Workshop on “Political Animals: Agency, Participation, and Representation”

Together with Montreal’s Centre for Ethics, APPLE co-sponsored a workshop on March 5, 2016 on the democratic representation of animals, held at UQAM in Montreal.

In recent years, a number of political theorists have argued that all sentient animals, human or otherwise, can be the rightful recipients of justice. Since we live in a world in which animals are, by and large, viewed as resources to be exploited for human ends, they further argue it is imperative that we institutionalize their protection and develop mechanisms for effectively giving voice to their genuine interests. Theorists seeking to include animals within the scope of justice have also typically assumed that democratic institutions are the best way to deliver justice for animals. Consequently, their accounts have either posited political rights for animals or gestured at the need to develop institutional mechanisms for their political representation in order to ensure that appropriate weight is accorded to their interests in human political decision-making. However, given that animals are unable to engage in most formal and informal modes of political participation including voting, holding office, jury service, petitioning, canvassing, and joining a social movement, their capacity for political participation is, on the surface, limited. This limitation, coupled with the epistemic challenge associated with knowing the interests of other animals, gives rise to several theoretical and practical challenges to their inclusion within the democratic sphere. In particular, whether animals themselves have the requisite capacities to ground rights to political participation, precisely what this would entail, and whether alternative modes of proxy representation can be both democratic and effective in their aims.

In light of these considerations, this workshop explored issues pertaining to the democratic representation of animals, including:

  • What are the grounds for the democratic inclusion of animals?
  • Can animals be the bearers of political rights?
  • Do animals have political agency?
  • In what ways might we enable the political voice of other animals?
  • How do we get at the authentic interests of other animals?
  • What institutional mechanisms might be deployed to represent the interests of animals? Are such mechanisms compatible with democratic values?
  • Do our duties to other animals generate an irresolvable tension between the values of justice and democracy?

Our four main presenters were:

  • Dan Hooley (PhD student, Philosophy, University of Toronto
  • Eva Meier (PhD student, University of Amsterdam)
  • Angela Martin (postdoctoral fellow, Center for Ethics, McGill)
  • Angie Pepper (Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Ethics here at Queen’s)

Commentators included:

  • Jeff Sebo (Parr Center for Ethics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Claudio Lopez-Guerra (Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City)
  • Daniel Viehoff (Philosophy; Sheffield)
  • Sue Donaldson of APPLE