Special P

The BBC have a section on animal ethics in the rather strangely juxtaposed “Religion & Ethics” part of their site. It’s a relatively unsophisticated summary of the issue with short lists of pro and contra arguments of some of the basic points. Here’s the part on self-awareness as a basis for moral status:

There is a serious difficulty with using self-awareness and the preference to stay alive as criteria for full moral status.

Young babies, people in comas, people with certain types of brain defect do not show these characteristics. And this means that these ‘marginal’ human beings deserve less moral consideration than other human beings, and even than some non-human animals.

Most people would regard this as a totally immoral idea, and would want to reject the theory that leads to this conclusion.

So far so so, but then, seemingly out of the blue, they break with the “even-handed” approach:

The easy way to solve the problem is to cheat and put human beings in an even higher moral category, and simply state that even human beings who aren’t self-aware and have no preference to go on living should be regarded as deserving full moral consideration.

This is speciesism, which, despite much criticism, is a perfectly coherent moral position to take.

Is it now? It seems odd to describe it as “cheating” in that case. Making moral distinctions on purely biological or otherwise morally irrelevant grounds seems rather arbitrary and just a touch unfair. That’s the reason why things like sexism and racism are generally considered “not on” these days. But where this issue is concerned, apparently, it’s a fine-and-dandy thing to do. That looks a little bit like special pleading if you ask me.

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1 Response to “Special P”


  1. 1 Ergo February 5, 2007 at 7:03 am

    Speciesism is a variation of intrinsicism, or simply, dogmatism. Objectivism holds that there are no intrinsic values. All values are emerge from a causal agent. Hence, it would be dogmatic to flatly and intrinsically consider human beings “special” or of intrinsic value. That would bring a rapist on par with a scientist in terms of their “instrinsic value.” But that is simply not the case. We condemn and incarcerate the rapist and celebrate the scientist, as it ought to be done.


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