Animals as Moral Claimants

Dorna Behdadi

Philosophers, and others, have engaged in various debates about the boundaries of moral agency and the possibility of moral agents beyond the scope of typical adult humans. Despite the great variance in requirements and the entities considered, a common denominator for these discussions is that the key question is taken to be whether a certain entity qualifies for ascriptions of moral responsibility. I believe that by assuming that moral agency is, first and foremost, a status or set of powers that makes one eligible for such ascriptions or assessments, previous discussions have overlooked a central aspect of moral agency. This aspect can be brought out by adopting a practice-focused approach to moral agency, in particular in its communicative variety.

According to a practice-focused approach to moral agency, a participant stance towards an entity is warranted to the extent by which this entity qualifies as an apt target or recipient of ascriptions of moral responsibility, such as blame. However, taking an objective stance toward someone, indicates the opposite assumption, that is, we view them to be an inapt target of reactive attitudes. While this article adopts a practice-focused approach, I argue that this approach has so far construed participation in moral responsibility practices in an overly one-sided way. I claim that many typically exempted cases, such as nonhuman animals, may qualify as moral agents by being eligible for a distinct participant stance. This expanded theoretical room for moral agency can also serve to illuminate further, normative, reasons against exempting nonhumans as moral agents.

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