Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The familiar divide between moral agents and patients in philosophical ethics seems unable to accommodate a growing body of empirical evidence that indicates the presence of moral behavior in nonhuman animals. This dissertation develops the idea that nonhuman animals might be moral subjects without necessarily being agents. Broadly, moral subjects are beings who can act for moral reasons, while moral agents can additionally scrutinize their motivations to act. A three-way distinction between moral patients, moral subjects, and moral subjects who are also agents provides the conceptual space needed to analyize and explain the pro-social, altruistic, and other-regarding behaviors evident in members of other species. Specifically, in what follows, I argue that we ought to think of some nonhuman animals as beings who can act morally through the exercise of their capacities for empathy (explicationed in terms of an interaction theory model) and adaptivity (in response to feedback about their behaviors from conspecifics or interspecies members of their community). I defend the claim that those nonhuman animals whose behavior indicates the exercise of these capacities are moral subjects. Approaching matters in this way allows us to avoid the problems associated with understanding nonhuman animals as moral agents, while also acknowledging (in keeping with recent empirical findings) that there may be other ways of being moral that are not reducible to being an object of moral concern.
dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Vincent, Sarah Katherine, "Empathy's Significance for the Moral Status of Nonhuman Animals" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1186.