A Pluralist–Expressivist Critique of the Pet Trade

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Elizabeth Anderson's “pluralist–expressivist” value theory, an alternative to the understanding of value and rationality underlying the “rational actor” model of human behavior, provides rich resources for addressing questions of environmental and animal ethics. It is particularly well-suited to help us think about the ethics of commodification, as I demonstrate in this critique of the pet trade. I argue that Anderson's approach identifies the proper grounds for criticizing the commodification of animals, and directs our attention to the importance of maintaining social practices and institutions that respect the social meanings of animals. Her theory alone, however, does not adequately address the role of the state in this project. Drawing on social contract theory to fill this gap, I conclude that the state's role in regulating the pet trade should be limited to ensuring the welfare of animals in the stream of commerce, not prohibiting their mass marketing altogether.

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