Discrimination, Partial Concern, and Arbitrariness

Gerald Lang

in Luck, Value, and Commitment

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599325
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741500 | DOI:
Discrimination, Partial Concern, and Arbitrariness

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Drawing on some of Bernard Williams's work, especially his essays ‘The Idea of Equality’ and ‘The Human Prejudice’, this chapter argues that ‘speciesism’ is very unlike racism or sexism, and that much of the philosophical apparatus which has been mobilized on behalf of anti-speciesism, such as moral individualism and the argument from marginal cases, is unsound. Moral individualists hold that the standards of appropriate ethical treatment of a creature must display fundamental sensitivity to only the intrinsic non-relational properties exemplified by that creature. But this doctrine cannot tell us, all by itself, when a creature has been unfortunate, and hence deserving of protection or compensation. Those questions can only be settled by locating the creature in a community of fellow creatures, which define the relevant standards of flourishing and misfortune. It is further contended that there is nothing unintelligible or morally obnoxious about defining these communities in species-sensitive ways, and that our understanding of the wrongness of racism and sexism is actually dependent on the background thought that those individuals who are victimized by racist or sexist treatment belong to a particular community: the human community.

Keywords: discrimination; moral status; animals; speciesism; racism; moral individualism; vulnerability; misfortune; relativity; Bernard Williams; Peter Singer; Jeff McMahan

Chapter.  16727 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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