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MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM: A New Legal and Ethical Approach is Needed to Protect Animals

Martha Nussbaum: Many think that we must solve all the urgent problems of humans first, before showing any concern for other animals. I don’t agree. Animals matter for their own sake, not just for the sake of humans.

SARA PATTERSON: Professor Martha C. Nussbaum has built her storied career on championing underdogs. Now, the influential philosopher and humanist is turning her attention toward the entire animal kingdom. The University of Chicago scholar, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, appointed in the Law School and the Philosophy Department, argues for both an ethical revolution and new legislation to protect animals against mistreatment, including the poaching of elephants and rhinos and the devastation of natural habitat through climate change and human greed.

But how do we create a wholly new approach to protect diverse animals?… In this Q&A, Nussbaum discusses how human beings have traditionally framed the ethical treatment of animals with our capacity to relate to them. But is such an approach enough? Contending that non-human animals matter for their own sake, Nussbaum uses the Capabilities Approach—the theoretical framework she pioneered—to argue for the value and dignity of all species…

QUESTION: Among your central human capabilities, you discuss our ability to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature. Why is this a significant change in perspective of our capabilities and ethics?

ANSWER: As I say in the talk, that is what the human-centered list says, but it is not enough, because it is all about what human beings need. Already in the late 1980s, I found, working with an international group that I could get a robust agreement among international development workers that this was a good goal.

But the next step, saying that animals matter for their own sake, not just for the sake of human beings, is much harder. Even my longtime collaborator Amartya Sen was unwilling to go there, and many participants in our Human Development and Capability Association are upset with me, because they think that we must solve all the urgent problems of human beings first, before showing any concern for other animals. I don’t agree: the goals need not be seen as at odds, and they should be understood to support one another. The way we treat the sentient beings with whom we share this planet is an aspect of our humanity. And if we neglect this issue, we fail as human beings. SOURCE…

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