Aesthetic Injuries, Animal Rights, and Anthropomorphism

14 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2013

See all articles by Jeffrey M. Skopek

Jeffrey M. Skopek

University of Cambridge; Harvard Law School

Date Written: February 1, 2009


In 1386, a female pig was put on trial in France for causing the death of a child by tearing his face and arms. After being found guilty, the tribunal ordered that she be maimed in the head and upper limbs and then hanged in the public square. Today, animals hold a very different place in our law. As the subjects of extensive rights, they are no longer defendants, but rather aspiring plaintiffs in our courts.

This article explores one way in which private suits to enforce animal rights gain access to federal courts: by alleging that the unlawful treatment of animals is causing “aesthetic injury” to a human plaintiff. This type of suit has long been used to enforce regulatory and statutory protections of ecosystems and species, but it is only in the last decade that courts have recognized this type of injury in suits aimed at protecting individual animals.

The significance of this development has not been recognized, perhaps because in retrospect there appears to be no legally relevant distinction between the two types of aesthetic injuries. But the fact that this distinction is not relevant as a doctrinal matter does not mean that it is not of legal importance. Rather, the distinction runs parallel to a real and important underlying philosophical difference. Attention to this difference reveals that these cases mark the beginning of a private means of enforcing of animal rights.

This approach to enforcement may appear crude from the perspective of traditional animal rights theory, as it is only by being transformed into human harms that violations of animal rights are remedied by the courts. However, it is possible that the troubled place of animals in our legal system cannot, as some theorists propose, be solved by positive law alone. What might also be necessary is a change in human value judgments about what type of injuries count – a change that this development in standing doctrine represents.

Keywords: animal rights, standing, aesthetic injury

Suggested Citation

Skopek, Jeffrey M., Aesthetic Injuries, Animal Rights, and Anthropomorphism (February 1, 2009). Harvard Law Review, Vol. 122, No. 4, pp. 1204-1216, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey M. Skopek (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Faculty of Law
10 West Rd
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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