Purdue University Graduate School
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Scanlonian Contractualism and Animals

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posted on 2024-04-20, 14:56 authored by Benjamin Allan ElmoreBenjamin Allan Elmore

In my dissertation, “Scanlonian Contractualism and Animals,” I take T.M. Scanlon’s ethical contractualism, convert it into a political theory, and apply it to deriving the duties of justice we owe to nonhuman animals. Here is the narrative structure of my dissertation. First, I argue in chapter 1 that nonhuman animals should be included within the scope of morality, or justice, as contractualism construes this notion. Animals are some of the “others” to whom we owe duties, particularly duties of justice. To this effect, I defend a revised version of the argument from marginal cases.

Second, I tell the reader how contractualism works in detail in chapters 2 and 3, making modifications and conversions into political philosophy along the way. Crucial for my discussion will be the debate between Derek Parfit and Scanlon over issues such as how to take numbers into account within contractualism. Scanlon’s considered view is that personal reasons should be added up to determine what we ought to do, but this is not the aggregation of impersonal value, for example, as in utilitarianism.

In chapter 4, a major step taken is the conversion of political contractualism into a form of Rawlsian political liberalism. Political liberalism takes the fact of reasonable pluralism of comprehensive doctrines on life’s important questions as a permanent feature of liberal democracy. In order to address this pluralism, political liberalism seeks to provide a political conception of justice that can be endorsed by people who differ on fundamental ethical, philosophical, and religious matters. My version of animal rights contractualism adopts this framework, but it takes work to show how animal rights and political liberalism are compatible.

Third, in chapter 5, a neutral metric for the harm of death will be suggested, following the requirements of political liberalism to offer a political conception of various aspects of our theories. This needs to be done because the harm of death is a complex, contested philosophical issue. The contractors need this metric to figure out what burdens are imposed by death. A neutral metric is meant to be one that can be endorsed by adherents of different comprehensive philosophical viewpoints in an overlapping consensus.

Fourth, and finally, some of the specific political duties we have to nonhuman animals will be stated. I survey some of the most common topics that are usually explored here, such as factory-farming, medical research, and hunting. The hope is that at the end of the work, the reader will be convinced that contractualism provides a plausible account of what we owe to each animal.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Philosophy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Patrick Kain

Additional Committee Member 2

Daniel Frank

Additional Committee Member 3

J.P. Messina

Additional Committee Member 4

Eric Sampson