Species-based inequality is embedded in our institutions of law, government, and property. Legal distinctions between people and animals drive biodiversity loss. Recent environmental movements—including the rights of nature, animal rights, and wildlife property ownership—seek to lessen the gap in law’s unequal treatment of humans and other living things. Despite growing popular support for such reforms, legal scholars have yet to directly grapple with the mindset underlying the legal status quo.

This Article identifies and challenges institutionalized speciesism in law. It critically examines the legal treatment of non-human animals. It also presents an alternative legal worldview—one informed by scientific, cultural, and religious inputs. Current legal discussions operate in terms of “humans and animals”; such conceptions should shift towards a conception of “humans as animals.” Laws do not merely govern human relationships with one another; they also govern human relationships with the broader natural world—which is itself alive and filled with other sentient beings.

Human-created legal institutions are artificially limited in scope to human concerns. Such narrowness conflicts with biological reality, in which we exist within a broader natural context. This creates a fundamental mismatch between our too-narrow institutions and the real world, a world in which humankind lives in constant relationship with all other living things. Anthropocentric institutions artificially stripped of biological context unwittingly drive widespread devastation by systemically failing to account for non-human interests. Until humans broaden our institutions to reflect biological reality, we are doomed to continue decimating the world at ever-increasing rates. Only radically reforming institutions blind to other species will end this cycle, and thus, paradoxically, prevent humankind from indirectly, unintentionally destroying ourselves by destroying the environment upon which we depend.

Law must begin to forthrightly engage questions of equality and distribution between humans and other living things. Our fate is inexorably intertwined with the fate of other living things. To save ourselves requires “saving” the natural world. We must apply the talents of our species—law among them—in a manner better aligned with reality. Shifting to an understanding of humans as animals is not a merely linguistic or philosophical move—it is the linchpin of an emerging conception of law harmonized with the natural world.



Included in

Animal Law Commons