Op-Ed: Embracing a new philosophy that demands dignity and justice for animals

Op-Ed: Embracing a new philosophy that demands dignity and justice for animals

Animals suffer injustice from us. We need a powerful theoretical strategy to diagnose injustice and suggest remedies. As a philosopher, I recommend a version of political justice theory known as the “capabilities approach,” to change the way we think about animal rights in relation to other influential approaches to justice. animal, such as anthropocentric approaches that classify animals in terms of look-alike. to humans, or the promising but flawed approach provided by classical utilitarianism.

Originally developed to guide international development agencies working with human populations, the capabilities approach, I believe, also provides a good basis for animal rights. (The original architect of the approach is Nobel Prize-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, with whom I collaborated on this theory, but soon developed my own very different version.) The approach focuses on significant activities and on the conditions that make it possible. for a creature to continue these activities without damage or blocking. In other words, lead a fulfilling life.

Other animal welfare frameworks narrowly focus on pain as the primary bad thing a creature experiences. But this approach focuses on many types of meaningful activity (including movement, communication, social connection, and play), each of which can be blocked by interference from others, whether maliciously or neglect.

My approach argues that a society is only minimally fair if it guarantees each individual citizen a basic threshold of a list of “core capabilities”, which are defined as substantive freedoms, or opportunities for choice and freedom. action in areas of life that people in general have reason to value. Capabilities are essential rights, closely comparable to a list of fundamental rights. But the capabilities approach emphasizes that the goal is not just high-sounding words on paper. It’s about making people really capable of choosing this activity if they want to. Thus, it places greater emphasis on material empowerment than do many rights-based approaches.

Essentially, then, my approach is to give struggling creatures a chance to thrive. This focus on fulfillment and a broad plurality of key opportunities is what makes it so appropriate as a basis for a theory of animal justice, as well as human justice. The approach does not single out human moral powers as more crucial to political choice than other aspects of animal life, and it views all human powers as part of the equipment of a mortal and vulnerable animal that deserves a just jolt in life – as all sentient animals do.

Just like humans, animals live in the midst of an overwhelming number of dangers and obstacles. They too have an inherent dignity that inspires awe and wonder. We intuitively see this dignity when we watch dolphins swimming freely in the water in social groups, echoing around obstacles and jumping for joy; when we see a group of elephants collectively caring for their young and attempting to raise them safely, despite ever-present human-made threats.

Our sense of wonder is a dignity-oriented epistemic faculty: it tells us, “It’s not just trash, something I can use however I want. He is a being who must be treated as an end. Why, then, should we think that we are more important than them, more worthy of basic legal protection?

Humans will have to take the lead in making the laws and establishing the institutions of government, but there is no reason why humans should only do so for and about other humans. Besides, there’s no good reason to say that only certain sentient creatures matter. Sensitivity—the ability to feel, to have a subjective perspective on the world—is a necessary and sufficient basis for being a subject of justice.

Animals don’t speak human language, but they have a wide range of ways to communicate about their situation, and if we humans are politically in control, it should be our responsibility to listen to those voices, to understand how the animals go and what obstacles they face. They actively express themselves in many ways, and it is our responsibility to translate this into political action.

The stories animals tell us give us ideas about how the law should help pets and wildlife thrive – preventing cruelty, promoting nutrition and, more generally, conveying ideas of reciprocity, respect and friendship. This task is so exhilarating and so urgent.

The ideal outcome would be for all the nations of the world (astutely listening to the demands of the animals and the experts who best represent them) to agree on a legally binding constitution for the different animal species, each with its own list of abilities to be protected. , and each provided with a threshold below which non-protection becomes an injustice. Animals would then be protected wherever they are, just as whales would be protected everywhere in the world by the International Whaling Commission – if that flawed body did a decent job.

This constitution could then be complemented by more specific national laws for animals living in a given national jurisdiction, in a manner appropriate to those specific contexts. However, we know that humanity’s wavering steps towards international accountability for human injustice have so far not been crowned with success.

Even in the human case, our best hope is currently with the laws of individual nations. If this is the case for humans, it is much more true for animals. At present, therefore, the capabilities approach aims to provide a virtual constitution that nations, states and regions can turn to when trying to improve (or reframe) their animal protection laws. . It will take time and work; the same applies to the task of framing and protecting human rights.

There is no nation in which animals are citizens, even though they should be considered citizens with rights the violation of which is an injustice. We are only at the beginning of a political journey towards justice for animals.

Martha C. Nussbaum is a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago. This essay was adapted from his forthcoming book, “Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility”.

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