Pets, Power, and the Problem of Human Tyranny

    Activity: Talk or presentation for an academic audienceInvited talk for an academic audience


    A central tenet of liberal political philosophy is that no individual naturally has legitimate power or authority over another. In this paper, we consider the legitimacy of the power wielded over a largely neglected population, namely, pets. While everyone objects to the abuse or neglect of pets, many of those writing in animal ethics assume that there is nothing inherently problematic about the social and political practices that assign “guardians” extensive power over the lives of “pets.” Against this, we argue that our power over pets and other domesticated animals amounts to an objectionable form of subordination. More specifically, we argue that the relations of power that obtain between humans and pets are illegitimate because they (i) unnecessarily subject dependent and vulnerable individuals to serious risks of harm, and (ii) involve a problematic form of total control over domesticated animals’ lives. We further argue that the power wielded by humans cannot be legitimated by revisions to existing practices. The practical upshot is that, while we must continue to care for the pets already here, we have a strong reason to bring about an end to the practice of living with companion animals.

    Estimated audience numbers (if applicable)

    Period5 Dec 2023
    Held atUniversity of Southampton, United Kingdom
    Degree of RecognitionRegional


    • Power
    • Pets
    • Legitimacy
    • Ethics
    • Injustice
    • Vulnerability
    • Control
    • Agency