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Animal Rights, Legal Personhood and Cognitive Capacity: Addressing ‘Levelling-Down’ Concerns
journal contributionposted on 28.07.2020, 14:55 by Joe Wills
This article considers objections to current litigation strategies of the US-based Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which seek to extend legal personhood and liberty rights to nonhuman animals who possess ‘practical autonomy’. By tying personhood to intellectual abilities, so the objections go, such strategies endanger the present legal standing of humans with profound cognitive impairments. This article will argue that such cause for concern is largely misplaced for two reasons. First, the NhRP argue that practical autonomy is only a sufficient condition for personhood, not a necessary one. Second, drawing on theoretical and empirical literature, the article will argue that speciesism itself is a multiplier of oppressive theories, attitudes, beliefs and practices that negatively affect marginalized humans, including humans with cognitive impairments. The NhRP's attempts to reduce speciesism in the legal domain are thus hypothesized as being part of the solution to discrimination against marginalized humans, not as part of the problem.