SG-activity: Animals as Legal Persons: The Ethics

Should, and could certain animals become legal persons? In the USA, the Nonhuman Rights Project by Steven Wise put this question high on the agenda. It started lawsuits aiming to give chimpanzees the legal status of ‘persons’. In this series we explore the ethical and legal ins and outs of the debate on animal legal personhood. We start with a lecture on the ethics, by dr. Bernice Bovenkerk.

Since the 1970s a small, but growing, group of philosophers has endeavored to extend moral rights to non-human animals. On the one hand animal ethicists have argued that at least some animals – such as primates, whales, and dolphins - deserve the status of personhood, because they share the human capacity of self-awareness. Others, on the other hand have argued that even animals that cannot be accorded personhood nevertheless have moral rights. These rights can be based in for example the attribution of interests to all animals that are capable of suffering and enjoyment, or on the basis of their intrinsic value. While a distinction should be made between moral and legal rights, these ethical theories certainly inform the debate about legal personhood for animals. Which of the theories on offer gives the most promising basis for legally protecting animals ?

Bernice Bovenkerk is assistant professor of philosophy at Wageningen University. Her research and teaching deals with issues in animal and environmental ethics, the ethics of climate change, and political philosophy. Current topics are the moral status of animals and other natural entities, with a particular focus on fish and insects, the ethics of animal domestication, animal (dis)enhancement, and deliberative democracy. She received her PhD from the University of Melbourne, Australia, on a dissertation titled The Biotechnology Debate. Democracy in the face of intractable disagreement. She has recently edited a collected volume titled Animal Ethics in the Age of Humans. Blurring boundaries in human-animal relationships. Bernice is chair of the Dutch working group on environmental ethics and secretary-elect of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics. Her homepage is

The Nonhuman Rights Project
Sunday 13 November, 20.00 hrs, Steve Wise will visit Studium Generale Wageningen. More info will follow!