Perpetual Strangers: Animals and the Cosmopolitan Right

Date01 December 2014
Publication Date01 December 2014
AuthorSteve Cooke
Perpetual Strangers: Animals and the Cosmopolitan Right
P O L I T I C A L S T U D I E S : 2 0 1 4 VO L 6 2 , 9 3 0 – 9 4 4
doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.12054
Perpetual Strangers: Animals and
the Cosmopolitan Right

Steve Cooke
University of Manchester
In this article I propose a cosmopolitan approach to animal rights based upon Kant’s right of universal hospitality.
Many approaches to animal rights buttress their arguments by finding similarities between humans and non-human
animals; in this way they represent or resemble ethics of partiality. In this article I propose an approach to animal rights
that initially rejects similarity approaches and is instead based upon the adoption of a cosmopolitan mindset
acknowledging and respecting difference. Furthermore, and in agreement with Martha Nussbaum, and Sue Donaldson
and Will Kymlicka, I endorse the view that theories of animal rights need to be theories of justice and include a
political component. Contra Donaldson and Kymlicka, however, I argue that the starting point for analysis of political
theories of animal rights should be at the global rather than national level. Taking animals as strangers, I propose
adopting a Kantian cosmopolitan mindset and ethic of universal hospitality towards them. I address how a ius
that is hospitable to the interests of non-human animals can govern interactions with animals on fair
terms, and I respond to concerns that cosmopolitanism cannot accommodate non-human animals because it is a
democratic ideal, is grounded in logocentrism or rests upon ownership of territory by humans.
Keywords: animal rights; cosmopolitan right; cosmopolitanism; partiality; relational
approaches to animal rights
Traditional theories of animal rights are based upon the argument that species membership
is a morally arbitrary feature in ethical reasoning. Rather than base moral standing upon
common humanity, animal rights theorists have claimed that all sentient creatures, or
creatures above a certain level of sentience, belong to the same ethical community, and thus
are rights bearers. In this way, animal rights theories appear broadly cosmopolitan in intent.
Cosmopolitans, meanwhile, hold that all human beings belong to the same ethical com-
munity regardless of their other identities or affiliations. At the same time, to be cosmo-
politan is also to possess a state of mind or to engage with others in a way that is open and
accepting of difference. Animal rights theories therefore appear merely to widen the basic
cosmopolitan ethical community so that it includes non-human animals, and to be more
open in engagement with others. However, animal rights theories have stopped short of
fully embracing cosmopolitanism in two significant ways: first, by focusing on similarities
and relationships between humans and other animals as a means of cultivating ethical
concern; and second, by demanding that humans and other animals lead rigidly separate
In this article I draw cosmopolitanism and traditional animal rights theory closer together
in order to address problems with each. I argue that an ethic of respect for non-human
animals requires us to approach them initially on the basis of difference. Respect for
non-human animals demands that we defend those with whom we cannot easily find
compassion in our hearts as much as it does for those to whom we find it easy to relate. I
share the view of Martha Nussbaum that, to be worthy of the name, global justice must
© 2013 The Author. Political Studies © 2013 Political Studies Association

apply across the species (Nussbaum, 2006).The cosmopolitan ethic is a principle that should
guide our encounters not only with fellow humans, but also with other species. Animal
rights theory should therefore be thought of as a cosmopolitan expansion of universal
human rights across the species barrier and, at the same time, this implies that cosmopoli-
tanism should be species blind. Adopting a cosmopolitan approach to animal rights moves
us beyond individual duties of non-maleficence towards non-human animals. Cosmopoli-
tanism offers ethical principles that also inform how political communities should interact
with non-human animals. Where traditional animal rights approaches have largely con-
cerned themselves with the avoidance of harm by individuals, cosmopolitanism looks to
establish conditions for peaceful coexistence between species and political communities.
And where traditional approaches have struggled with positive duties of aid and issues of
non-compliance with the duty of non-maleficence, cosmopolitanism provides action-
guiding rules in both cases. A cosmopolitan approach to animal rights is not only better
suited to the realities of human and non-human coexistence, but it also moves us closer to
a meaningful peace. To achieve this, I propose a new cosmopolitan approach to animal
rights, inspired by Kant’s ethic of hospitality towards strangers found in his Perpetual Peace,
and the idea that we should adopt a particular cosmopolitan mode of thinking, or
Denkungsart, when legislating action-guiding rules (compare Hill, 2000, p. 228).
I begin with a short outline and defence of cosmopolitanism. Although my defence of
cosmopolitanism is by necessity brief, further reasons to favour cosmopolitanism, particu-
larly as an ethical standpoint towards non-human animals, are given in the course of the
article. Following this, I draw attention to cosmopolitan features of traditional animal rights
theory, and demonstrate how it has nevertheless failed to commit fully to a cosmopolitan
morality. In place of traditional similarity and ‘let be’ approaches, which I describe in detail
below, I defend a non-anthropocentric cosmopolitan Denkungsart. The cosmopolitan Den-
informs specific rights to hospitable treatment and duties of hospitality owed to all
sentient beings – a ius cosmopoliticum for non-human animals. I finish by considering a range
of potential problems with the cosmopolitan approach relating to its scope and its intel-
lectual roots in Kant’s logocentrism.
Cosmopolitanism as a Moral Theory
Cosmopolitans hold that we have basic moral obligations, owed to all people, and by virtue
only of our shared humanity. Cosmopolitan principles are universal in scope and impartially
applied. Furthermore, the cosmopolitan maintains that the primary locus of ethical concern
is the individual rather than the state, group or community. For the cosmopolitan, what
marks out our humanity is not so much how we treat those nearest and dearest to us, but
how we respond to strangers.After all, it is easy to act with compassion towards those whom
we already love; it is harder to turn our faces from those who are known to us. Indeed, a
good deal of moral theorising is devoted to reasons for overcoming feelings of partiality that
might cause agents wrongly to favour those with whom they have emotional ties.Thus, we
see in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice that his proposed means for assessing whether
circumstances are just is through agents imagining whether they would agree to those
circumstances being created if there were a chance that they would be the least advantaged
by them.To do this agents imagine themselves unencumbered by personal attachments or
© 2013 The Author. Political Studies © 2013 Political Studies Association

knowledge of their place in society, and unaware of their comprehensive conceptions of the
good. By thinking in this way, they are encouraged to consider the situation from an
impartial standpoint (Rawls, 1999, pp. 15–9). Similarly, we see Thomas Nagel’s invocation
of a powerful and benevolent being to illustrate how good should be distributed on an
impartial and egalitarian basis to maximise the welfare of all (Nagel, 1991, pp. 13–4).
The reason for impartiality is grounded in the equal moral status accorded to all
humans. While moral agents can and do have special duties arising from ties of relation-
ships, promises, agreements and historical circumstances, these duties do not provide a
firm footing for ethical behaviour. As Thomas Scanlon argues, while special relationships
require that we act on the basis of special associative duties and our feelings towards those
close to us, they also require that we recognise underlying moral standing apart from our
relationships, which also constrains our actions towards others (Scanlon, 1998, p. 165).The
basic moral standing of a being qua that being is what makes it wrong, for example, to
harm a stranger in order to benefit a loved one. Thus, we must begin from a position of
equal treatment (compare Rachels, 2003, pp. 11–4) and are required to provide good
reasons for differential treatment thereafter.What we owe to others as strangers is prior to
what we owe to them by virtue of special associative duties, and these prior basic rights
are by their nature both universal and held equally. Similarly, it is moral reasons rather than
emotional responses that make creatures worthy of direct moral consideration. Rather
than our sympathy for a particular creature providing the reason for us thinking it worthy
of direct moral consideration, the fact that a creature is worthy of direct moral consid-
eration gives us reasons to feel sympathy or compassion towards it. Sympathetic emotions
are secondary to moral reasons. None of what I have written is meant to imply that
emotional attachments or other special ties have no role to play in...

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