Causation, Responsibility, and Harm: How the Discursive Shift from Law and Ethics to Social Justice Sealed the Plight of Nonhuman Animals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

60 Downloads (Pure)


Moral and political philosophers no longer condemn harm inflicted on nonhuman animals as self-evidently as they did when animal welfare and animal rights advocacy was at the forefront in the 1980s, and sentience, suffering, species-typical behavior, and personhood were the basic concepts of the discussion. The article shows this by comparing the determination with which societies seek responsibility for human harm to the relative indifference with which law and morality react to nonhuman harm. When harm is inflicted on humans, policies concerning negligence and duty of care and principles such as the 'but for' rule and the doctrine of double effect are easily introduced. When harm is inflicted on nonhumans, this does not happen, at least not any more. As an explanation for the changed situation, the article offers a shift in discussion and its basic terminology. Simple ethical considerations supported the case for nonhuman animals, but many philosophers moved on to debate different views on political justice instead. This allowed the creation of many conflicting views that are justifiable on their own presuppositions. In the absence of a shared foundation, this fragments the discussion, focuses it on humans, and ignores or marginalizes nonhuman animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-267
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number2
Early online date11 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • nonhuman animals
  • human animals
  • animal rights
  • animal welfare
  • harm
  • sentience
  • suffering
  • species-typical
  • personhood
  • responsibility
  • justice
  • ethics
  • but for rule
  • doctrine of double effect
  • negligence
  • duty of care

Cite this