Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Animals and Liberal Democracy

What does the interspecies interpretation of the equality principle mean for the liberal democracy, and is it possible to provide for an appropriate legal and political position for animals without defying the classic-liberal principles of the liberal democratic state?

The idea of categorical human superiority in comparison with other animals has long been prevalent, but it has lost some of its persuasiveness in recent decades. Both the decaying persuasiveness of the narrative of divine creation, and the increasing scientific knowledge of other animals seem to have damaged the foundation on which this exalted image of the human being was built. In addition, even if such factual superiority exists, some philosophers have doubted the permissibility of translating it into a categorical moral superiority. In an apparent innocent footnote in his work of 1789, Jeremy Bentham wonders whether keeping animals out of moral considerations may still be justified, and if so, on which grounds. That question has prompted many modern ethicist to include non-human animals in the equality principle, which means that other animals' interests as well are to be taken into account in moral considerations. Such an interspecies understanding of the equality principle raises many political-philosophical and legal-philosophical questions, because the equality principle old-style (human-exclusive) seems to be the leitmotif in the principles and institutions of the liberal democratic state. Both the institutions of the liberal democratic state, and the theories underlying it seem to be based on the currently contested idea of categorical superiority of the human animal.

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