Course Description

601:732.Animals: Law and Ethics (3 credits)


Our conventional moral thinking about nonhuman animals is that animals matter morally (they are not just things) but we may use them for our purposes as long as we treat them “humanely” and do not impose “unnecessary” suffering on them. This moral thinking is so uncontroversial that it is contained in criminal laws that prohibit animal cruelty. Despite this, we kill billions of animals for all sorts of unnecessary reasons and we treat these animals in ways that cannot be characterized as “humane.” What accounts for this disparity between what we say we believe and what we do? The answer is that animals are property as far as the law is concerned. Their interests in not suffering are discounted or ignored, and we do not recognize that they have any significant interest in their lives. In this course, we will discuss the property status of animals and we will show how it informs our moral and legal understanding, and how it plays out in various legal contexts. We will also explore the relationship between human rights and the rights of nonhuman animals. There will be no examination. Students will choose between doing a research paper on a theoretical topic or preparing a legal pleading in an area of animal law of interest to the student.