Animal moral psychologies

In Manuel Vargas & John Doris (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press (2022)
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Observations of animals engaging in apparently moral behavior have led academics and the public alike to ask whether morality is shared between humans and other animals. Some philosophers explicitly argue that morality is unique to humans, because moral agency requires capacities that are only demonstrated in our species. Other philosophers argue that some animals can participate in morality because they possess these capacities in a rudimentary form. Scientists have also joined the discussion, and their views are just as varied as the philosophers’. Some research programs examine whether animals countenance specific human norms, such as fairness. Other research programs investigate the cognitive and affective capacities thought to be necessary for morality. There are two sets of concerns that can be raised by these debates. They sometimes suffer from there being no agreed upon theory of morality and no clear account of whether there is a demarcation between moral and social behavior; that is, they lack a proper philosophical foundation. They also sometimes suffer from there being disagreement about the psychological capacities evident in animals. Of these two sets of concerns—the nature of the moral and the scope of psychological capacities—we aim to take on only the second. In this chapter we defend the claim that animals have three sets of capacities that, on some views, are taken as necessary and foundational for moral judgment and action. These are capacities of care, capacities of autonomy, and normative capacities. Care, we argue, is widely found among social animals. Autonomy and normativity are more recent topics of empirical investigation, so while there is less evidence of these capacities at this point in our developing scientific knowledge, the current data is strongly suggestive.

Author Profiles

Kristin Andrews
York University
Susana Monsó
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia


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