Undergraduate Modules

Beastly Politics: Animals, Ethics and Public Policy

Freud famously argued that there have been three great ‘shocks’ to man’s “naïve self-love”. First, Copernicus showed us that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, but just a speck within an incomprehensibly enormous cosmos. Second, Darwin showed us that we have no superior, magic or Godly spark in our make-up; we are simply animals like any other. And the third shock was Freud’s own: we are not the masters of our own destinies, but are largely motivated and driven by our unconscious desires.

It is remarkable, however, how little these shocks have affected our political world. The vast majority of our political institutions, structures and processes simply assume that human beings are all that matter: it is taken for granted that it is only humans who merit rights, justice, political representation and political status.

However, these assumptions are starting to be challenged; some are imagining what a politics which incorporates non-human creatures might look like. As such, this module introduces students to the main approaches in animal ethics, and asks how they affect our political practices, norms, institutions and policies. Particular attention is focused on the tensions between animal welfare and other political values, with students exploring such controversial policy debates as animal experimentation, animal agriculture, conservation and the use of animals for entertainment.


The topics covered on this module include:

  1. Animals in the History of Political Thought
  2. Traditional Animal Ethics: Utility and Rights
  3. Critiques of Traditional Animal Ethics: Care and Ecocentrism
  4. Animals, Justice and the Liberal State
  5. Animals as Property?
  6. Animal as Citizens?
  7. Animal as Workers?
  8. Wild Animal Sovereignty
  9. Animals and Multiculturalism
  10. The International Protection of Animal Rights
  11. Abolitionism and Incrementalism