Conference of Angie Pepper at CRÉ : « Sentience and the Domain of Justice » | 13.02.17

On February 13th, Angie Pepper will give a talk at CRÉ : « Sentience and the Domain of Justice ». The talk will be in English.

Time : 12h15-13h45
Place : Salle 309, 2910 Boulevard Edouard-Montpetit, Université de Montréal


The last decade has seen the so-called ‘political turn’ in animal ethics in which theorists have focused on extending the domain of justice to sentient animals and “imagining how our political institutions, structures and processes might be transformed so as to secure justice for both human and non-human animals” (Cochrane, Garner & O’Sullivan, 2016). For many of these theorists possession of sentience is a necessary requirement for consideration within schemes of justice (e.g. Cochrane 2012; Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011; Garner 2013; Nussbaum 2006). However, attempts to draw the bounds of justice at sentience have been met with renewed criticism by those working in environmental ethics. Some have objected, for instance, that “the sentience threshold fails for being inappropriately anthropocentric” (Fulfer 2013) and is unjustifiably biased towards sentient beings (Schlosberg 2007). These critics have further argued that nonsentient entities can also be subjects of justice, with some arguing for the inclusion of all forms of life, including plants and insects, and others advocating on behalf of the inclusion of collective entities such as entire ecosystems. The strategies employed by these theorists vary, but most bear the same structure: identify a characteristic that theorists of justice attribute to sentient beings, show that the characteristic in question is common to sentient and nonsentient beings, then conclude that nonsentient beings must also count as subjects of justice. Examples of the morally relevant features that have been identified include well-being, dignity, flourishing, and integrity. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, I defend the claim that only sentient beings can be subjects of justice. Second, I argue that many proposals to extend the scope of justice to nonsentient entities rest on a deep conceptual confusion about the grounds of justice and the role that ideas such as dignity and flourishing play in determining the metric of justice