The Exclusion of Animals in Cosmopolitan Thought
Updated: Nov 12
In Season 6, Episode 2, of The Animal Turn Podcast Angie Pepper discusses how cosmopolitans think all individuals, globally, should be subjects of moral concern. She notes, however, that despite cosmopolitans having an expansive ethical worldview, their thought has been decidedly anthropocentric. In this blog post I highlight some of the key arguments to emerge in my discussion with Angie about this.
Central to moral cosmopolitan thinking is the notion that ethical concern should not end at the borders of nation states. This does not necessarily mean one does not have strong duties to their co-nationals, only that justice, for a cosmopolitan, requires that everybody in the world is given consideration. That is, justice requires one to not only think about how the benefits and burdens are distributed in a specific country but rather how they are distributed globally, and whether such distribution is fair.
Cosmopolitans are not, however, uniform in how they justify their positions. Angie discusses, for example, the difference between relational and non-relational cosmopolitans. Relational cosmopolitans transfer justice to the global level because, they argue, humans are implicated in global systems of inter-dependence in terms of the goods they use and the institutions that govern their lives. Giving climate change as an example, Angie notes how the actions of individual countries can have environmental impacts elsewhere in the world. Non-relational cosmopolitans, on the other hand, argue that an individuals’ entitlements of justice should not depend on them belonging to a certain scheme or being engaged in a specific form of cooperation. They argue that an individual should, by virtue of their need for well being, be entitled to make a claim of justice if others are able to provide it. For non-relational cosmopolitans such claims extend far beyond the nation state and institutions of cooperation but to anyone, anywhere.
“To sum it up, cosmopolitans think that all individuals globally are the primary subjects of moral concern and that we have principles of justice that are global in their scope. So, we shouldn’t think about justice as being something that just pertains between citizens within one nation but rather we can think about justice as being something that is global in reach. And, in much of the literature, with only a couple of exceptions, the primary units of moral concern are assumed to be human.” – Angie Pepper
Angie argues that despite having expansive views of justice, both relational and non-relational cosmopolitans continue to have anthropocentric biases. Relational cosmopolitans think about how humans are entangled in global schemes of governance and cooperation whereas non-relational cosmopolitans think about how humans, by virtue of having human needs, can make legitimate claims of other humans regardless of where they are. For Pepper, there is no good justification for why animals are excluded as beings worthy of cosmopolitan consideration because they too are entangled in global schemes of governance and, by virtue of being sentient animal, can make legitimate claims on others to have justice met.
Including animals in cosmopolitan thought gives rise to intriguing questions, including: What are animals entitled to? And how should social and political worlds be organized to ensure they get what they’re entitled to? Thinking about the entitlements of other animals involves thinking about their well-being and how it can be secured. Angie believes that when we start asking these sorts of questions, we might become skeptical as to whether humans are good for the animals with whom we are in relation.
In view of this we had a fascinating discussion about pet-keeping and what sort of entitlements companion animals might have. In a nutshell, Angie argued that while she is not opposed to pets receiving care and love it is necessary to stop and ask whether this is a relationship that should continue. In her words:
“Those [pets] that are here now do have an entitlement to a home, right? They need adequate care and love, and they need their needs met. I’m not opposed to that at all. What I am opposed to is the thought that we can just keep going, right, breed more and more into existence because we believe we have an entitlement to them” – Angie Pepper.
For Angie there are too many asymmetries built into this domestic relationship and it gives rise to additional challenges. As global pet ownership skyrockets, for example, the contribution of pets to climate change increases. As this Conversation piece by Peter Alexander elucidates, some pets hunt local wildlife and their food consumption is dramatically influencing greenhouse gas emissions. Angie uses a quote from Gary Francione’s Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation to highlight how some human-animal relations, including pet-keeping, can manufacture additional problems and conflicts:
While we started with a relatively abstract discussion about cosmopolitan thought and how it tends to neglect animals, focusing on a specific type of relationship (in this case pet-keeping) and asking what sorts of entitlements it calls for led us into fascinating terrain.
For me, this discussion with Angie made it clear that as soon as you start to view animals as individuals who are morally significant you are compelled to think about how justice operates at a range of scales, from the global to the domestic. When animals are understood as morally significant it has massive implications for how they can be politically and institutionally catered for (interpersonally, nationally, and internationally) as well as the types of relationships, institutions, and practices we can reasonably justify.
Angie Pepper is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton in London. Angie's philosophical background is in contemporary political philosophy, applied ethics, normative ethics, and feminist philosophy, and her recent research focuses on what we owe to other animals. She has published papers on the place of nonhuman animals in our theorising about global justice, and on what we owe to them as a matter of climate justice. She has also defended the following claims (among others): that sentient nonhuman animals have a right to privacy, that few nonhuman animals are political agents, that sentient nonhuman animals have a right to self-determination, that non-euthanasia killing in animal shelters is sometimes morally permitted, and that we shouldn't support zoos. Angie's latest projects focus on the normative significance of nonhuman animal agency; in other words, what other animals do and why it matters morally, socially, and politically. She is especially interested in whether domestication is compatible with animals' interests in self-determination and the demands of justice. Angie is a regular contributor to Justice Everywhere. You can learn more about Angie’s work on Research Gate.
 This is outlined in much greater detail in her paper Beyond Anthropocentricism: Cosmopolitanism and Nonhuman Animals Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.