Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 629–647 | Cite as

Can We Use Social Policy to Enhance Compliance with Moral Obligations to Animals?

  • John BaslEmail author
  • Gina Schouten


Those who wish to abolish or restrict the use of non-human animals in so-called factory farming and/or experimentation often argue that these animal use practices are incommensurate with animals’ moral status. If sound, these arguments would establish that, as a matter of ethics or justice, we should voluntarily abstain from the immoral animal use practices in question. But these arguments can’t and shouldn’t be taken to establish a related conclusion: that the moral status of animals justifies political intervention to disallow or significantly diminish factory farming and animal experimentation. In this paper, we set out to do two things: First, we argue that while the arguments mentioned above may establish the moral impermissibility or injustice of the practices they condemn, they are not sufficient to justify political interventions or social policies to abolish or restrict such practices. It is one thing to argue that some moral imperative or imperative of justice exists, and quite another thing to call for the use of political power to induce compliance with that imperative. Our second task is to assess the prospects for developing an argument that is sufficient to justify political interventions to restrict or abolish the use of non-human animals in factory farming or experimentation. Beyond establishing the immorality or injustice of animal consumption or experimentation, one must show that the interventions in question constitute legitimate use of political power. Would prohibiting or discouraging animal use be legitimate? We attempt to answer this question within the context of fundamental liberal constraints on the legitimate use of coercive political power.


Legitimacy Neutrality Animal justice Animal ethics Animal welfare Political philosophy 



We are grateful to the following people for feedback at various stages of this paper: Jeff Behrends, Brian Berkey, Eric Blumenson, Michael Bukoski, Candice Delmas, Mylan Engel Jr., David Faraci, Bo Kim Kopek, Matt Kopec, Katie McShane, Stephen Nathanson, Ronald Sandler, Eric Stencil, Daniel Wodak. We also received exceptional feedback after presenting these materials at the Rocky Mountain Ethics (RoME) Congress in 2015. We are especially grateful for Katie McShane’s comments on this work. We apologize for not being able to list all the attendees that offered feedback. Finally, we are thankful to anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful, helpful comments that much improved this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northeastern UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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