Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations


Animal Rights in a Diverse Society

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Michael Weber (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kevin Vallier (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

John Basl (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Gary Heba (Committee Member)


This dissertation defends the following thesis: the legal status of non-human animals as property is politically illegitimate. Instead, I argue that humans should be legally understood as guardians over those animals under their tenure. This guardianship relation involves limits on what humans may do to animals, limits which do not currently exist in our society. Most notably, guardians are required to act in the interest of their wards, and so guardians cannot kill or transfer the animals under their tenure unless doing so would be best (or at least good) for the animal. My position broadly fits with, but importantly differs from, much of the recent political philosophy literature focused on animals. I agree that ownership is inappropriate, but argue that considerations of political legitimacy lead us to the guardianship relation rather than full legal personhood. This position falls out of taking seriously the public reason challenge to justice for animals, which appeals to public reason liberalism to argue that the pursuit of justice for animals would be illegitimate. Thus, I examine important debates in public reason liberalism to develop an attractive model of that theory of legitimacy and then apply it to the question of the legal status of animals.