A Practice‐Focused Case for Animal Moral Agency

Journal of Applied Philosophy 38 (2):226-243 (2020)
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Considerations of nonhuman animal moral agency typically base their reasoning and (very often negative) verdict on a capacity‐focused approach to moral agency. According to this approach, an entity is a moral agent if it has certain intrapersonal features or capacities, typically in terms of conscious reflection and deliberation. According to a practice‐focused notion of moral agency, however, an entity is a moral agent in virtue of being a participant of a moral responsibility practice (MRP). I argue that a practice‐focused approach to moral agency, combined with empirical evidence from research on canid social play and cognition, with support from The Function Argument, makes the notion of nonhuman animal moral agency more likely than usually indicated. However, the support is not absolute, as the practice‐focused approach itself may be put into question. I describe how this objection prompts us to critically assess any empirical, metaethical, or normative assumptions on these matters. These questions, in turn, raise a number of further questions of how we should conceive of, use, and evaluate whatever standards of moral agency we adopt.

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Dorna Behdadi
University of Gothenburg


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