Minds that Matter: Seven Degrees of Moral Standing

Between the Species 13 (4) (2004)
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Prominent non-speciesist attempts to determine the amount of moral standing properly attributable to conscious beings argue that certain non-human animals should be granted the highest consideration as self-conscious persons. Most of these theories also include a lesser moral standing for the sentient, or merely conscious, non-person. Thus, the standard approach has been to advocate a two-tiered theory—'sentience' or 'consciousness' and 'self-consciousness' or 'personhood'. While the first level seems to present little interpretative difficulty, the second has recently been criticized as a rather obscurantist label. For it would seem, both on empirical and conceptual grounds, that self-consciousness/personhood comes in degrees. If these observations are at all revealing, they indicate that the two-tiered model is inadequate. This is the view I will support here, replacing the standard dichotomy with a more accurate seven-tiered account of cognitive moral standing adaptable to all three major perspectives of moral reasoning, namely, utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics.

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Julian Friedland
Metropolitan State University of Denver


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