If you care for animals in any way, what do we owe them? That's the question poised by Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility, by Martha C. Nussbaum.
At the beginning of the book, Nussbaum introduces to five different animals (including a house finch, a dog, a pig, a whale, and an elephant) and shows us what a good life and a bad life look like for each of these creatures. Next, Nussbaum looks at traditional ethical consideration of animals and decides their approaches are lacking. Instead, she proposes a Capabilities Approach, which seems to be based on this approach to human capabilities. What I understood from the philosophical section was that each type of animal has its best life when it's allowed to exercise its full capabilities (which vary by species). I admit the first several chapters took some time to get through, and I don't think I've fully digested everything she said.
The second half of the book was more practical. Nussbaum examines many of the ways in which we interact with animals, from those we raise for food to those who are our household companions. She discusses how much animals might suffer when being killed for food (she thought fish suffered the least), whether it's ever acceptable to keep animals in zoos (it's impossible to give some animals a fulfilling life in a zoo, but others might flourish), and even whether pet owners provide enough exercise and stimulation for their companions (one of the reasons we don't have pets is because my husband and I both work outside the house, so we can't give a cat or dog enough attention). Nussbaum points out that even wild animals live in areas affected by humans, so they're affected by us too. We need to be good stewards of their living areas and give them the resources and space they need.
Finally, even if we determine what we owe to animals, it's very difficult to enforce protections of animals and their habitats. Since we can't communicate with animals directly, we need advocates for them. Animals might not be fully equivalent to humans on a moral basis, but they deserve more legal protection than they currently receive. Nussbaum concludes that we are moving in the right direction, but as climate change continues to remake the world, the question is whether we will move fast enough to save all the species we still can.