Department of Philosophy



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Angie Pepper (Queen's University)

"Human Agency and Nonhuman Animals"

The capacity for political agency is necessary for the accomplishment of political action. Non-political agents, though capable of ‘doing something’ are not able to perform distinctively political actions. Beyond picking out a discrete class of agents, the ascription of political agency has normative significance. In virtue of their capacity for political agency, political agents possess (or can possess) special rights, powers, and responsibilities, including rights to political participation, freedom of speech, and free association. It is widely assumed by political philosophers that only cognitively mature, neurologically typical humans are possessors of political agency. However, an important challenge to the prevailing view has emerged in recent attempts to elaborate a political dimension to nonhuman animal action and include them within the class of political agents.

In this paper, I consider what it means to be a political agent; to be a doer of political action. On the account of political agency I develop and defend, only beings with capacities to intend to effect institutional change, collectively imagine alternative futures, and act-in-concert with others, can properly be said to be political agents. The upshot of this view is that since most, if not all, nonhuman animals lack the requisite capacities for political agency they cannot perform political actions nor hold rights to political participation. I anticipate the objection that my while my view stipulates capacities sufficient for political agency, they are not in fact necessary. In response, I argue that weakening the conditions for political agency to include nonhuman animals results in conceptual confusion and divests the concept of its normative value. While this conclusion may strike defenders of animal rights as an unhappy one, I suggest that extending the concept of political agency is both an unhelpful distraction, and unnecessary to the project of securing justice for nonhuman animals.


Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016

Watson Hall 517 @ 4:00 pm

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