Against moral intrinsicalism

In Elisa Aaltola & John Hadley (eds.), Animal Ethics and Philosophy: Questioning the Orthodoxy. London: Rowman and Littlefield International. pp. 31-45 (2015)
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This paper challenges a widespread, if tacit, assumption of animal ethics, namely, that the only properties of entities that matter to their moral status are intrinsic, cross‐specific properties—typically psychological capacities. According to moral individualism (Rachels 1990; McMahan 2002; 2005), the moral status of an individual, and how to treat him or her, should only be a function of his or her individual properties. I focus on the fundamental assumption of moral individualism, which I call intrinsicalism. On the challenged view, pigs, puppies and babies, insofar as they are intrinsically similar in morally relevant respects are equally deserving of having their interests satisfied (Norcross 2004). Moreover, relationships—merely agent-relative—are assumed to be irrelevant to moral status. I argue that, while some intrinsic properties are indeed fundamentally relevant, the principled exclusion of extrinsic properties (in virtue of extrinsicness) is unwarranted. From uncontroversial assumptions about supervenience, final value, and moral status, I argue for the relevance of extrinsic properties to moral status based on vulnerability and “reasonable partiality”, as illustrated by pet-keeping.
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First archival date: 2015-08-25
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