Sentience, communal relations and moral status

Environmental Ethics (forthcoming)
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Thaddeus Metz has developed and defended a “modal-relational” account of moral status based on his interpretation of salient Sub-Saharan African values. Roughly, on this account, a being has moral status to the degree that it can enter into friendly or communal relationships with characteristic human beings. In this paper, it is argued that this theory’s true significance for environmental ethics has thus far not been recognized. Metz’s own view is that the theory entails that only sentient beings have moral status. It is argued here that this is a mistake, and that, once this error is corrected, the view can be used to synthesize major, competing accounts of moral status into a novel, unified account of the moral status of human beings, sentient animals, non-sentient organisms, and inanimate members of the “web of life”. The result is a new framework for thinking about the moral status of various natural entities, which ought to be of great interest to environmental ethicists.

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Ashley Coates
University of Witwatersrand


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