Social Theory and Practice

Volume 41, Issue 1, January 2015

Cheryl Abbate
Pages 106-130

The Search for Liability in the Defensive Killing of Nonhuman Animals

While theories of animal rights maintain that nonhuman animals possess prima facie rights, such as the right to life, the dominant philosophies of animal rights permit the killing of nonhuman animals for reasons of self-defense. I argue that the animal rights discourse on defensive killing is problematic because it seems to entail that any nonhuman animal who poses a threat to human beings can be justifiably harmed without question. To avoid this human-privileged conclusion, I argue that the animal rights position needs to both (1) deploy a new criterion of liability to defensive harm, and (2) seriously consider whether human beings themselves are liable to defensive harm in human-animal conflicts. By shifting the focus to whether humans are liable to defensive harm, we will find that in many situations of human-animal conflict, human beings are actually the ones liable to be harmed because they are often culpable or, to some degree, morally responsible for posing an unjust threat to nonhuman animals.