Levinasian Ethics and Animal Rights

Jonathan Crowe

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What can we say, in good faith, about the moral status of animals? This article explores the above question through the prism of Emmanuel Levinas’ theory of ethics. I begin by examining the ambiguous position of non-human animals in Levinas’ writings. I argue that Levinas’ theory is best read as suggesting that nonhumans present claims for recognition as ethical beings, but that these demands have a different character to those presented by humans. I then explore the implications of Levinas’ view of ethics for the structure of moral reasoning. I contend that Levinas’ theory yields a conception of moral reasoning as reflective, good faith engagement with primordial social judgements of ethical significance. In the final part of the article, I suggest that it is both possible and constructive to thematise the ethical claims of non-human animals in the language of rights. Indeed, from a Levinasian perspective, animal rights might properly be viewed as a model for the notion of human rights, since they capture the essential asymmetry of the ethical encounter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-328
Number of pages16
JournalWindsor Yearbook of Access to Justice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


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