The Function Argument for Ascribing Interests

Synthese (forthcoming)
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Abstract

In the debate over the moral status of nonsentient organisms, biocentrists argue that all living things, including nonsentient ones, have interests of their own. They often defend this claim by arguing that living organisms are goal-directed, functionally organized systems. This argument for ascribing interests has faced a serious challenge that is sometimes called the Problem of Scope. Critics have argued that ascribing interests on the basis of functional organization would have implausible implications regarding the scope of the argument, such as ascribing interests to inanimate artifacts and machines. In this paper, I argue that much of the recent discussion on the Problem of Scope is based on an uncharitable interpretation of the argument for ascribing interests, which presupposes a reductionist account of functions. I assess this version of the argument, and explain why it cannot succeed. I then consider an alternative interpretation of the argument, which starts from a non-reductionist account of functions. I argue that this version of the argument avoids the Problem of Scope, while acknowledging that it has limitations of its own.

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Parisa Moosavi
York University

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