Recognizing Animals As Legal Persons: Should They Have Rights

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In this essay I will explore the conceptual basis for recognizing sentient, non-human beings as legal persons and apply both course concepts and the conceptual claims of Tomasz Pietrzykowski in his article, Towards a Modest Naturalization of Personhood in Law. In doing so I will assess the current development with respect to non-personal subjects of law and how it shapes the dynamic within the law of persons and property.

On October 2015, an Argentine criminal appeals court set a ground-breaking precedent by giving a female orangutan Sandra, legal rights to life, liberty and freedom from harm. Prior to this case, legal personality for animals had been rejected on the basis that personhood could only include humans or inanimate entities created to facilitate economic development in human societies. The concept of personhood is very subjective, as animals are seen as property (objects) they don’t share the same rights as their human owners do, which is why it remains difficult for legal claims to be filed regarding zoo primates. Although these animals are removed from their natural habitats and imprisoned in zoos they don’t possess the rights to freedom which makes Sandra’s case remarkable as the orangutan sets a precedent that could motivate legal efforts for other animals.

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In his paper, Towards Modest Naturalization of Personhood in Law, Tomasz Pietrzykowski explores the humanistic foundations of the law as he addresses the eligibility of personhood: who does and does not count as a person in the eyes of the Law. He claimed personhood to be the foundation of our legal system and believed that distinguishing non personal subjects of law from full-fledged persons was necessary for a more cohesive legal framework. Judicial Humanism establishes that one of the key philosophical foundations of the contemporary legal system is the belief that the human being is both the creator and the main subject of law; the law exists because of human beings and it exists in order to protect and further their social interests. According to Pietrzykowski, regulations concerning people in the eyes of the law can vary depending on the time and the place: the views we possess today of legal personhood has and may be subject to change as society evolves and progresses. There is a specific distinction of two entities in the legal system, persons and non-persons. The former possess rights while the latter is owned thus not possessing rights. The legal conception of being either a person or property and the classification derived from the notion establishes a sense of hierarchy between beings, worldwide legal systems depend on the idea of legal persons: who holds legal rights. The law grants rights and duties to human beings and juristic person which we know as artificial non-human constructs, such as corporations, estates etc. recognized as having legal rights and duties. The term juristic persons is used to distinguish non-human persons from natural persons. Human beings and the designation of personhood that they are given is based on the moral reasoning that they are rational individuals with the competence to adopt autonomous responsible decisions. This doesn’t negate the occasional equal level of legal protection that juristic persons are given, it establishes a deeper sense of hierarchy as the legal rights they are given depends on the level of social impact they can provide for human beings. Pietrzykowski proposes the idea of a middle ground category of non-personal subjects of law. This idea is predominantly aimed at defining the legal status of non-human sentient animals. Non-personal subjects of law differ from objects through the acknowledgment of their ability to have their own subjective interests that legally matter. They only have one right: to be taken into account. He claims that this right is essential with regards to considering the fundamental subjective interests of individual creatures in all decisions that may significantly affect them. They must not be ignored and the author argues that the idea of non-personal subjects of law is better as opposed to granting animals the status of persons.

In discussing legal personhood, I have made a crucial realization: it is necessary to distinguish the notions of human being and that of a person. I’ve always believed animals were worth more than being instruments for human beings, and that their interests should be morally relevant. However, I also understand the authors perspective with respect to the fact that animals can’t conform to our traditional definition of persons, both natural, and juristic. Pietrzykowski believed attempting to fit animals into the conceptual categories of personhood wasn’t logical.

Pietrzykowski proposes a flexible framework for non-personal rights attribution, one in which the concrete protection of non-personal subjects could be adjusted on a case-by-case basis. Such an approach may contribute the development of the view that each individual animals subjective good should count under the eyes of the law. However, requiring that individual animal interests be taken into consideration when adopting a given policy decision even if such interests are ultimately overridden by other, human interests may serve to provoke certain changes in the underlying social attitudes. Nevertheless, legal personhood is not something static but, quite the opposite, a concept that can and must adapt to changing conditions such as scientific discoveries and developing social conceptions of individual worth. The extension of legal personhood in any particular point in time and space reflects the underlying knowledge and values of the society in question and those advances should be appropriately recognized on a legal level.  

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Recognizing Animals As Legal Persons: Should They Have Rights. (2021, October 26). WritingBros. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from
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