Animal Law Review

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The aim of this Article is to find a broader theoretical basis for animal protection than the current ideas of personhood and capabilities provide. Human dignity is variously defined but pervasive in grounding human rights and should have a counterpart for animal protection beyond minimum welfare that can improve the quality of animal lives overall. Dignity has an inward dimension based on the value of an individual that should not be violated and an outward aspect in the individual’s bearing to the world, both of which apply to animals. In content, human individuals have dignity in autonomously directing their lives, having a sense of self as separate but in relationship with others, and experiencing continuity of past, present and future as integrity over time. For many, human dignity requires moral agency, or the ability to follow principles and values and to restrain one’s behavior. Dignity does not require consciousness of its presence. A person’s dignity can be defiled without that person’s awareness, as in infants and mentally incapacitated people. Using recent research from ethology, the study of animal mentation, this Article posits that none of the attributes that define human dignity differs essentially for animals, even though concepts of animal dignity would have to capture the richly diverse traits and personalities of animals. The Article presents a highly individualized and contextualized notion of animal dignity that goes beyond normal species function and capacities and is flexible enough to recognize the dignity in an animal acting out of character in ways that exceed expected norms for its kind. It illustrates some of these remarkable dignities through animal stories peppered throughout. To provide some contextual applications of the animal dignity idea, it considers specifically how dignity might apply to captive animals as pets, in entertainment, on hunting ranches, in research (especially biotechnology), and on the farm. The author intends to elaborate this concept of dignity for animals in the wild in a follow-up paper.

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