Persons or Property – Freedom and the Legal Status of Animals

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy

Is freedom a plausible political value for animals? If so, does this imply that animals are owed legal personhood rights or can animals be free but remain human property? Drawing on different conceptions of freedom, I will argue that while positive freedom, libertarian self-ownership, and republican freedom are not plausible political values for animals, liberal ‘option-freedom’ is. However, because such option-freedom is in principle compatible with different legal statuses, animal freedom does not conceptually imply a right to legal self-ownership. Nonetheless, a concern for animal option-freedom means that humans do have a pro tanto duty of non-interference. Arguments familiar from the liberal tradition moreover imply that such a duty speaks for drastic reforms of existing animal law. But it does not imply wholesale abolitionism: it neither rules out positive duties towards animals nor means that we should abandon all interactions with animals.

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