Are the folk utilitarian about animals?

Philosophical Studies 180 (4):1081-1103 (2022)
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Robert Nozick famously raised the possibility that there is a sense in which both deontology and utilitarianism are true: deontology applies to humans while utilitarianism applies to animals. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in such a hybrid views of ethics. Discussions of this Nozickian Hybrid View, and similar approaches to animal ethics, often assume that such an approach reflects the commonsense view, and best captures common moral intuitions. However, recent psychological work challenges this empirical assumption. We review evidence suggesting that the folk is deontological all the way down—it is just that the moral side constraints that protect animals from harm are much weaker than those that protect humans. In fact, it appears that people even attribute some deontological protections, albeit extremely weak ones, to inanimate objects. We call this view Multi-level Weighted Deontology. While such empirical findings cannot show that the Nozickian Hybrid View is false, or that it is unjustified, they do remove its core intuitive support. That support belongs to Multi-level Weighted Deontology, a view that is also in line with the view that Nozick himself seemed to favour. To complicate things, however, we also review evidence that our intuitions about the moral status of humans are, at least in significant part, shaped by factors relating to mere species membership that seem morally irrelevant. We end by considering the potential debunking upshot of such findings about the sources of common moral intuitions about the moral status of animals.

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