Impact case studies

Persons as animals

Rethinking the relationship between humans and animals

Professor Helen Steward and Dr Lea Salje, School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science

Impact summary

Working in collaboration with Chester Zoo, Leeds researchers have provided new insights into the complex relationships between humans and animals.

Through a series of focus groups they have uncovered diverse views on whether we see ourselves as somehow distinctive from the rest of the animal kingdom or a fully integrated part of it.

An AHRC Leadership Fellow award has supported Professor Helen Steward and Dr Léa Salje to combine philosophical theorising about humanity and animality with real-world discussions with zoo visitors, aimed at uncovering some of the presuppositions that underlie our thinking about the place of humanity in the universe.

The results of the investigations have revealed the ambiguous status of animals, building on Professor Steward’s highly-acclaimed A Metaphysics for Freedom (2012). These findings have important implications for how we approach diverse contemporary challenges such as habitat and species protection, bringing a critical philosophical perspective on our relationship with other species.

Underpinning research

Human beings are animals. But what does this mean for our understanding of ourselves? What are the crucial capacities distinctive of animal life? How should the fact that these capacities are indeed the capacities of whole, integrated animals contribute to our understanding of them?

Researchers at Leeds have been pioneering new ways of understanding our conceptions of humanity and of animality. In a 2016 article Professor Steward has argued that we need to recognise the person-like features of many animals and might require new concepts in order to do justice to the truth about them.

This research was done by Professor Helen Steward and Dr Lea Salje within the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science.