Nonhuman Animals: Not Necessarily Saints or Sinners

Between the Species 17 (1):1-30 (2014)
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Higher-order thought theories maintain that consciousness involves the having of higher-order thoughts about mental states. In response to these theories of consciousness, an attempt is often made to illustrate that nonhuman animals possess said consciousness, overlooking an alarming consequence: attributing higher-order thought to nonhuman animals might entail that they should be held morally accountable for their actions. I argue that moral responsibility requires more than higher-order thought: moral agency requires a specific higher-order thought which concerns a belief about the rightness or wrongness of affecting another’s mental states. This “moral thought” about the rightness or wrongness is not yet demonstrated in even the most intelligent nonhuman animals, thus we should suspend our judgments about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of their actions while further questioning the recent insistence on developing an animal morality.

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Cheryl (C.E.) Abbate
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


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