Conférences en ligne GRÉEA : #3 – Angie Pepper, « Harming Humans in Defence of Other Animals »


De mai à juillet, le GRÉEA invite ses membres geographiquement, ou n’ayant pas encore eu l’occasion de présenter au GRÉEA, à présenter leurs recherches par visioconférence. Pour participer à l’une de ces rencontres, merci de bien vouloir contacter Ely Mermans, coordinateurice du groupe. 

#3 – Angie Pepper, University of Roehampton, « Harming Humans in Defence of Other Animals » | 2 juillet 2020 @14h


Imagine that you are walking down the street and you see one person physically attacking another. It is evident that the victim poses no threat to their attacker, and that the attacker’s capacities for moral agency are not compromised. What are you permitted to do in such a case? Most philosophers believe that it would be morally permissible, and perhaps even obligatory, for you to intervene to defend the victim. Moreover, many believe that it would be permissible for you to harm the attacker if harming them is the only way to stop the threat that they pose. Put simply, many people who work on questions to do with defensive harm think that third-party defence is permissible (e.g. Fabre 2007; Quong 2012; Thomson 1991).

Now consider the claim that nonhuman animals have rights. Specifically, animal rights theorists have argued that nonhuman animals have rights against being killed, and rights against being made to suffer (e.g. Cavalieri 2001; Cochrane 2012; Regan 2004). If animals have rights of these kinds, then it would seem, assuming third-party defence is justified, that it would be permissible for you to harm another human if doing so was necessary to stop them from violating the rights of a nonhuman animal.

While this seems relatively straightforward, few have been prepared to embrace the conclusion that a commitment to animal rights entails that it is sometimes permissible to harm humans in defence of animals. Indeed, most defenders of animal rights explicitly denounce the use of violence in defence of animals, advocate animal rights pacificism, and deny that it could ever be permissible to harm humans in defence of animals (e.g. Colb and Dorf 2016; Hadley 2009). In this paper, I challenge this orthodox view. The argument has two parts. First, I make a positive argument in defence of the view that one may be permitted to harm humans in defence of other animals. Second, I survey a range of commonly made objections to the view that I am trying to defend. Specifically, I consider and reject the following claims: (1) harming humans is impermissible because it is strategically bad for the animal rights movement; (2) harming humans is impermissible because it problematically circumvents democratic processes; (3) harming humans is impermissible because humans are never liable to defensive harm on behalf of nonhuman animals; and (4) the position has the theoretically absurd consequence of making most humans liable to defensive harm. To be clear, the argument of this paper is not a call to arms. As I will explain, although animal rights violations are widespread, the range of cases in which it is permissible to harm humans in defence of other animals is likely to be quite limited. Nonetheless, I do not believe that nonhuman animals can be said to have rights in any meaningful sense unless there are some circumstances in which it is permissible to impose harm on unjust human aggressors in defence of those rights.