News, Information, and Knowledge Resources

‘The Capabilities Approach’: Justice for animals means freedom to do what comes naturally

The Capabilities Approach argues that what each sentient creature is entitled to, as a matter of justice, is the ability to exercise the major parts of its characteristic form of life, up to a reasonable threshold level.

MARC BEKOFF: Dr. Martha C. Nussbaum’s landmark new book ‘Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility’ offers a revolutionary theory and call to action ― the Capabilities Approach… The Capabilities Approach argues that as a matter of justice, animals must be able to perform their characteristic form of life.

Both domestic and wild animals are considered, while calling the notion of the “wild” into question given the ubiquity of human domination and control. We must move toward a future in which human-animal conflict no longer exists, and do so as quickly as possible.

I’m thrilled she could take the time to answer a few questions about the new ethical awakening that is most needed globally…

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Justice for Animals?

Martha C. Nussbaum: The issue of animal justice is incredibly urgent, and the normative theories that are currently directing practical efforts and legal are inadequate. My Capabilities Approach offers better guidance…

MB: What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?

MCN: I begin by laying out some major areas of our wrongful treatment of animals, defining injustice in terms of wrongfully thwarted striving. Next, I examine the three leading theories of animal justice that are currently propelling practical efforts. First is the anthropocentric approach of Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project, which argues for rights for some animals (apes, elephants) because of their likeness to humans. Second is the Utilitarian approach of Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill, and today’s Peter Singer, which holds that pain is the one bad thing and pleasure is the one good thing. Third is the Kantian approach of philosopher Christine Korsgaard, which says many wonderful things but concludes that on account of their alleged lack of ethical capacities animals can be only “passive citizens.”

Having criticized all of these approaches as inadequate to the complexity of animal lives, I turn to my own Capabilities Approach, which argues that what each sentient creature is entitled to, as a matter of justice, is the ability to exercise the major parts of its characteristic form of life, up to a reasonable threshold level. I also consider the elusive topic of sentience, delving into a lot of recent research that amply demonstrates that all vertebrates and many invertebrates are sentient and have the capacity to feel pain and a point of view on the world. I argue that plants are not sentient, and that for that reason they should not be regarded as subjects of justice, though they may be owed other types of ethical concern.

I also consider death: when, and for what reasons, is it a harm? I use this philosophical reflection to argue that death is a harm to all animals who have projects that extend over time. I also address “tragic dilemmas”: cases where we feel that we are stuck and must do wrong whatever we do. The cases I take up are medical experimentation, where cures for human and animal diseases are found through harm to many animals; the conflict between indigenous peoples’ rights to culture and the welfare of animals, especially in the area of whaling; and conflicts over habitat between poor people and animals. My general strategy is to ask us to use our imaginations to conceive of a possible future in which that conflict would no longer exist, and then to move toward that future as quickly as possible.

In my discussion, I consider companion animals and spell out in detail the implications of the Capabilities Approach for policies concerning their lives. I also do the same for “wild” animals, in the process calling the whole notion of the “wild” into question, given the ubiquity of human domination and control.

I also discuss the idea of human-animal friendships and whether and under what conditions friendship can exist between humans and non-human animals. I conclude they can and offer detailed examples of such friendships.

What about law? First I examine the current resources in U.S. law for the protection of animals and then argue that animals ought to be given legal standing (the right to be the plaintiff of an action), as they currently are in four countries but not in the U.S. I focus on several specific areas of legal change: the horrors of factory farming; the abusive practices of “puppy mills”; and, finally, the mistreatment of whales and the impotence of international law to address their predicament. SOURCE…


You might also like