McMahan on Speciesism and Deprivation

Southern Journal of Philosophy 53 (2):216-226 (2015)
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Jeff McMahan has long shown himself to be a vigorous and incisive critic of speciesism, and in his essay “Our Fellow Creatures” he has been particularly critical of speciesist arguments that draw inspiration from Wittgenstein. In this essay I consider his arguments against speciesism generally and the species-norm account of deprivation in particular. I argue that McMahan's ethical framework is more nuanced and more open to the incorporation of speciesist intuitions regarding deprivation than he himself suggests. Specifically, I argue that, given his willingness to include a comparative dimension in his “Intrinsic Potential Account” he ought to recognize species as a legitimate comparison class. I also argue that a sensible speciesism can be pluralist and flexible enough to accommodate many of McMahan's arguments in defense of “moral individualist” intuitions. In this way, I hope to make the case for at least a partial reconciliation between McMahan and the “Wittgensteinian speciesists”, e.g. Cora Diamond, Stephen Mulhall, and Raimond Gaita

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Christopher Grau
Clemson University


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