Granting Rights to Nature? Considerations on Three Different Approaches to the Question
Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2022-09
54 Pages Posted: 4 May 2022 Last revised: 28 May 2022
Date Written: May 3, 2022
According to the modern Western moral, political and legal thought, only living individuals belonging to the human species have original rights. However, the claim has recently been made that inherent rights should also be acknowledged to entities which were formerly excluded from prima facia entitlements. Among the potential “new” rights bearers are entities belonging to the natural world, like sentient non-human animals, living beings in general, and even components of the natural environment like biotopes and ecosystems. Granting rights to natural entities has been vindicated by recurring to three different strategies. The first can be defined as the strategy of “rights as reasonable interests”: according to its core assumption, rights are to be granted to all entities that can be reasonably assumed to have identifiable interests related to their existence, for example an interest to flourish or not to feel pain. The second strategy argues that rights should be attributed to all entities that are characterized by an inherent and specific value derived from being part of an organic, long-established and highly complex network of mutual interactions within a holistic understanding of the world. The third strategy, finally, founds rights on the capacity of entities to carry out qualified agency, so that being a rights bearer depends on the capacity to display reflexive actions aiming at a certain purpose. The article analyses the consequences of the application of each strategy to every single dimension of the non-human natural world to which old or new rights are presumed to be attributed. Put differently, the first question will be on whether sentient non-human animals, living beings in general, or parts of the natural environment can be considered rights holders if we adopt the interest-based strategy. The following two sections will then address the same question with reference, respectively, to the holistic approach and to the agency strategy. The final section draws the conclusions from the previous analyses and sketches the outlines for a general theory of rights endowment to non-human entities in accordance with a revised and enhanced recognition-based approach.
Keywords: Animal rights, environmental rights, theories of rights, rights as interests, utilitarianism, recog-nition-based theory of rights
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