The Traditional Accounts

Paola Cavalieri

in The Animal Question

Published in print January 2002 | ISBN: 9780195143805
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833122 | DOI:
The Traditional Accounts

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In order to understand how we got where we are, I consider the main ways questions of moral status have been dealt with by mainstream Western philosophy. Descartes's defense of an ontological distinction between human and nonhuman animals is examined first, and contrasted with the contemporary paradigm of evolutionary continuity. Kant's confinement of respect to human beings, with the attendant doctrine that we only have indirect duties toward animals, is rejected insofar as it is attained at the cost of a series of surreptitious shifts in the meaning of the notions involved. Finally, Bentham is credited with abandoning the traditional bias in favor of moral agents, and with consistently introducing animals, as conscious beings, into the moral community. Classical utilitarianism is, however, criticized for not tackling the problem of the comparative status of humans and nonhumans in a theoretically satisfactory way.

Keywords: Bentham; Descartes; indirect duty; Kant; moral agency; utilitarianism

Chapter.  11528 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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