McMahan+Animal+Ethics

McMahan+Animal+Ethics - ANIMAL ETHICS The differences...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
ANIMAL ETHICS The differences between human beings and other animals A dramatic way of calling attention to some important property that we share is to assert that it is our possession of this property that distinguishes us from animals. The history of rhetoric thus abounds in claims about the differences between human beings and other animals. But what is it that really differentiates us morally from animals? Most of us, if asked this question, would initially respond by citing some psychological capacity or set of psychological capacities: for example, that we, but not other animals, are self-conscious, rational, autonomous, have the ability to use language, have a moral sense or conscience, have free will or are responsible for our acts, and so on. The problem with this response, however, is that, for each capacity that might be cited, there are some human beings who lack it. (Sometimes the claim is that we possess certain capacities to a much higher degree than any animal. The parallel problem with this claim is that, for each such capacity, there are some human beings who possess it only to the extent that certain animals do.) Some human beings who lack the relevant capacities may nevertheless have the potential to develop them. Many fetuses and infants belong in this category. And other human beings who currently lack the relevant capacities may once have had them. Those who are demented or irreversibly comatose may be in this category. Human beings in these two categories might be thought to be relevantly different from animals by virtue of their past or potential possession of the relevant capacities. But there is a third group – human beings who are congenitally severely cognitively impaired – whose members have never had psychological capacities higher than those of certain animals and also lack the potential to develop them in the future. If it is the possession of certain psychological capacities, or perhaps the possession of such capacities to a high degree, that endows
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Animal Ethics 2 Jeff McMahan November 2000 people such as you and me with a higher moral status than animals, it seems that those human beings who lack the capacities, or who possess them to no greater degree than certain animals do, cannot share our high moral status. Their status should instead be comparable to that of animals with similar psychological capacities. These facts pose a challenge. Most of us are disposed to think that it is by virtue of our psychological nature that we are fundamentally different, morally, from animals. But, as our practices show, we believe that all human beings are different from animals in morally important ways. If we are right about that, it cannot be our psychological capacities that distinguish us, since there are some human beings whose psychological capacities can never be higher than those of certain animals. If our beliefs are to be consistent, therefore, we must either find an alternative basis for our superior status or
Background image of page 2
Image of page 3
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Page1 / 18

McMahan+Animal+Ethics - ANIMAL ETHICS The differences...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 3. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online