of a group of intellectuals in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s associated with the University of Oxford, who met and corresponded to discuss the emerging concept of animal rights, or animal liberation.
The Oxford Group initially consisted of postgraduate philosophy students, and included Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch, John Harris, David Wood, and Michael Peters (a sociology postgrad). Its members were active in academic circles in Oxford, and through their influence others became interested in the idea of developing a moral philosophy that included non-humans. A particular inspiration was the writing of Brigid Brophy, the novelist. The idea of editing a collection of essays on animal rights emerged, and Brophy and others agreed to contribute. The first publisher approached (at Ms Brophy's suggestion) was Michael Joseph where an editor suggested that such a book would be more interesting if group members contributed, as well as better known authors. However, they were not interested, so Godlovitch and Harris then approached Victor Goillancz, where they met Giles Gordon. Gollancz were keen to go ahead, and the book was published a few months later as Animals, Men and Morals in 1971.
The period was a fertile one for the development of the concept of animal rights, both at the academic and activist level. Members of the Oxford Group contributed to a series of scholarly works that examined the moral assumptions underpinning the use of non-human animals, and helped to formulate a counter-position. The group engaged in political activism too, writing and handing out leaflets protesting against animal testing and hunting. Two of its members, Richard D. Ryder and Andrew Linzey, organized the Cambridge Conference on Animal Rights at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1977, the first international conference devoted explicitly to animal rights.
The conference proceedings were published as Animals' Rights: A Symposium (1979). It produced a declaration – an appeal for animal rights and an end to speciesism – signed by 150 attendees:
We do not accept that a difference in species alone (any more than a difference in race) can justify wanton exploitation or oppression in the name of science or sport, or for food, commercial profit or other human gain.
We believe in the evolutionary and moral kinship of all animals and we declare our belief that all sentient creatures have rights to life, liberty, and the quest for happiness.
We call for the protection of these rights.