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Beastly Contractarianism? A Contractarian Analysis of the Possibility of Animal Rights

1 June 2004


Social Contract theorists and animal advocates seem to have agreed to go their separate ways. Contractarians have avoided attempting to address an issue that seems destined to prove embarrassing for the theory given the current political climate. It is largely thought that contractarianism affirms the meager moral standing commonly attributed to most animals. In the face of this consensus, animal advocates who feel the need to philosophically ground the moral status of animals have turned to other potential sources. This is not a hard choice for animal advocates to make: utilitarianism is a respectable moral theory that affords animals moral consideration with relative ease. Nevertheless, we argue that this separation is a mistake. Contractarians can offer an account of the moral status of animals that is at least as compelling as that offered by utilitarianism. Grounding the moral worth of animals in contract theory also produces an importantly different account, one that can ground animal rights, as opposed to mere considerability, which some animal advocates will find more appealing than the utilitarian alternative.


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