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Relations and Moral Obligations towards Other Animals

Beril Sözmen


Relational accounts acknowledge and emphasise the intersubjective nature of selfhood and argue that focusing solely on the capacities of animals cannot account for all moral obligations towards them. My argument is concerned with the move from the premise of intersubjectivity to differential positive duties. Relationality here functions as a means of differentiating and refining our positive duties towards some animals, but this refinement often also functions as an exclusion of others, e.g. in the differential treatment of domesticated and wild animals. A similar danger lies in diminishing human moral obligation by arguing for accepting some cases of suffering and death as unavoidable tragedies. I argue that the debate about the nature and scope of our relational duties towards other animals can profit from the relational ethics of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. Buber and Levinas develop relational accounts, in which the fundamental ethical element is not knowledge of the capacities of the other but rather the encounter, out of which moral selfhood emerges. By applying Buber and Levinas we can refine the way relationality is used in animal ethics today without dismissing our positive duties towards individual animals, in the wild or otherwise.


Buber; Levinas; ethics; animal ethics; responsibility; obligation; suffering; encounter; relational ethics; animals in the wild

Full Text:



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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2015-002-sozm

Copyright (c) 2018 Beril Sözmen – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie

Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196

Executive Editor: Francesco Allegri
Associate Editor: Matteo Andreozzi 
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Vilma Baricalla - Luisella Battaglia - Rod Bennison - Matthew R. Calarco - Piergiorgio Donatelli - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Luigi Lombardi Vallauri - Christoph Lumer - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Alma Massaro - Barbara Muraca - Serpil Oppermann - Simone Pollo - Paola Sobbrio - Kim Stallwood - Sabrina Tonutti - Jessica Ullrich - Federico Zuolo