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Ownership and Justice for Animals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 November 2009

London School of Economics and Political


This article argues that it is not necessary to abolish all incidents of animal ownership in order to achieve justice for them. It claims that ownership does not grant owners a right to absolute control of their property. Rather, it argues that ownership is a much more qualified concept, conveying different rights in different contexts. With this understanding of ownership in mind, the article argues that it is possible for humans to own animals and at the same time to treat them justly: to recognize that they possess moral status; to assign them meaningful rights; and to consider their interests equally.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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1 See Francione, G. L., Animals, Property, and the Law (Philadelphia, 1995)Google Scholar; Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (Philadelphia, 1996); Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (Philadelphia, 2000); and Wise, S. M., Rattling the Cage (London, 2000)Google Scholar. An earlier advocate of this view is Rollin, B. E., Animal Rights and Human Morality, rev. edn. (New York, 1992), pp. 119–26Google Scholar.

2 Cavalieri, P. and Singer, P., ‘The Great Ape Project – and Beyond’, The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, ed. Cavalieri, P. and Singer, P. (London, 1993), pp. 304–6Google Scholar; Francione, Rain Without Thunder, p. 127; and Pierre, D. W. St., ‘The Transition from Property to People: The Road to the Recognition of Rights for Non-Human Animals’, Hastings Women's Law Journal 9 (1998), p. 255Google Scholar.

3 For examples see Singer, P., Animal Liberation, 2nd edn. (London, 1995)Google Scholar; Regan, T., The Case for Animal Rights, 2nd edn. (Berkeley, CA, 2004)Google Scholar; Donovan, J. and Adams, C. J., Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals (New York, 1996)Google Scholar; Linzey, A., Animal Theology (London, 1994)Google Scholar; and Calarco, M. and Atterton, P. (eds.), Animal Philosophy: Essential Readings in Continental Thought (New York, 2004)Google Scholar.

4 See Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights.

5 See Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice, rev. edn. (Oxford, 1999), pp. 441–2Google Scholar.

6 For an excellent review of different possible justifications of private property, see Becker, L. C., Property Rights: Philosophical Foundations (London, 1977)Google Scholar.

7 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 2: Of the Rights of Things (1766; London, 1979), p. 2.

8 Honoré, A. M., ‘Ownership’, Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence, ed. Guest, A. G. (Oxford, 1961)Google Scholar.

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12 Warren, M. A., Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things (Oxford, 1997), p. 9Google Scholar.

13 Simon, A., ‘Cows as Chairs’, People, Property or Pets?, ed. Hauser, M. D., Cushman, F. and Kamen, M. (West Lafayette, 2006), p. 6Google Scholar.

14 Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights, p. 79.

15 The claim that it is possible to separate the monetary and non-monetary values of entities is made by Mack, E., ‘Dominos and the Fear of Commodification’, Markets and Justice, ed. Chapman, J. W. and Pennock, J. R. (New York, 1989)Google Scholar; and Fabre, C., Whose Body is it Anyway? Justice and the Integrity of the Person (Oxford, 2006), pp. 129–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 All legislation is available from <>.

17 There is legal recognition of this status in the EU thanks to the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997.

18 Feinberg, J., ‘The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations’, Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, ed. Blackstone, W. T. (Athens, GA, 1974), pp. 4951Google Scholar; Jones, P., Rights (Basingstoke, 1994), p. 35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Steiner, H., ‘Working Rights’, A Debate Over Rights: Philosophical Enquiries, ed. Kramer, M., Simmonds, N. and Steiner, H. (Oxford, 1998), p. 259Google Scholar.

19 Singer, Animal Liberation, p. 8.

20 Dworkin, R., Taking Rights Seriously (London, 2004)Google Scholar.

21 Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, pp. 276–7.

22 D. Hanbrick, ‘A Legal Argument against Animals as Property’, People, Property or Pets?, p. 55; and Dryden, A. J., ‘Overcoming the Inadequacies of Animal Cruelty Statutes and the Property-Based View of Animals’, Idaho Law Review 38 (2001–2), p. 178Google Scholar.

23 Wise, Rattling the Cage, p. 4.

24 Tannenbaum, ‘Animals and the Law: Property, Cruelty, Rights’, p. 581; C. M. Sunstein, ‘Standing for Animals (with Notes on Animal Rights)’, UCLA Law Review 47 (1999–2000), pp. 1333–68, at p. 1336; D. Favre, ‘A New Property Status for Animals: Equitable Self-Ownership’, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, ed. C. R. Sunstein and M. C. Nussbaum (New York, 2006), p. 239; and H. Landemore, ‘Why Should One Reject the Motion Intending to Remove Animals from the Status of Property?’, People, Property, or Pets?, p. 71.

25 Francione, Animals, Property, and the Law, pp. 4–5; Rain Without Thunder, p. 4; and Introduction to Animal Rights, p. 55.

26 Singer, P., ‘All Animals are Equal’, Applied Ethics, ed. Singer, P. (Oxford, 1986), p. 217Google Scholar.

27 Honoré, ‘Ownership’, p. 113.

28 On these conceptions of freedom, see Berlin, I., ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, Political Philosophy, ed. Quinton, A. (Oxford, 1967)Google Scholar; Taylor, C., ‘What's Wrong with Negative Liberty?’, Liberty, ed. Miller, D. (Oxford, 1991)Google Scholar; and Pettit, P., Republicanism (Oxford, 1997)Google Scholar.

29 Cochrane, A., ‘Do Animals Have an Interest in Liberty?’, Political Studies 57 (2009), pp. 660–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 This definition of autonomy is advanced in Fabre, C., ‘A Philosophical Argument for a Bill of Rights’, British Journal of Political Science 30 (2000), pp. 7798CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Singer, P., Practical Ethics, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, 1993), p. 119Google Scholar.

32 DeGrazia, D., Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2002), pp. 5964CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rollin, Animal Rights and Human Morality, p. 86; and Sapontzis, S. F., Morals, Reason and Animals (Philadelphia, 1987), p. 169Google Scholar.

33 Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights, pp. 8–35.

34 Kant, I., Lectures on Ethics, trans. Infield, L. (New York, 1963), p. 239Google Scholar.

35 I would like to thank Alejandro Chehtman, Andrej Keba, Stephen Whitfield and members of the LSE Forum in Legal and Political Theory for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.