There is broad consensus in contemporary animal ethics that sentient nonhuman animals matter morally in their own right. As a consequence, it is widely recognized that humans have negative duties (that is, duties of non-interference and non-maleficence) towards them. In other words, humans should not inflict unnecessary harms upon animals. Less attention, however, has been paid to the question of whether humans have positive duties (that is, duties of assistance) towards animals, and if so, what those duties encompass, whether those duties vary according to the type of animal under consideration, and what should be done if those duties are in conflict with others that we hold. Additionally, it is unclear who bears such duties and responsibilities: is it merely individuals, or are these collective duties all members of a society share? If the latter is the case, do these duties have to be implemented on a political level? Do animals have a claim for having their interests represented on a political level, and should their interests thus be taken into consideration in the process of political decision-making? However, since animals cannot voice their interests themselves in political deliberations (similar to future generations, young children and cognitively disabled individuals), new ways have to be found to represent their interests. The aim of this project is to provide a multi-criterial and non-relational account of our positive duties towards sentient animals. Furthermore, the project will explore how such positive duties might be appropriately balanced and prioritized given scarce resources and the pressing existing obligations towards humans, and how these duties can be institutionalized and represented on a political level.
The project is divided in three subparts which will be undertaken in three subsequent stages:
Subproject A — Grounding Duties, Types of Duties: The first subproject aims to investigate how these positive duties can be grounded, and to provide a multi-criterial and non-relational account of our positive duties towards sentient animals.
Subproject B — Conflicting Duties: Furthermore, the project will explore how such positive duties might be appropriately balanced and prioritized given scarce resources and the pressing existing obligations towards humans. Thus, the aim is to conduct normative analysis of how resources could be allocated fairly when the claims of different humans and animals must be balanced against each other, and when different duties of assistance conflict.
Subproject C - Institutionalization and Representation: In this subproject, it is investigated how these duties can be institutionalized on a political level, and how animals’ interests can be represented during political deliberation.
Originality and scientific contribution:
This project is situated at the intersection of ethics and political philosophy and will make important academic contributions and innovations in at least four areas:
Animal ethics: It will provide the first non-relational account of positive duties to all sentient animals. By investigating whether and to what extent such duties can also be owed to wild animals — as well as those domesticated animals under our control — it departs from the existing literature on this topic. Furthermore, unlike the vast majority of other theories of animal ethics, the project seeks not merely to outline the duties owed to animals, but also to balance and prioritise them in relation to the other duties we hold.
Environmental ethics: By exploring what is owed to animals living in the wild by way of assistance, provision, protection or rescue, the project will also make a significant contribution to debates in environmental ethics — in particular those relating to biodiversity loss, habitat destruction and predation.
Distributive justice: Debates about distributive justice — the proper allocation of goods within a society — have dominated political theory over the past forty years. However, none of those debates has considered whether nonhuman animals ought to receive a share of such goods. This project will fill this gap by providing a theory of distributive justice that includes all sentient creatures.
Global justice: This project will also make innovative contributions to debates in global justice through asking what is owed to animals across borders. After all, some of the most pressing positive duties to animals that we have may be international: whether it be providing assistance to victims of natural disasters, or offering protection and rescue to animals suffering from such practices as bear bile farming.