The "Right to Autonomous Agency" and the "Right to Exit/ Sever Relationships": Theorizing our Obligations to Companion Animals in a Post-Animal Rights World
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This thesis expands on the model presented in Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s Zoopolis for how companion animals might be treated as co-citizens in a post-Animal Rights world. I will attempt to clarify the distinct political obligations owed to companion animals throughout their lifetimes by individual caregivers and by the state. In particular, I argue that there is nothing in the genetic make-up of most companion animals that precludes them from being “autonomous agents” in adulthood, meaning that if allowed to develop their agency, most animals would be able to lead flourishing lives independent of human companions. I suggest that, for young companion animals, guardians have political obligations to develop the autonomous agency of their dependents, with help from the state. That said, for adult animals which develop autonomous agency, I argue that both a human caregiver and the animal have a right to sever their relationship with each other, just as we give adult children the right to leave their parents’ care and also give parents the “right to kick out” adult children who are capable of supporting themselves. However, while advocating for human caregivers’ rights to sever relationships with autonomous pets, I nonetheless maintain that the state will always retain obligations to its citizens to provide them with a basic level of welfare, and these obligations extend to companion animals as well. Thus, the thesis will consider ways that companion animals can flourish without human companionship. Questions I am concerned with are: Can companion animals lead worthwhile lives without human caregivers? What obligations do caregivers and states have to raise animal young? When and how can these obligations be terminated? And lastly, how might we restructure our public and political institutions to accommodate animals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave relationships with caregivers?