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Queen's University

Department of Philosophy

Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law & Ethics

Affiliated Scholars

Frédéric Côté-Boudreau is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at Queen's University and also recipient of a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship. His interests cover issues at the intersection between political philosophy — especially liberalism — and animal ethics. His thesis is focusing on the concept of autonomy applied to animals. Indeed, with its strong reliance on rational revisability, the traditional conception of autonomy not only excludes animals from the right to shape their lives, but might also lead to perfectionist implications on how one ought to lead one's life in general. In other words, this understanding risks to preclude even humans from the right to make personal choices if those choices are simply based on emotion or instinct without rational endorsement. A more open definition of autonomy, one that allows for a diversity of ways to shape one's life as long as one does not significantly harm oneself, seems needed as much for humans (including children and people with intellectual disabilities to some extent) as for animals. Through this investigation, Frédéric hopes to address questions such as: Do animals have the right to make personal choices, the right to be free, and the right to not be dominated, manipulated, and controlled? If those rights are granted, is it feasible and desirable to build a mixed human-animal community that allows and helps citizen animals to make autonomous choices without being dominated? Furthermore, in what cases is paternalistic intervention acceptable, for animals and humans? Apart from his thesis, Frédéric is exploring questions regarding distributive justice and domesticated animals, as well as the debate between new welfarism (or gradualism) and abolitionism. Frédéric is also active in the Québec animal rights movement and maintains a popular French-language blog at (

Sue Donaldson is an independent author and researcher. She is co-author (with Will Kymlicka) of Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights. Her current writing is focused on expanding and deepening the book’s model of human-animal relations based in conceptions of citizenship, denizenship, and sovereignty. She is also interested in practical applications of this model, especially in relation to the rapidly expanding farmed animal sanctuary movement. Can sanctuaries be forms of ‘intentional community’ creating a space for exploring inter-species justice? Donaldson is also interested in animal rights as a political movement, and on strategies for effective advocacy based in social, political and psychological research that examines barriers to (and opportunities for) social change. (

Alice Hovorka is Professor in Geography and Environmental Studies at Queen’s University. Her research broadly explores human-environment relationships and is theoretically informed by feminist, poststructuralist and posthumanist philosophical perspectives. Her work on the Lives of Animals in Botswana, funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant (2012-2016), explores how animals, as central actors, are embedded discursively and materially in the fabric of human lives, landscapes and development trajectories in Botswana in order to further understanding of human-animal relations in Africa. The work is grounded in the sub-discipline of Animal Geography, which focuses on the complex encounters between humans and animals within broader politico-economic, socio-cultural, spatial and environmental contexts. At the same time, the work reaches across disciplinary boundaries, bridging social with natural sciences to ensure comprehensive and insightful research results that are meaningful for both human and non-human animals. Her team works with government and non-governmental entities, as well as local communities in Botswana so that research results contribute to the development and operationalization of appropriate program and policy interventions.  Case studies include chickens, cattle, donkeys, wild dogs, elephants, and community dogs in Botswana, and feral cats in Canada. (

Will Kymlicka is Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen’s. His current research focuses on “The Frontiers of Citizneship”, and in particular on struggles to extend norms and practices of citizenship to historically excluded groups, ranging from children and people with intellectual disabilities to indigenous peoples and animals. All of these cases challenge inherited ideas of what defines the attributes of a (good) citizen, and in much of the popular debate and academic literature, attempts to extend citizenship to these groups is often seen as somehow diluting the fundamental values of citizenship. His work disputes this view, and seeks to show how these struggles for inclusion deepen citizenship in Canada and elsewhere. His paper on “Animals and The Frontiers of Citizenship” (co-authored with Sue Donaldson) was presented as the 2013 HLA Hart Memorial Lecture at Oxford University, and will be published in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. (

Christine Overall is a Professor of Philosophy and holds a University Research Chair at Queen’s. Her primary focus in animal studies is on problems of creating life and causing death. The former include issues in reproductive ethics: questions about the propagation and sterilization of animals, the genetic manipulation of individual animals and species, the potential for the creation of chimeras, and the survival and destruction of species.  The latter include issues in the philosophy of death: questions about whether death is bad for animals, whether premature death is bad for them, and whether animal lives should be prolonged. She presented a paper entitled “How Many Domesticated Animals Should There Be?” at the “Cosmopolitan Animals” conference, held at the University of London in October, 2012. She is currently writing a paper entitled “Death, Longevity, and Companion Animals” for an upcoming conference on death and dying. She is also editing an anthology, originally inspired by Dr. Jean Harvey, on ethics and companion animals. (

Mick Smith is jointly appointed between the School of Environmental Studies and the Department of Philosophy at Queen’s. His current work (funded by a SSHRC Insight grant on ‘Ethics, Politics, and Ecological Community’) is focused on developing a radically different understanding of ecological community. This involves re-conceptualizing the gap between scientific understandings of community ecology, which focus on providing external, ‘objective’, descriptions of ‘natural’ processes and relations in particular places, and humanist accounts of what it means to belong to ethical and political communities regarded as culturally constituted only within and between human beings. Ecological and ethical/political theory currently fail to speak to each other in very fundamental ways (epistemologically, methodologically, ontologically) when it comes to trying to understand the diverse relations between beings that might actually create and sustain communities that are both ecologically and ethico-politically constituted even as they are marked by ineradicable differences between individuals, populations, and species. This work further develops and extends  ethical and political themes in his recent Against Ecological Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and links to his involvement in the Extinction Studies Working Group, the new journal Environmental Humanities and his role as a founding editor of Emotion, Space and Society (including editing a special issue on Emotion and Ecology). He teaches two courses in the Philosophy Department which intersect with some aspects of critical animal studies: PHIL 293 Humans and the Natural World and PHIL493/893 Environmental Philosophy, and supervises graduate students in allied areas. ( )

Katherine Wayne completed her PhD in September 2013; her dissertation is titled "Toward a Virtue-Centred Ethics of Reproduction" and she was supervised by Christine Overall, Department of Philosophy, Queen's University. She has commenced a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, and is working with Will Kymlicka in the area of animal ethics.  Specifically, Katherine will examine the morality of bringing domesticated animals into existence, either with human intervention or through animals’ own volition. Animal rights scholars often assume that domestic animals have inviolable rights and that humans have a duty of care towards them as dependents. Yet it remains a legitimate question as to whether domestic animals can be incorporated into the community in a way that ensures their living good lives. Equally pressing is the question of whether domestic animals introduced into the community will impede the well-being of others. Thus the morality of domestic animal reproduction in a mixed and interdependent community is open to scrutiny. The following questions inform Katherine’s research: What are the conditions of permissibility and desirability of bringing domestic animals into existence? And how does the dependence of animals on humans shape our obligations to them and the nature of their rights, in regard to reproductive behaviours?  She will also consider policy-guiding implications that these theoretical conclusions may have in terms of the way Canada manages (some subset of) its domestic animal population. ( )

Zipporah Weisberg is the Abby Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Ethics in the philosophy department at Queen’s University. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought at York University. She is especially interested in how phenomenology and cognitive ethology (or the non-invasive study of animal behaviour) can jointly inform an interspecies ethics. Both traditions shed light on different aspects of animal subjectivity—from a given animals’ perceptual nuances, to its sense of space and time, to its social and emotional needs. In so doing, phenomenology and cognitive ethology help dismantle Baconian/Cartesian mechanism which has distorted our understanding of animals for centuries and paved the way for extreme violence against animals. In uncovering the richness and complexity of animal subjectivity, phenomenology and cognitive ethology make it incumbent upon us to take animals’ well-being seriously, to widen our ethical sphere beyond the narrow confines of the human, and to create the conditions for animals to flourish and live meaningful lives. An interspecies ethics grounded in phenomenology and cognitive ethology is therefore necessarily incompatible with the ongoing objectification and commodification of animal life—both of which actively and dramatically undermine animals’ quality of life and lead to unspeakable suffering—and instead insists that animals be allowed to co-exist with humans on their own terms. (

Research Partners

The Centre for Animals and Social Justice (CASJ) -- Sheffield, UK  

The Centre for Animals and Social Justice is a new think tank, founded by leading academics and animal advocates, which heralds a unique and innovative approach to advancing animal protection. The CASJ is dedicated to research, education and policy engagement that establish animals’ rightful status as recipients of social justice. 

Enshrining animal protection as a fundamental social value entails recognizing that the protection of animals is not something that can simply be left to the whims of private individuals, societal custom or market forces.  If the protection of animals is to be in any way robust, it is absolutely crucial that the state takes an active role.  Just as we should not leave child protection or the fight against discrimination to the goodwill of individuals and business, so must animal protection be promoted and enforced by good government legislation.  Furthermore, animal protection does not just require appropriate animal welfare and anti-cruelty laws.  Instead, robust animal protection demands consideration of how all state actions and policies affect the lives of animals.

The CASJ believes that there is huge potential for moral progress. Public attitudes towards animals are generally more compassionate and enlightened than those implicit in actual behaviour, industry practices and public policy, which continue to cause widespread and extensive harm to animals. Complementing and supporting the activities of existing NGOs, the CASJ occupies a vital niche in the animal protection cause, producing the knowledge and advocacy that is essential to both persuade society to respect animals and translate ethical aspirations into effective animal protection.

CASJ and APPLE look forward to future collaborations on establishing a framework and institutions for democratizing animal protection policy.

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