This paper was published in Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, edited by Cass R. Sunstein and Martha C. Nussbaum, and published in 2004 by Oxford University Press.


When it comes to our moral and legal obligations to nonhuman animals, we suffer from “moral schizophrenia.” We claim to recognize that animals have morally significant interests in not suffering and that it is morally wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering on animals. Although we have laws that purport to reflect these moral sentiments, the overwhelming portion of the pain, suffering, and death that we impose on animals cannot be regarded as necessary in any sense. Our moral schizophrenia is related to the status of animals as property, which means that, as a practical matter, animal suffering will be regarded as necessary whenever it benefits human property owners. If we really are to take animal interests seriously, we can no longer treat animals as human resources. This does not mean that we must give animals the rights that we accord to humans, or that we cannot choose human interests over animal interests in situations of genuine conflict. Rather, we must recognize that animals have one right--the right not to be treated as property, and we cannot create conflicts between human and animals by using animals in ways in which we would never use any humans. As long as animals are human property, the principle of equal consideration can never apply to them (just as it could not apply to slaves), and animals will necessarily remain as nothing more than things that possess no morally significant interests. The theory presented applies to any animal that is sentient and does not require that animals have any additional cognitive characteristics.


Animal Law

Date of this Version

January 2004

Included in

Animal Law Commons