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Objections to deliberative democracy state that culturally plural societies are too diverse to be able to enact such a concept, that social groups who are marginalized in these societies would not have the access or ability to participate in such decision-making processes. This essay argues that deliberative democracy is applicable to these societies and may be the only method of addressing historical injustices through the reconciliation process, shared stories and perceptions of a common good.


 “First we argue for equality, by appealing to the arbitrariness of the natural lottery. Then we allow departures from equality provided that these are not worse for those who are worst off. This explains why, in Rawls’s phrase, the worst-off have the veto, so that benefits to them should have absolute priority.” Parfit (2000, p.121)


Theorists of deliberative democracy assert that democracy relies upon notions of a common good and an egalitarian ideal, and also that democracies should be developed to encourage civic responsibility and self-respect. While many modern societies are culturally plural, as long as a system of government allows for a fair system of bargaining that is representative of all groups, these theorists think that it will be a legitimate system (Cohen, 1997). This essay will look at the different concepts that underpin deliberative democracy and assert that such a democratic process is both applicable to a modern, pluralist society and that collective choice will also lead to better understanding between the different groups that inhabit these societies.

John Dryzek’s “Discursive Democracy” (1990) was the first book written about deliberative democracy. Dryzek states that ‘the final decade of the second millennium saw the theory of democracy take a strong deliberative turn’ (Dryzek, 2000:1).  The opportunity to participate became the imperative in asserting effective deliberation and claims for or advocated by others could be justified in terms that would be acceptable to the participants. For Dryzek (2000), deliberative democracy should not be confined to strict forms of ‘public reason’ but should be able to engage in more tolerant positions that include testimony, humour, emotion, storytelling, argument, rhetoric and even gossip. He contends that this would help deliberation in a non-coercive way and rule out dominant powers manipulating outcomes or attempting to enforce an ideological conformity.

This also explains how deliberative democracy has come to be seen by some as being too chaotic and unmanageable through inclusion, and yet by others as being too restrictive through exclusion. For these objections even the idea of rational argument is elitist and exclusive to those who cannot explain themselves comprehensively (Dryzek, 2000:5). However, Dryzek’s inclusion of story allows those that do not have the same worldview as the dominant group to come to an arena of democracy and show through narrative why their preferences might be the ones that are chosen by the collective. Indigenous people can benefit from democracy in this way, instead of having to rely upon the political representation of someone who has little concept of their worldview or culture.

Jürgen Habermas developed the concept of deliberative democracy, basing its legitimacy in reason. Democracy, asserted Habermas, is supposed to encourage free critical reasoning about common affairs designed to guide the practice of coercive powers (Cohen, 1999:386). Joshua Cohen states that one of the reasons that Habermas contended that democracy should be deliberative, was to ensure the impartial justifiability of outcomes (Cohen, 1999:402). John Rawls (1972) also reflected this in his thinking about political decision-making where his principle of participation required fair political equality. Deliberative democracy relies upon the participants engaging in free deliberation amongst equals as the basis of their legitimacy and Cohen (1999) thinks that in this way deliberative democracy is able to address pluralism within a democratic process. Citizens find resolutions to problems of collective choice through public reasoning and establishing a framework for deliberation. It is a plural and diverse association that is committed to resolving problems through collective choice. This is assisted through each party not reaffirming self-interested or mandatory preferences or ideals.

The first step in collective choice is choosing an agenda, then the proposal of different solutions to that agenda with supportive reasoning, and finally settling upon an agreed solution. While all comprehend the necessity of their own good, in deliberative democratic decision-making they also share a commitment to finding decisions that are acceptable to all, even if it involves revising one’s own preferences and beliefs. Deliberation requires critical reasoning because it is not enough in pluralistic societies for people to provide reasons for decisions being based upon preferences, beliefs or ideals. The notion of autonomy is also important in a deliberative democracy, as preferences should be formed by agency rather than circumstance. Therefore, deliberation consists of assessing the common good from the basis of legitimate public reflection on what is an appropriate claim on public resources, rather than notions of preconceived ideas and interests (Cohen, 1997).

Historical injustice means injustices that have occurred across generations from oppressive social practices and institutions. These social practices legitimise exclusion and oppress certain groups because their features mark them as inferior to others. Through this oppression these social groups are vulnerable to exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. If this oppression occurs over a long period of time they become historical injustices. Historical oppression is unique in that it formulates identity in terms of conflict and opposition, leaving a stigma even after reparations have been reparations have been attempted. Indigenous cultures that have been conquered by settler colonial powers are an example of historical injustice. In attempting to address the plural dimensions of historical oppression, democratic inclusion must find a way of resolving these issues (Bashir, 2012).

Benjamin Barber (Young, 1989: 256) highlights the opposition between the general interests of the civic polity and the particular interests of private affiliations. Barber states that concepts of the common group are not enforced from a position of authority but agreed upon as part of a common project. Although Barber states that notions of belonging to particular groups are important as well for people, it could be that concepts such as universal citizenship and deliberative democracy may require a degree of impartiality that humans may not be able to practice (Young, 1989). People understand polity from their particular perspective and the narrower their perspective the narrower will be their political view. This occurs in societies where some are privileged while other are oppressed. To recommend that all citizens leave their perspectives and interests behind merely reinforces the privileged position of some and fails to redress the oppression, all the while silencing it by ignoring the perspective of the oppressed. Young (1989) argues that Barber confuses plurality with privatisation, stating that pluralism encourages particular private interest groups to assert their interests over others. She goes on that instead of unified public realm that does not disregard the particular perspectives of individuals but acknowledges the ‘desire to decide together the society’s policies’ (Young, 1989:258). Therefore Young suggests that there should be specific representation of disadvantaged groups in order to enact affirmative action with regard to their participation in the greater group, the greater group already having a strong enough voice (Young, 1989:262).

An objection to deliberative democracy is that its treatment of basic liberties is unacceptable because it is dependent upon a majority decision and restricts the liberty of individuals. Cohen (1997) responds to this objection by stating that deliberative democracy entails informed and autonomous judgements through public deliberations in which free and civil expression is allowed to take place. In this way it includes the individual in decisions for the majority. Another objection is that public deliberation is, in reality, irrelevant to modern political conditions. It is basically an objection that direct democracy cannot occur in modern conditions because the nature of our states is too large and complex in both population and institutions. Especially with regard to the globalization of citizenship in large conglomeration states like the European Union, this objection states that it is difficult to encourage citizens under such conditions of diversity to consider themselves equal participants in acts of cooperative deliberation (Cohen, 1997). By ensuring that institutions engaged in deliberative democracy have arenas through which citizens propose and debate issues for the political agenda, this objection seems nullified. If these institutions can act across communities and states, through the use of social media and online translators people can engage with each other on a local, national and international level.

Habermas advocated such a communitarian approach to democracy based upon mutual communication. In this way deliberative citizenship can use narratives of shared experience to address thinner concepts of liberal theory and particular interest groups. John Dewey termed this type of deliberative vision as a ‘shared way of life’. For Immanuel Kant, without ‘enlarged thought’ or public engagement in the decision-making process that includes other perspectives there is a failure in the human community to live wisely. If one loses touch with public conversation one becomes sensorily deprived ( Boyte, 1995). Addressing issues in the public sphere that involve marginalised social groups, such as indigenous, disabled, or ethnic minority groups, a necessary part of the political process is allowing those groups to become engaged in decision-making. Approaches to this could be through the convening of town meetings where citizens can be involved in discussing problems, and ensuring that election coverage gives voices to a broad range of citizens, especially those that are marginalised, as well as representatives. Civic journalism also can play a role in revealing conditions that may be hidden from the general civic polity (Sirianni and Friedland).

To ensure that institutions work within the desired parameters of a deliberative democracy, it is necessary to understand that material inequalities usually mean political inequalities. Being from a remote or poor community can mean that you have little chance to engage in the democratic process because of lack of access. Therefore, political parties that are able to be supported through public funding are an important enabling feature of deliberative democracy. In this way material disadvantage in the political arena can be overcome and ensures the manifest equality that is a part of the Rawlsian view. Also, by providing a diverse enough range of issues parties can ensure that debate is not restricted to certain issues and provide more open-ended accounts that can properly inform diverse understanding of the common good (Cohen, 1997).

Objections to deliberative democracy on the grounds that it is either too inclusionary or exclusionary are counteracted by methods of storytelling that include people who might otherwise have their voices silenced. Deliberative democracy can provide a solution to the challenge of pluralism in its insistence that participants are able to engage with each other equally and with liberty of deliberation. Critical reasoning is essential for deliberative democracy because it helps to take the decision-making beyond personal preferences and beliefs. Deliberative democracy should also be viewed as an egalitarian approach. Furthermore, through such a Rawlsian egalitarian approach the difference principle can apply and reconciliation between the general community and disenfranchised groups can occur. This is especially important when it comes to redressing historical injustices.

Deliberative democracy is a way in which those who have suffered from historical injustices can be included in the process of decision-making in an attempt to resolve their issues. Elements of affirmative action are advocated to become part of the arena of deliberative democracy to ensure that those people whose voices are usually silenced, such as the marginalised or oppressed, are included in the decision-making process. Liberty and autonomy are able to be protected in the process of deliberative democracy through public decision-making with all free and civil voices being included.

Finally, although modern states are large and populous, smaller arenas, such as social media, where people can voice their opinions on issues are becoming more popular and varied across the political sphere. Civic journalism and publicly funded political parties are also a good way to make sure that those who have little chance to engage in the democratic process have their material disadvantage addressed. Therefore, if the objections to deliberative democracy are addressed then it should be a successful basis for addressing the claims of marginalised social groups.


  1. Bashir, B. (2012), “Reconciling Historical Injustices: Deliberative Democracy and the Politics of Reconciliation”, in Res Publica, 18 (27), 2012, pp. 127-143
  2. Boyte, C.J. (1995), “Beyond Deliberation: Citizenship as Public Work”, Civic Practices Network, viewed on 5 May 2013 on
  3. Cohen, J. (1997) “Deliberation and democratic legitimacy” in Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics , Bohman, James; Rehg, William , 1997 , pp. 67-91
  4. Cohen, J.  (1999),”Reflections on Habermas on Democracy”, in Ratio Juris, 12 (4),December 1999, pp. 385-416
  5. Dryzek, J (2000), Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics and Contestations, Oxford University Press Inc. New York
  6. Rawls, J., (1972), A Theory of Justice, Clarendon Press, Oxford
  7. Sirianni, C., & Friedland, L. (n.d.), “Deliberative Democracy”, Civic Practices Network, viewed in 5 May 2013 on emocracy reliescieties. cess ise issues.ther too inclusionary or exclusionary are conteracted by habit these societies. cess is
  8. Young, Iris Marion. “Polity and group difference: A critique of the ideal of universal citizenship” Ethics , 99:2 , 1989 , 250-274
Amatya Sen claims that ‘capabilities’ provide the relevant evaluative space for understanding equality. However Sen’s theory has been criticised on the grounds that it does not provide sufficient specification of which functionings and capabilities are valuable. This essay investigates the capabilities theory with reference to this kind of criticism and finds that, on the basis of its reliance upon universal values of liberty and autonomy,  Martha Nussbaum’s development of capabilities theory could provide a possible framework for specifying valuable functionings and capabilities.
The capabilities approach is dependent upon the evaluation of those particular functionings that are concerned with the value of life. In the study prepared for the United Nations, Amartya Sen put forward the argument that the capability approach is an improvement on other theories of justice, such as utilitarianism, Rawlsian egalitarianism and libertarianism because it uses other informational focuses to consider social advantage (p.30). The main criticism of Sen’s approach is that it is considered vague in that it does not provide sufficient specifications as to what he thinks are valuable. Martha Nussbaum has taken Sen’s capability approach and put what she argues are universal and concrete values upon it, allowing it to become a theory of justice rather than simply an evaluative space for reckoning what values we should hold.


Sen posits that his approach relies upon the functional states through which one can achieve quality of life. These include such functionings as being adequately nourished, having good health, and are functionings which would be obviously considered values by all. However, other functionings may be more complex but just as widely valued, such as belonging to a social group.  Sen stresses that, although individuals may differ in what they assess as valuable, it is important that these differences are acknowledged when assessing the capabilities that can be derived from these varied functions (Sen, 1993, p.31).

Therefore, Sen (1993, p.32) states that two necessary questions must be asked to evaluate these differing values:

1)      What is the object of the value?

2)      How valuable are the respective objects?

To identify the object of the value entails specifying what Sen terms as ‘the evaluative space’. For utilitarians this is usually defined as happiness or pleasure, whereas the capabilities approach entails identifying the evaluative space in terms of an individual’s capability to function. In this way the capability approach uses evaluative space to allow for a variety of human actions that are ends in themselves rather than means of living or freedoms, such as amounts of income, wealth, or resources etc. (1993, p.33). For Sen, when it comes to questions of freedom of choice then the criteria to be assessed must be linked to the evaluation of the range of capabilities that are open (1993, p.35).

An interesting point that Sen makes about the association of an evaluation of capabilities with freedom is that a person may have the advantage of more freedom than another but it may still result in her achieving less. For example, a person may have access to a capability such as a good education system but for reasons of personal characteristics, such as laziness or distraction, still not bother to achieve their best within it (1993, p.34). Therefore, Sen breaks down these associative values of human advantage as being:

1)      well-being achievement through the promotion of a person’s well-being;

2)      individual achievement through the pursuit of one’s goals; which result in:

3)      well-being freedom

4)      individual freedom (1993, p.34)

For Sen, the well-being of a person becomes an evaluation of the ‘wellness’ of that person rather than an evaluation of their contribution to the state or their success in reaching their goals. In this case, the functionings of the person will be comprised of the four elements above. With regard to this, the functionings of a person appear fundamental to the nature of their well-being, even if they are sourced externally from the person themselves, such as through the fulfilment of helping someone else (1993, p.36).

The functionings that assist well-being vary from the elementary, such as life-expectancy, to the complex, such as being a valued member of the community. The success of the agency of a person requires a broader assessment that can be narrowed to the evaluation of a standard of living to the broader sense of political freedom. It can even be said that the broader sense includes injuries to others, especially loved ones. These things all contribute to the success of someone developing an ability to be happy or the development of their well-being (1993, p.37).

An important thing to note is that, in Sen’s concept of evaluative space, capabilities are derived from functionings. The concepts of well-being and living standards belong to the assessment of functioning rather than capabilities. Therefore a capability is set in the space of functionings (1993, p.38). This calculus model can be used to assess basic needs and is crucial to the identification of capabilities. Sen states that an income-derived concept of poverty can be quite misleading when evaluation allows discrepancies in functionality. This is because the ‘poverty line’ in a developing nation may be quite distinct from that of developed nations (1993, p.40). Sen sees the most advantageous role of the capability approach being the ability to assess varied objects of value, rather than the utility-based approach of happiness or desire fulfilment as being the only value. It also does not place primary goods or resources as value objects, as do the Rawlsian and Dworkinian models (1993, p.44).

Sen (1993, p.49) thinks that it is in its plurality of purpose that that the capability approach works best, especially with regard to well-being and agency. This is especially relevant when judging standards of living and its particular usability lies in its egalitarian calculus that is dependent upon the truth of seeing individual advantages in capabilities and therefore its relevance to other sorts of social evaluation. In having the ability to assess the particular space for the evaluation of opportunities and successes of individuals, Sen asserts that the capabilities approach is an important addition to other theories of justice (1993, p.50).


Nussbaum takes Sen’s abstract mathematical calculus of functionings and put them into concrete terms through which constitutional guarantees can be drawn in civil society. This is Nussbaum’s universal approach (Nussbaum, 2000, p.70). Through applying concrete concepts Nussbaum breaks down standard theories of justice into questions that show how the capabilities approach can change someone’s life. The central question for Nussbaum is: “What is Vasanti actually able to do and to be?” The answer to this question is sought rather than the utilitarian approach: “How satisfied is Vasanti?”; or the  Rawlsian/ Dworkinian: “How much in the way of resources is Vasanti able to command? (2000, p.71)” For Nussbaum, the priority is to measure quality of life so that capabilities can match functionings. The next thing to do is to argue that if people fall below a functioning threshold that is necessary for justice then it should be considered urgent in terms of the injustice it creates (2000, p.71).

Nussbaum’s criteria is based upon the intuitive concept that particular functions are universal in human life and that it is these functions that separate us from other animals. Using the philosophy of Marx, she argues that humans need to be cultivated through education, leisure and self-expression, and also through socialisation with others. Nussbaum adds to this liberty of thought and association, as well as freedom of religion or worship, being fundamental to human autonomy (2000, p.72). A person has activities, goals and projects that are above the needs of nature and need support to fulfil these ideas. The essential element of this is that capabilities are sought for the individual, not groups or states or corporations. These entities can be valuable as means to ends but the well-being of the individual is the end itself (2000, p.74).

Nussbaum states that a list of concrete functionings cannot be a theory of justice however it does advise on what will be a minimum of social justice. She also adds that they could be adjusted to suit the various cultures that they encompass (2000, p.75). Nussbaum’s list of capabilities is a list in which all of the elements are distinct and equal in importance. She gives the example of the absence political rights not being able to be compensated by great economic growth (2000, p.81). Nussbaum states that the capabilities that go with these functionings are of three different types:

1)      Basic capabilities- innate equipment necessary for developing more advanced capabilities and morality, such as the capability of love, gratitude, reason and work;

2)      Internal capabilities- maturity, language, political reasoning, socialization, freedom of speech or religion; and

3)      Combined capabilities- where the environment is prepared so that individuals are able to exercise their major functionings (2000, p.85).

There is also a distinction between internal and combined capabilities in that when there is a sudden alteration in the environment in which the individual is placed, perhaps they have had to flee or migrate to another country, then they may not be able to enact their functionings. Nussbaum gives the example of a child who has never experienced freedom of speech or thought and is not able to develop the same capabilities as someone who was raised in a nation that protects these liberties. Nussbaum focuses on a social minimum of these capabilities as suitable for a system of justice (2000, p.86).

With regard to individual liberty and autonomy being safeguarded in such a system, Nussbaum states that it is important to note that ‘capability not functioning is the appropriate political goal (2000, p.87)’. This appears to coalesce with Sen’s evaluative space, where capabilities are derived from functionings. Nussbaum points out that the capabilities approach is much like Rawls’ notion of primary goods, but the difference between the capabilities approach and Rawls theory of justice is that it does not consider wealth and income as goals or ends, more a reliance upon Rawls’ natural goods such as ‘health, vigour, intelligence and imagination’ (2000, p.89). Capabilities are the things needed for functioning such that any rational being would want them. Even if one does not make use of all of them then no harm has been done if they had the choice (2000, p.88).

However, Nussbaum also states that it is important that capabilities such as bodily integrity may be regulated so as not to undermine the functionings of an individual. Although this may be seen as paternalistic it is perhaps synonymous with illegal contracts in that health and bodily integrity are so important to capabilities and functioning that there can be legitimate interference with choice up to a point (2000, p.95). This does seem to call into question whether Nussbaum would allow such choices as being a sex worker in her system of justice, but she does state that such decisions can be left to the democratic process in each nation (2000, p.95). Nussbaum also states that her list is not meant to be an exhaustive account of what is worthwhile in life and is a facilitation list rather than a tyrannical one (2000, p.95). Nussbaum contends that the political purpose of these capabilities is human well-being. She quotes Sen: ‘Political rights are important not only for the fulfilment of needs, they are crucial also for the formulation of needs. And this idea relates, in the end, to the respect that we owe each other as fellow human beings.’ (Sen, 1994, p.38)

Therefore Nussbaum sees her list of functioning capabilities as being closely aligned with universal human rights. They are quite similar to those initiated and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was ratified in 1948, and have been used by many different peoples to assert justice. One of members of the drafting subcommittee of this document stated: “I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality”.(U.N. n.d.) Nussbaum’s list is intended to give fundamental access to capabilities in order to provide a stable society, which was also the intent of the UDHR. Nussbaum argues that these are not only Western notions of rights: “Ideas of activity and ability are everywhere, and there is no culture in which people do not ask themselves what they are able to do, what opportunities they have for functioning (2000, p.100)”. Considering that what differentiates humans from other animals is their need to realise their ideas, whether they be social, creative, technological, or scientific, it seems that Nussbaum’s argument about the universality of her functional capabilities is valid.

Rather than being a strict theory of justice, Sen’s capability approach has the ability to allow a framework that is both accommodating and adaptable. It has the ability to assess individual well-being and evaluate social arrangements so that policies may be designed that can enact just social change. Through being a practical guide it can inform citizens and governments of the directions that may provide desirable outcomes. While criticisms of Sen’s approach state that it is unclear about how it can be extended into a theory of justice, his non-commitment to single distributive rule allows his notions of functionings and capabilities to be a formula for an evaluative space through which justice may be approached. Nussbaum’s transfer of Sen’s evaluative space into a concrete list of functioning capabilities is comprehensive and is not limited to single-types of social systems but holds true for all human beings. Therefore both Sen’s formulaic approach and Nussbaum’s sufficient account of social justice could be used together to provide a constitutional guarantee of human rights.


  1. Nussbaum, M 2000, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, University of Chicago pp. 70-101
  2. United Nations (n.d.), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, viewed 5 April 2013,
  3. United Nations (n.d.), Universal Declaration of Human Rights: History of the Document, viewed 5 April 2013,
  4. Sen, A 1993, ‘Capability and Well-Being’, in M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (eds),The Quality of Life, Clarendon Press, Oxford pp. 30-52
  5. Sen, A, 1994, ‘Freedom and Needs’, The New Republic, January 10/17, pp. 31-38


‘If only thou couldst feel as I do, and couldst get thee power of speech’

                                                                   (Od. 9.455-58)[1]

An important feature of the relationship between humans and animals since the early Neolithic age is one of reciprocity. In this line from Odysseus, Homer draws our attention to the close symbiotic relationship between a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd provides protection and the sheep provide sustenance and companionship in his lonely life[2]. However, Hesiod stated that it is the notion of justice that holds us apart from animals, with justice demanding that we do not prey on our own kind[3]. Lonsdale notes that Xenophon went further and argued that man is different because of his capacity to speak and reason, and also in his deep religiosity[4]. Yet, while the Greeks were deeply anthropocentric, the Egyptians did not have such a notion of division between human and animal. Humans were not considered superior and animals were considered the vehicle of earthly representation of the gods[5]. To consider ancient notions of the important attributes differentiating human and non-human it is necessary to review the literature left by ancient writers. These writers tend to relegate these attributes into three distinct types: rationality, intelligence and language, and argue for difference or deny it. The ancient argument that is most valid is the one propounded by writers such as Alexander, Plutarch and Porphyry and denies the superiority of humans, as it takes into account what we may not understand.

The first criterion that many ancient writers cite is the lack of rationality found in animals. In the 5th century BCE Alcamaeon of Croton wrote that humans have xunesis, an understanding which is the basis for rational thought. This allows language to develop which assists cultural maturity. He argues that animals do not have this facility and only have perception, or aesthesis, which humans have also[6]. Plato also states that the difference between humans and animals is human rationality and goes on to say that humans who do not use rational thought are no better than beasts[7]. Aristotle also denies animals reason but concedes that they have phronesis which is the knowledge needed to cope with their environment[8]. For Aristotle, humans live by skill and reason, whereas animals live by experience made up of impressions and memories[9]. In his protestation against his nephew Alexander’s assertion of the rationality of animals, Philo of Alexandria declares that, while animals might exhibit courage, only man has the understanding that enables him to form laws and governments, and to worship God[10]. Such a determination was later reflected even more vehemently by Augustine who stated that humans were made in God’s image and that animals were for their use. For Augustine, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” only referred to humans[11].

Other writers, such as Alexander, claimed that animals were very much like humans. Alexander said that there were two types of reason: logos endiathelos (reason within the mind) and logos proporikos (uttered reason), and that animals had both. Alexander used the ability of different animals to construct complex dwellings, especially some birds and bees, to prove reason in animals, and also contended that the deliberation of a dog in following its prey is proof of reason[12]. Plutarch and Porphyry also used such an argument, but Plutarch added that good rational thinking was not apparent in many humans and only came about through much education. He argued that because animals chose between useful and harmful and exhibited fear, hope and desire this proved their rationality[13]. Porphyry extended this further by stating that justice should be awarded to animals because both humans and non-humans are endowed with reason and practise justice[14]. However, Diogenes Laertius contended that the practice of reasoned thought in humans, especially after the fourteenth year, showed that humans have a governing principle, or hegemonikon[15], that allows one to express meaningful language and is considered to be the foundation of intelligence.

Intelligence is the second criterion that ancient writers advance when they assert the superiority of humans over animals. For Aristotle, man is deliberative in that he has intentionality; only man has the ability of recollection and reason which differentiates him intellectually from animals[16]. Philo thought that pleasure and self-preservation were the prime motivating factors of animals and that they did not need intelligence for these[17]. The Stoics stated that humans have no intellectual kinship with animals as they are irrational, and for this reason humans owe them no obligation of justice[18]. There are other ancient writers who disagreed with this view. Alexander asserted that animals do have a sovereign mind[19], while Plutarch contended that the cleverness and intellect animals use for their survival ought to be enough for us to treat them respectfully[20]. Plutarch also believed that humans shared kinship, or oikeinsois, through manner or lifestyle[21]. Lonsdale writes that Aristotle’s follower, Theophrastus, argued that animal sacrifice was wrong because humans and animals shared an intellectual kinship[22]. Further, Cicero thought that while humans were superior in that they had higher intentions, such as the pursuit of comfort, industry and sympathy for others, he conceded that some animals have such higher intentions and some intellect[23].

Higher intentions and intellect could be prerequisites for engaging in contractual behaviour, a foundation of justice. Epicurus stated that, as animals do not have the capacity for language, they do not have the capacity for forming tacit contractual agreements with an intention to respect one another’s interests[24]. Language is the third criterion for the moral status of animals. For Xenophon, humans were superior to animals both intellectually and physically, and this was manifested in the human capacity for articulate language[25]. This view was also reflected by Diogenes Laertius, who stated that the lack of intelligible language in animals proved their inferiority[26]. While Aristotle thought that animals did communicate through language, he countered that it was not based in semantics and therefore inferior to humans[27]. Philo took this argument further, stating that animal utterances are as meaningless as musical notes[28]. However, Lucretius argues that humans and non-humans do engage in tacit contractual agreements. This is illustrated by the guardianship of humans to animals and the return of services and products by animals, and does not require the understanding of languages for it to be beneficial to both parties[29]. Plutarch and Porphyry also argue that humans lack the capacity to understand the language of animals not that animal language has no meaning[30]; as the modern philosopher, Wittgenstein, stated: “If a lion could talk we would not understand him”[31].

Most of the arguments above that deny non-humans the capacity of reason, intelligence and communication result in the denial to animals of any moral obligation. The Stoic, Chrysippus, puts this argument as such: humans and non-humans have three things on common: senses, utterance and reproduction. Humans can also reason, whereas animals are only motivated by impulse. Therefore, humans need not consider the interests of animals[32]. As Aristotle stated, slavery is a natural phenomenon because it is natural for one human to rule over another and as animals are intended for human use it is natural for humans to rule over animals[33]. This denial of interest to animals culminated in Augustine’s use of Aristotle’s and the Stoics’ arguments to defend the use of animals to benefit human lives on the grounds that God gave humans animals in order to help them to salvation[34]. To attribute reason to animals was tantamount to denying Christian notions of humans being fit for the divine recreation of God[35]. The Egyptian practice of animals representing the gods on earth was sacrilegious to Christian sensibilities. Therefore, animals became ‘the other’ and the primacy of humans became paramount.

Rather than a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship based upon the interests of both humans and non-humans, this reliance on a criteria of reason, intelligence and language to assert an anthropocentric world view discounts and ignores all the ancient contentions that counter such a view. Porphyry, Plutarch and Alexander were right in using the many examples from their environment to show that other animals are very much like humans. They live in complex societies, they build complex dwellings, they make choices between good and bad, they exhibit hopes, fears and desires, and have autonomy. As Lucretius stated, humans and non-humans do engage in tacit contractual agreements when they breed animals for their products or services. However, these agreements can quickly degenerate into master/slave relationships when humans disregard the interests of animals. Also, just as some humans cannot understand the language of other humans from another society, so too it is with other animals. Therefore, arguments used by ancient writers to support the claim that animals are different to humans rely upon criteria that are not exclusive to human beings and have caused the suffering of animals for over two thousand years.


  1. Alcaemon of Croton, DK1a, Hermann Diels & Walther Kranz, eds, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th edn (Berlin: Weidmann, 1951-52)
  2. Aristotle, “Metaphysics”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  3. Aristotle, “Parts of Animals”, from Pierre Louis, ed., Aristote; Les Parties des Animaux (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1956)
  4. Aristotle, “Politics”, Jean Aubonnet, ed., Aristote; Politique, Livres I et II (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1968)
  5. Augustine, “De civitate dei” [The City of God], from B. Dombart & A. Kalb, eds, Sancti Aurelii Augustini de Civitate Dei Libri I-X (Turnhout: Brepols, 1955 (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 47)
  6. Beck, J., (2012), “Why we can’t say what animals think”, Philosophical Psychology, 2012, 1-27, Routledge Press
  7. Chryssipus, “SVF”, from Johannes von Arnim, ed. Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta (Stuttgart; Teubner, 1964; reprint of the edition of 1905)
  8. Cicero, “De finibus bonorum et malorum” [On the Ends of Good and Evil], from Claudio Moreschini, ed., M.Tullius Cicero Scripta Quae Manserunt Omnia Fasc. 43: De Finibus Bonorum et  Malorum (Munich and Leipzig: Saur, 2005)
  9. Diogenes Laertius, “Lives of the Philosophers”, from H.S. Long, Diogenis Laertii Vitae Philosophum (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964)
  10. Epicurus, kuriai Doxai [Soveregn Maxims] XXXI and XXXII, as cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 150 [from the life of Epicurus], from Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press
  11. Gilhus, Ingvild S. (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas , Gilhus, Ingvild S. , 2006 , 93-113
  12. Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Works and Days. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1918
  13. Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919
  14. Lonsdale, S.H., (1979), “Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece”, Greece and Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol.26, No.2, (Oct., 1979), 146-159
  15. Lucretius, “De rerum natura” [On the Nature of Things], from Joseph Martin, ed., T. Lucreti Cari de Rerum Natura Libri Sex (Leipzig: Teubner, 1963)
  16. Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press
  17. Philo of Alexandria, “On Animals”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  18. Plato, “Laws”, Burnet, J., ed., Platonis Opera (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901-1902; rept. 1962-1967)
  19. Plutarch, “De esu cranium” [On the Eating of Flesh), from Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge PressPlutarch, “On the Cleverness of Animals”, from Newmyer, S.T., Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, (2011), Routledge Press
  20. Plutarch, “De Stoicurum repugnantis” [On the Self-Contradictions of the Stoics], from Michel Casevitz & Daniel Babut, eds, Plutarque: Ouvres Morales XV (Sur les Contradictions Stoiciennes, etc.) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2004)
  21. Porphyry, “On Abstinence from Animal Flesh”, from Jean Bouffartigue, Michele Patillon, Alain Segond and Luc Brisson, eds, Porphyre; De l’Abstinence (Paris: Les Belle Lettres, 1977-1995)
  22. Wittgenstein, L., (1973), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell
  23. Xenophon, “Memorabilia” [Recollections of Socrates], from E.C. Marchant, ed., Xenophontis Opera Omnia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967)

[1] Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919

[2] Lonsdale, S.H., (1979), “Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece”, Greece and Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol.26, No.2, (Oct., 1979), 149

[3] Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Works and Days. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1914

[4] Lonsdale, Attitudes Towards Animals in Ancient Greece, Greece and Rome, (1979), 156

[5] Gilhus, Ingvild S. (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas , Gilhus, Ingvild S. , 2006 , 99

[6] Alcaemon of Croton, (DK1a)

[7] Plato, Laws, 766a

[8] Aristotle, Politics 1332b3-8

[9] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a28-981a4

[10] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 85

[11] Augustine, De civitate dei [The City of God] , 1.20

[12] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 17; 45

[13] Plutarch, On the Cleverness of Animals, 960D-E

[14] Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Flesh III. 13.1-3

[15] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.55 [from the life of Zeno the Stoic]

[16] Aristotle, History of Animals, 488a20-26;588a16-18-588b3

[17] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals 44

[18] Newmyer, S.T., (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, Routledge Press, 28

[19] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals 29

[20] Plutarch, On the Cleverness of Animals, 960D-E

[21] Plutarch, De Stoicurum repugnantis [On the Self-Contradictions of the Stoics] 1038B

[22] Newmyer, (2011), Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook, 28

[23] Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum [On the Ends of Good and Evil] II. 109-110

[24] Epicurus, kuriai Doxai [Soveregn Maxims] XXXI and XXXII, as cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 150 [from the life of Epicurus]

[25] Xenophon, Memorabilia [Recollections of Socrates] 1.4.11-14

[26] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.55

[27] Aristotle, Parts of Animals 660a35-660b2

[28] Philo of Alexandria, On Animals, 98

[29] Lucretius, De rerum natura [On the Nature of Things] V. 855-877

[30] Plutarch, De esu carnium [On the Eating of Flesh] 994E; Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Flesh III.2-4

[31] Wittgenstein, L., (1973),Philosophical Investigations,  Oxford: Blackwell, XXxi

[32] Chryssipus, SVF 2.821

[33] Aristotle, Politics 1256b15-23

[34] Augustine, De civitate dei, 1.20

[35] Gilhus, (2006) “The religious value of animals” in Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas, 99

Nicholas Georgouras, 2005, Carrara marble, 250cm x 100cm

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Native American proverb


JE Thomas (2007), Invocation, 250 x 150 cm, oil on canvas

Ronald Dworkin points to a distinction between reasons people wish for their lives to go one way or another. One set of reasons he calls experiential preferences and the other set of reasons are critical interests. Experiential preferences are those things that we find enjoyable in life. They also can entail things that are painful or bad experiences but, within limits, these kinds of experiences do not make our whole life worse. Critical interests, Dworkin asserts, are those that people find are essential to their understanding of what constitutes a good life.

Experiential interests are not frivolous and critical interests profound, Dworkin states, it is just that critical interests are important to the aspirations of our lives. In his view, we need to establish the distinction between these two interests in order to understand how people should be treated. It is not difficult to understand why we care about our experiential interests as it is natural to prefer pleasure to pain. But it is more difficult to understand why people should care about their critical interests. Therefore, Dworkin contends that we need an intellectual explanation of how our critical interests connect with the larger beliefs that we have about life.

Critical interests are bound in what Dworkin calls the integrity of our lives; the capacity we have to autonomously structure our lives to contain the right experiences and achievements. Integrity is similar to dignity, which is why we think someone has little self-respect if they have acted perversely for gain or the avoidance of trouble. It is important to understand that one may be mistaken in the decisions one makes for understanding the idea of critical interests. For Dworkin, this is essential to the basic distinction between critical and experiential interests.

In using such a distinction to consider whether death is in the best interests for someone with dementia, Dworkin thinks that we must consider what was important in that person’s life; what was their life narrative. Someone who has dementia may have more to gain through pleasant experience for several years before they die a natural death and to kill oneself through the fear of a lack of experiential interests is probably wrong.  However, Dworkin argues, it is critical interests that matter when we wish to consider how one might die. If people think that they will be living in degrading conditions through being fully dependent then they may wish to choose to die. Therefore Dworkin asserts that these decisions based upon their critical interests before they were afflicted should be taken into account when considering how an advanced dementia patient may not wish to live.

Rebecca Dresser objects to Dworkin’s differentiation between experiential and critical interests on the grounds that it is possible that people do not draw a sharp line between these interests. In the circumstances of dementia, Dresser says, Dworkin fails to consider that critical interests become less important and experiential interests more so, just as they may for people who are brain damaged or intellectually disabled. Dresser states that people who seem happy and contented although they may be suffering from dementia, will experience clear harm from a decision that purports to advance the critical interests that they may no longer care about.

  • Dworkin, Ronald. “Dying and living” in Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion and Euthanasia , Dworkin, Ronald , 1993 , 179-217
  • Dresser, Rebecca. “Dworkin on dementia: Elegant theory, questionable policy” in Bioethics: An anthology , Kuhse, Helga Singer, Peter , 1999 , 312-320

The global environment is connected to the security, economic prosperity and social well-being of both states and individuals. Until recently, the concept of security has only been associated with national security which emphasised armed conflict as the means to attain security through state power. The concept of environmental security broadens this definition by focussing on the transnational nature of the global environment which disregards human-constructed borders . Because of this the environment should replace the traditional realist idea of security as the key issue in global contemporary politics.

All people are in reality transnational actors who can make choices which contribute to the directions of global politics. The American anthropologist Margaret Mead states: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. Realist theorists believe that all decision makers are alike in their approach, that they are unitary actors with no essential differences and make their choices through rational calculations. To make a rational choice one must recognise a problem and define it objectively through access to a complete set of facts. The next step is to select the desired goal and then identify all of the alternatives. Finally, a choice must be made which includes a cost-benefit analysis based upon an accurate prediction of success.

The challenges to the global environment in the century ahead include global warming, ozone depletion, and the loss of tropical rainforests and marine habitats. These challenges are as much a threat to humanity as the threat of nuclear warfare. However, because the threat of nuclear warfare focuses on mutually assured destruction more focus is given to this threat because of its perceived and tangible reality. On the other hand the threats to the global environment are more difficult to perceive because one cannot see ozone depletion or see the immediate effects of global warming. Rainforest destruction happens far away from the major cities in which much of the global population, and so does the loss of marine habitats.

To counter this disassociation from these real challenges, imagery is effective in trying to enlighten global citizens of the inherent ordeals that they and their descendents face in the near future. Through the mass media, the world is defined by images. Many of the perceptions derived from this imagery can distort or intensify our experience of the world’s political realities. Our assumptions or interpretations of these realities can affect the way we act upon them. Environmental NGOs and IGOs such as Greenpeace and the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) use imagery effectively to try and make humans act in a global effort to protect the environment on which they rely from degradation and loss.

The challenges that have arisen out of environmental problems will in effect bring about the ‘politics of scarcity’. This concept emphasizes that resource scarcity brought about by restricted access to food, water and oil will be a more likely cause future international conflict than any military challenge. Human life depends upon what ecologists term ‘the global commons’ which emphasizes the interdependence of humanity with the planet’s ability to sustain it. Lester R. Brown argues: “In ecology, as in economics, we can consume principle along with interest in the short run, but, for the long term, that practice leads to bankruptcy”. The goal that these challenges present to us is one of sustainable development.

In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development authored a report called Our Common Future. It concluded that the world cannot sustain the growth that is required to meet the aspirations of the world’s growing population unless it can adopt a new approach to economic development, equity, resource management and energy efficiency. It defined a ‘sustainable society as one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The alternatives to action on achieving such goals as a sustainable society have diminished since 1987, as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged in 2009 at the Copenhagen Climate Conference: “We must harness the political will to seal the deal on an ambitious new climate agreement…If we get it wrong we face catastrophic damage to people, to the planet”.

Data from the World Meteorological Organisation that monitors the global surface temperatures show that global warming is not a myth. NASA and the IPCC both predict that global temperatures will rise by up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. This will cause sea levels to rise, heat waves and droughts, increase storm damage, extinctions of ecosystems, increase prevalence of diseases and increase hunger and water shortages.  Deforestation causes threats to biodiversity, desertification and exacerbates the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the cause of global warming. The demand and consumption of fossil fuels has caused global warming but is also a threat in the fact that its depletion will cause instability in global economic and political systems, as advisor on peace and security Michael Klare asserts: “We are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency”.

Through neglect, environmental security will compromise human security. With effort and recognition of the impending threats solutions can be achieved, with conversion to renewable sources of energy, adherence to international treaties, sustainable development and independent state and local solutions. The potential of these threats is as pronounced as any threats of armed aggression and in fact, neglect may exacerbate armed conflict between people. Therefore, the imperative to rationally manage global environmental security must replace the traditional realist theory of military security as the key issue in contemporary global politics.