Animals and the agency account of moral status

  • Marc G. WilcoxEmail author


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.


Agency Animals Acting for a reason Autonomy Moral status 



I would like to thank Dr. Gerald Lang and Professor Pekka Väyrynen who read several drafts of this article and Professor Helen Steward who provided helpful feedback on the arguments in this paper. Thanks to the audiences at Ethical Theories and the Animal Issue conference at The University of Milan, and the Centre for Ethics and Metaethics seminar at University of Leeds, where the ideas within this paper were presented. I would also like to thank my anonymous referee at this journal who has provided thorough and constructive feedback on this paper, resulting in a vastly improved final piece. Finally, I am grateful to the University of Leeds for generously awarding me a scholarship which allowed me to complete the research necessary for this article.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BradfordUK

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