An American philosopher and scholar has called for pets to be given the same moral and legal rights as humans – including representation in court.
Martha Nussbaum, 75, argues that not only should our pets be protected by the law and a team of lawyers, but also animals around the world, from elephants to whales.
The University of Chicago professor argues that because the world is “dominated” by humans — who can see pets being neglected or abused and the habitats of endangered species destroyed — animals should have the same legal rights as humans.
This would allow animals — from a pet chihuahua to tigers — to be represented by an attorney who would advocate on their behalf so that they legally protect the animals and their habitats, Nussbaum, a Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, says.
In the case of our pets, Nussbaum, whose book Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility came out in January, argues that there should be a lawyer representing animals that have been attacked.
Martha Nussbaum, 75, (pictured in 2013) argues that not only should our pets be protected by the law and a team of lawyers, but animals all over the world, from elephants to whales
In the case of our pets, Nussbaum, whose book Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility was released in January, argues that there should be a lawyer representing animals that have been attacked
“I’m talking about lawyers who would represent the best interests of the animal,” Nussbaum said The New York Times. “If the animal is suffering — if you beat your dog and the laws aren’t enforced, there’s no one to step in and say, ‘I’m going to go to court as an ally of that animal and sue for enforcement of the laws.’ ‘
In reality, this could mean that Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, Koji and Gustav, who were kidnapped in 2021 and held for a $500,000 ransom before being released, would have been represented in court and received compensation themselves.
It would also mean that all the millions of animals — from rats to dogs — killed every year in the US for animal testing would suddenly have lawyers to defend their rights.
Nussbaum added that animals living in cities — not just pets — should have an “animal welfare department” that would represent the creatures.
“Animals are not things that we can use however we want,” Nussbaum said The Daily Express.
They are sentient beings seeking their own lives. We share this fragile globe with many other animals, who also feel pain, suffer loss, long for companionship, in short, who want to live their own lives as we want to live ours.’
Nussbaum points out how the world is “dominated” by humans and that this domination “wrongly harms animals.”
This may be “through the barbaric cruelties of the factory meat industry, through poaching and game hunting, through habitat destruction, through pollination of the air and seas, or through neglect of the companion animals people claim to love,” Nussbaum writes in Time magazine.
In reality, this could mean that Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs (pictured in October 2022 in LA), Koji and Gustav, who were kidnapped in 2021 and held for a $500,000 ransom before being released, would have been represented in court and would have received compensation
A general view of the atmosphere of the PETA Im Me Not Meat Vegan billboard on August 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California
The scholar argues that animal rights need to be re-evaluated.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to think that humans are at the top of everything,” she says.
‘We have some skills that other animals don’t have, but they also have skills – sensing magnetic fields, echolocation – that we don’t have. Most animal groups take better care of their own members than humans do, and many negotiate conflict much better.’
Nussbaum said the “ultimate” goal would be to give animals equal legal status with humans.
“Ultimately, we could do what India has done, which is to recognize animals as persons under the constitution,” she said. “You cannot deprive an animal of life or liberty without due process. That would be the goal.’
Nussbaum, who won the $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture in 2018 and 2022, draws a parallel to how women had no legal rights — and now many have rights and freedoms that would have been unthinkable 200 years ago.
“The same thing can happen with people’s rights,” Nussbaum writes in her book.
She argues that giving animals and humans equal rights would be a win-win situation.
“In some cases, the change is win-win: environmental pollution is also very bad for people.”
Nussbaum argues that if animals are not given the same moral and legal rights as humans, ‘our health will deteriorate, our lives will become impoverished and the gloriously rich world we live in will be impoverished beyond recovery’.
Who is Martha Nussbaum?
Martha Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at Columbia University.
She has written more than 20 books and in 2018 and 2022 the philosopher won the $1 Million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture.
At the time, Nussbaum’s work was acclaimed as transcend academia by helping a nation and world understand and overcome division.
Born in New York City, Nussbaum regularly explores emotions and the role they play in moral and political judgments.
Before starting her career as an academic, Nussbaum dropped out of college to take a job as an actress in a professional repertory company that performed Greek dramas.
She said in a 2018 interview, “I had traded summer stock before, but this was my first long-term job.
I was in awe of the stars and thrilled that I would be acting with Dame Judith Anderson and the “Cowardly Lion” (from “The Wizard of Oz”), Bert Lahr.’
But Nussbaum said the world of professional theater was “deeply corrupt and most of the actors were narcissistic.”
She added, “Anderson and Lahr were horrible people. My romance with the theater life was quickly tarnished and soon after I went back to academic work.’
Since then, Nussbaum has become a leading philosopher and has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, and Oxford University. She now teaches at the University of Chicago.