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Research Articles
Published: 2015-10-12

The Political Turn in Animal Rights

Kings College London
equality community pragmatism liberation liberal values


Some of the most important, influential, and original texts on the standing of animals have, in recent years, been written not by philosophical ethicists but by political theorists such as Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka (2011), Robert Garner (2013), Alasdair Cochrane (2012), and Siobhan O’Sullivan (2011). What follows will argue that their work is partly constitutive of a “political turn” in the discourse of animal rights. Section I will try to shed some light on this idea of a political turn and its driving motivations. Sections II and III will try to show that the turn involves­ a simultaneous constraining of conceptions of human/animal equality and a broadened appeal to liberal political values. Section IV will address a concern that such a constrained conception of equality, and the allied pragmatism which goes with it, may drive the turn towards rapprochement with animal exploitation through an abandonment of the project of animal liberation. I will suggest that such a danger only arises if key commitments of the turn are combined with a further set of commitments concerning autonomy and agency, commitments that are best left behind. The concluding section, V, will briefly comment on the merits of the kind of discourse that the turn (so far) has involved.


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