Article | De Ethica. A Journal of Philosophical, Theological and Applied Ethics | Should We Ascribe Capabilities to Sentient Animals? A Critical Analysis of the Extension of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach
De Ethica
A Journal of
Philosophical,
Theological and
Applied Ethics

Title:
Should We Ascribe Capabilities to Sentient Animals? A Critical Analysis of the Extension of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach
Author:
Anders Melin: Malmö University, Sweden David Kronlid: Uppsala University, Sweden
DOI:
10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.163253
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Abstract:
Originally, the Capabilities Approach had a strong anthropocentric orientation because of its focus on the entitlements of individual humans. However, as a part of the interest to employ it within animal and environmental ethics, it has been discussed whether the Capabilities Approach should consider also non-human life forms for their own sake. The most influential and elaborated contribution to this debate is Martha Nussbaum’s extension of the Capabilities Approach to include sentient animals. In this article, we argue that Nussbaum’s ascription of capabilities to animals is problematic, since the concept of a capability normally denotes an opportunity to choose between different functionings. When Nussbaum ascribes capabilities to animals, the concept seems to simply denote specific abilities. Such a use is problematic since it waters down the concept and makes it less meaningful, and it may obscure the fact that normal, adult humans, in contrast to sentient animals, can act as conscious moral agents. The aim of granting moral status to sentient animals can be achieved more convincingly by describing our moral relationship to animals in terms of the functionings we should promote, instead of ascribing capabilities to them. Originally, the Capabilities Approach had a strong anthropocentric orientation because of its focus on the entitlements of individual humans. However, as a part of the interest to employ it within animal and environmental ethics, it has been discussed whether the Capabilities Approach should consider also non-human life forms for their own sake. The most influential and elaborated contribution to this debate is Martha Nussbaum’s extension of the Capabilities Approach to include sentient animals. In this article, we argue that Nussbaum’s ascription of capabilities to animals is problematic, since the concept of a capability normally denotes an opportunity to choose between different functionings. When Nussbaum ascribes capabilities to animals, the concept seems to simply denote specific abilities. Such a use is problematic since it waters down the concept and makes it less meaningful, and it may obscure the fact that normal, adult humans, in contrast to sentient animals, can act as conscious moral agents. The aim of granting moral status to sentient animals can be achieved more convincingly by describing our moral relationship to animals in terms of the functionings we should promote, instead of ascribing capabilities to them.
Keywords:
Nussbaum; Capability Approach; Sentient animals; Functionings
Year:
2016
Volume:
3
Issue:
2
Pages:
53-63
No. of pages:
11
Publication type:
Article
Published:
2016-08-17

Volume 3, Issue: 2, Article 6, 2016

Author:
Anders Melin, David Kronlid
Title:
Should We Ascribe Capabilities to Sentient Animals? A Critical Analysis of the Extension of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach:
DOI:
10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.163253
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Volume 3, Issue: 2, Article 6, 2016

Author:
Anders Melin, David Kronlid
Title:
Should We Ascribe Capabilities to Sentient Animals? A Critical Analysis of the Extension of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach:
DOI:
10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.163253
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