Animals and the agency account of moral status

Philosophical Studies 177 (7):1879-1899 (2020)
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In this paper, I aim to show that agency-based accounts of moral status are more plausible than many have previously thought. I do this by developing a novel account of moral status that takes agency, understood as the capacity for intentional action, to be the necessary and sufficient condition for the possession of moral status. This account also suggests that the capacities required for sentience entail the possession of agency, and the capacities required for agency, entail the possession of sentience. Thus on this account sentient beings possess agency and agents possess sentience. If this is correct, it will show that an Agency Account of moral status can offer a plausible defence of the moral status of all sentient beings, something that previous Agency Accounts have not succeeded in doing. What is more, this account could establish that all sentient animals are not just moral status holders per se, but that they are owed pro tanto obligations regarding continued existence and liberty, similar in kind, though not always in strength, to those owed to humans.

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Marc G Wilcox
University of Leeds (PhD)


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