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Will Kymlicka

Kymlicka in 2008
Born1962 (age 61–62)
London, Ontario, Canada
Notable workZoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (co-authored with Sue Donaldson, 2013)
SpouseSue Donaldson
AwardsOfficer of the Order of Canada (2023)
Killam Prize (2004)
Pierre Chauveau Medal (2001)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolModern liberalism
Doctoral advisorG. A. Cohen
Doctoral studentsOmid Payrow Shabani
Main interests
Notable ideas
  • Multicultural citizenship
  • Political theory of animal rights
  • Societal culture (a culture which provides its members with meaningful ways of life across the range of human activities)

William Kymlicka OC FRSC (/ˈkɪmlɪkə/; born 1962)[1] is a Canadian political philosopher best known for his work on multiculturalism and animal ethics. He is currently Professor of Philosophy and Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen's University at Kingston, and Recurrent Visiting Professor in the Nationalism Studies program at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. For over 20 years, he has lived a vegan lifestyle, and he is married to the Canadian author and animal rights activist Sue Donaldson.[2][3]

Education and career

Kymlicka received his B.A. (Honours) in philosophy and political studies from Queen's University in 1984, and his D.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University in 1987, under the direction of G. A. Cohen. He has written extensively on multiculturalism and political philosophy, and several of his books have been translated into other languages. Kymlicka has held professorships at a variety of different universities in Canada and abroad, and has also worked as an advisor to the Government of Canada.[4]


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One of his main concerns throughout his work is providing a liberal framework for the just treatment of minority groups, which he divides into two basic categories: polyethnic or immigrant groups, and national minorities (such as the Canadian Québécois, or the Māori of New Zealand). He lists criteria for national minorities or "minority nations":

  1. present at founding;
  2. prior history of self-government;
  3. common culture;
  4. common language;
  5. governing selves through institutions.

By these criteria, the two "minority nations" in Canada are the Indigenous peoples in Canada and the Québécois. Kymlicka argues that such minority groups deserve unique rights from the state by the nature of their unique role and history within the national population.

Polyethnic groups are less deserving of such rights since they come to the state voluntarily and thus have some degree of responsibility to integrate to the norms of their new nation. This does not mean that they are not entitled to any rights as Kymlicka argues that all cultural minorities have a right to choose their own lives, but it does mean that they are not entitled to the same level of group rights which minority nations would be entitled to. Kymlicka makes various exceptions such as the problems faced by refugees, whether from conflict or poverty, and by such minority groups such as African-Americans (whose heritage in America clearly did not begin voluntarily) and argues that their needs with regards to cultural group-specific rights should be considered on a special basis.

In Multicultural Citizenship (1995), Kymlicka argues that group-specific rights are consistent with liberalism, and are particularly appropriate, if not outright demanded, in certain situations. He defines three such group-specific rights: special group representation rights (such as affirmative action policies in politics); self-government rights; and polyethnic rights (such as the policy exempting Sikhs from having to wear motorcycle helmets).

A distinction that Kymlicka draws, which is crucial to his liberal defence of group-specific rights for minorities, is between external protection and internal restrictions. Kymlicka argues that external protections between groups may be justified in order to promote equality (but they must not allow for oppression or exploitation, as in apartheid in South Africa). Internal restrictions, however, cannot be justified from a liberal perspective, insofar as they restrict a person's autonomy, though they may be granted in certain cases to national minorities.

Brian Barry argues that Kymlicka's views are not liberal at all, in the sense that they are not universalist in nature and that they allow for cultural relativism. Barry further accuses Kymlicka of posing a false choice between liberalism as autonomy and liberalism as tolerance, further asserting that claims for cultural rights and for equality of treatment are incompatible.[5] Young Kim provides an interesting comparison of their two views on multiculturalism and the limits of liberalism.[6]

Human rights

For Kymlicka, the standard liberal criticism, which states that group rights are problematic because they often treat individuals as mere carriers of group identities, rather than autonomous social agents, is overstated or oversimplified. The actual problem of minorities and how they should be viewed in liberal democracies is much more complex. There is a distinction between good group rights, bad group rights, and intolerable group rights.

  1. Bad group rights (internal restrictions) are rules imposed by the group upon intragroup relations. They most often take the form of the group restricting the liberty of individual members in the name of group solidarity. Indigenous groups try to protect themselves from women's movements on the basis that they threaten the social and traditional role of indigenous populations. He contends that may raise the danger of individual oppression. Internal restrictions can be used to uphold violent, dominant, absolutist systems. Legally-imposed internal restrictions are thus bad and almost always unjust, not to mention that they go against liberal ideals.
  2. Good group rights (external protections) involve intergroup relations. Indigenous groups need protection in terms of their nationals identities by limiting the vulnerability of that group to the decisions of external groups or society. Therefore, they should have the right to their own taxation, health care, education, and governance.

Animal rights

The book Zoopolis, by Sue Donaldson and co-authored with Kymlicka, explores the state of animal rights for different categories of animals.

Donaldson and Kymlicka believe that abolitionism is an inadequate response to both the ethical and practical challenges of living fairly and constructively with other animals.

Donaldson and Kymlicka suggest that animals should be characterized through three categories, serving to determine the nature of the laws and politics that should protect those animals. Domesticated animals should be given a kind of adjusted co-citizenship in which their best interest and preferences would be taken into account. Donaldson and Kymlicka defend the end of their use, advocating for a vegan position, but they reject extinctionism with regards to those animals that are currently breed by humans. Wild animals should be granted sovereignty on their land enough so that they can sustain their way of living and prosper. Donaldson and Kymlicka support some moderate forms of intervention to reduce wild animal suffering, and they claim that more significant courses of action should be aiming at keeping wild animals able to lead their lives. "Liminal" animals, those that are not domesticated but live in urban, suburban, or industrial areas (such as mice, pigeons and insects), should be treated as denizens of human communities.[7]

Awards and honours

Selected publications

See also


  1. ^ Braund, Michael J. (18 November 2014). "Will Kymlicka". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  2. ^ "Interview with Will Kymlicka from June 2015". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 2 June 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  3. ^ Will Kymlicka's home page, where he discloses that he is married to co-author Sue Donaldson.
  4. ^ "Biography", Will Kymlicka's Homepage. Accessed 17 February 2011.
  5. ^ Brian Barry, Culture and Equality (Polity Press, 2001) ISBN 978-0-7456-6564-1
  6. ^ Young Kim, Justice as Right Actions: An Original Theory of Justice in Conversation with Major Contemporary Accounts (Lexington Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4985-1651-8).
  7. ^ Donaldson, Sue and Kymlicka, Will, 2011. Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, Oxford: OUP.
  8. ^ Weinberg, Justin (22 September 2021). "Kymlicka Wins Chauveau Medal". Daily Nous. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  9. ^ "Masai Ujiri, Kent Monkman appointed to Order of Canada". Toronto Star, June 20, 2023.
  10. ^ "Order of Canada appointees – June 2023". The Governor General of Canada. 30 June 2023. Retrieved 30 June 2023.