I am a moral and political philosopher interested in questions about human/animal relationships, food, liberal/libertarian political theory, and applied ethics. I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield.
I am the current host of the animal studies podcast Knowing Animals. I am also a member of the Research Advisory Committee of the Vegan Society.
Food Justice and Animals
My project at Sheffield, which runs from 2019-2022, is titled Food Justice and Animals. There’s a straightforward sense in which a vegan state is the natural conclusion of animal-rights theory. I want to challenge this. While taking animal rights seriously will mean that animal agriculture as we know it must come to an end, there might be ways that we can have our cow and eat her too. I am exploring the viability of alternative sources of animal protein, including “clean” meat (and related technologies), unfeeling invertebrates, and animals conceptualised as workers (and thus afforded workers’ rights). After all, vegan food systems may have their own problems, both from an animal-rights perspective and a broader food–justice perspective. Arable agriculture can be harmful to animals, and perhaps vegan food systems will be bad for the hungry, workers, and those who value non-vegan foods. In short, I am trying to conceptualise a food system that has it all: ample food, animal protein, and good jobs – all with full respect for animals‘ rights.
From August 2016 to July 2017, I was the Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Studies in the Department of Philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. I was supervised by Professor Will Kymlicka, and used the time to begin writing a monograph provisionally entitled Just Fodder: The Ethics and Politics of Feeding Animals. In the book, I explore the moral and political significance of the multifarious relationships that humans have with animals, from personal relationships of companionship and friendship through to the much more distant relationships that humans (as individuals, states and societies) have with completely “wild” animals.
In Just Fodder, I aim to develop a novel account of liberal animal ethics, according to which, as a matter of justice, animals have negative rights grounded in their interests, and positive entitlements (which may take the form of political rights to be protected by the state or moral demands imposed upon particular humans) grounded in the relationship that they have with humans. Key to the framework is the question of moral agency; while negative rights cannot be violated by non-agents (such as nonhuman predators), human agents can be morally responsible for harms faced by animals to a greater or lesser degree. Inspiration for this account is found in the interest-based rights approach of Alasdair Cochrane, the zoopolitical approach of Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, and the contextual animal ethics of Clare Palmer.
I grew up near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, where I attended local state schools and Barrow Sixth Form College. I read for a BA in Philosophy at Lancaster University, graduating in 2012. My undergraduate dissertation, which was supervised by Sam Clark and won the department’s philosophy dissertation prize, was on the moral and political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. I then read for an MA in Philosophy at Lancaster, with funding from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I graduated in 2013, having completed a dissertation on speciesism with Sam Clark.
With funding from the Department of Education and Learning, Northern Ireland, I began reading for a doctorate at Queen’s University Belfast in the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy in 2013, where I was supervised by David Archard and Jeremy Watkins. My thesis, The Political Turn in Animal Ethics, explored the move in animal ethics from moral philosophy in the 20th century to political philosophy in the 21st. Though broadly endorsing the shift, especially its focus on real-world achievability (which I address through the lens of non-ideal theory) and its move to interest-based rights, I sought to develop the literature in new directions. In particular, I argued that talk of speciesism should find an important place in the subdiscipline, and offered, though did not endorse, an account of animal ethics grounded in right libertarianism, especially the work of Robert Nozick. My first published research article, which appeared in the European Journal of Political Theory, addressed Nozick’s “Lockean proviso” as an interpretative puzzle and a tool for the protection of animal interests.
In addition to my thesis, which addressed methodological and theoretical issues in analytic political theory, my time in Belfast was spent producing two series of articles: the first addressed interconnections between animal ethics and food, and the second looked closely at the kind of relationships humans could have with free-living animals. Highlights of these series include a paper on in vitro meat that was awarded Res Publica‘s annual essay prize in 2016, a paper on animal property rights in Environmental Values, and a paper on the feeding of companion animals published in Pets and People, edited by Christine Overall and published by Oxford University Press. My paper on in vitro meat was subsequently the subject of a Knowing Animals podcast.
The Political Turn in Animal Ethics was examined by Robert Garner and Tom Walker. The thesis was defended in June 2016, and the final version was submitted in August of the same year.