Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question

Bénédicte Boisseron

Drawing on recent debates about Black lives and animal welfare both coincidentally on the rise in America, Boisseron investigates the relationship between race and the animal in the history and culture of the Americas and the black Atlantic from the Middle Passage to the Black Lives Matter era. The presentation seeks to expose a system that compulsively links and opposes Blackness and animality to measure the value of life. This conversation is part of a fast-growing interest in human-animal relationships across the humanities and social sciences, an academic trend commonly referred to as the animal turn.

The presentation will be moderated by Justin Marceau.


Animal Rights and the Rights of Nature

Macarena Montes Franceschini and Kristen Stilt

Abstract is forthcoming. The presentation will be moderated by Maneesha Deckha.


Animals as Property, Quasi-Property or Quasi-Person

Angela Fernandez

In this talk, Professor Angela Fernandez argues that animal law scholarship has been hijacked by the question of the property status of nonhuman animals and the correlative push to transform that status into some kind of personhood, moral or legal. For the last twenty-five years, the two concepts have been understood as operating in dichotomous terms: property or person, with nonhuman animals losing by falling into property. Fernandez argues that animal law scholars should resist this binary classification and use instead a “quasi-hood” idea of both property and persons, recognizing that nonhuman animals are already rights-bearers and so already have a form of personhood that can and should be enlarged upon and, correspondingly, that the property status of nonhuman animals is at best of a “quasi” sort. This quasi-property status is particularly clear for companion animals but can be applied to other categories of nonhuman animals. The idea is to provide a legal concept that can operate as a sliding scale for the widest possible number of species and which can change over time, as social attitudes change regarding what is and what is not permissible to do to a nonhuman animal.

The presentation will be moderated by M.H. Tse.


Animals in Law in Relation to Indigenous Law

John Borrows

Indigenous peoples legal traditions teach that animals are integral part of our political communities. They are our first law professors, they brought us treaties, and we are related to them through clans and totems. We have often failed to honour our legal inheritance from them. The work ahead involves revitalizing our legal traditions through restoring our relationships with animals and other life forces in our territories. 

The presentation will be moderated by Jessica Eisen.


Keynote: Justice for Animals: Practical Progress Through Philosophical Theory

Martha C. Nussbaum

Animals suffer injustice at our hands: the cruelties of the factory farming industry, poaching and trophy hunting, assaults on the habitats of many creatures, and innumerable other instances of cruelty and neglect. Human domination is everywhere: in the seas, where marine mammals die from ingesting plastic; in the skies, where migratory birds die in large numbers from air pollution; and, obviously, on the land, where the habitats of many large mammals have been destroyed almost beyond repair. Addressing these large problems requires dedicated work and effort. But it also requires a good normative theory to direct our efforts.

I begin the lecture by offering an intuitive account of justice and some illustrative examples of human injustice toward animals. I then present three prominent theories that claim to address the issues. First is the “So Like Us” approach, in which humans are at the summit of nature, but a small number of animals, primarily apes and elephants, are close enough to humans in intelligence to be worthy of special legal protection. This approach offers nothing for the sufferings of so many creatures who are deemed not sufficiently “like us,” and lacks curiosity regarding cognitive complexity in the animal world.

Second is the Utilitarian approach, which holds that the only good thing is pleasure and the only bad thing is pain, and insists that animals, like us, ought to be shielded from unjustified pain. This approach is a lot better, but it flattens the world too much. Animals do need freedom from pain, but they also need the ability to move freely, to play, to choose their own paths through the world, to enjoy social relationships. 

Third is the Kantian approach of Christine Korsgaard’s important recent book. This approach does better still, developing an attractive account of what it is to treat an animal as an end rather than a means, but insists that only humans are capable of normative thinking and self-direction, and that the other creatures can therefore only be “passive citizens”. I criticize this argument both empirically and normatively.

Finally, I lay out my own “Capabilities Approach” which holds that all sentient creatures ought to have the opportunity to live a flourishing life in accordance with the characteristic life-form of their own species. After developing the approach philosophically, I give several examples of the practical conclusions to which it leads us, in thinking about both companion animals and wild animals, and show that these conclusions could not be adequately justified by any of the other three approaches. 


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