From here to Utopia: Theories of Change in Nonideal Animal Ethics

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 35 (4):1-17 (2022)
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Animal ethics has often been criticized for an overreliance on “ideal” or even “utopian” theorizing. In this article, I recognize this problem, but argue that the “nonideal theory” which critics have offered in response is still insufficient to make animal ethics action-guiding. I argue that in order for animal ethics to be action-guiding, it must consider agent-centered theories of change detailing how an ideally just human-animal coexistence can and should be brought about. I lay out desiderata that such a theory of change should suffice so as to be helpful in guiding action. Specifically, a theory of change should determine (1) who needs to do what in order for ideal justice to be achieved in the long run, (2) who should be expected to refuse compliance and how they should be moved to comply, and (3) why specific intermediate steps are necessary. I show how previous “nonideal” contributions, though helpful in other ways, are insufficiently determinate on these points and I sketch a (still somewhat utopian) theory of change for one specific context. This brings animal ethics a crucial step closer to being action-guiding in the real world.

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