Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 1165–1185 | Cite as

Non-Identity for Non-Humans



This article introduces a non-human version of the non-identity problem and suggests that such a variation exposes weaknesses in several proposed person-focused solutions to the classic version of the problem. It suggests first that person-affecting solutions fail when applied to non-human animals and, second, that many common moral arguments against climate change should be called into question. We argue that a more inclusive version of the person-affecting principle, which we call the ‘patient-affecting principle’, captures more accurately the moral challenge posed by the non-identity problem. We argue further that the failure of person-affecting solutions to solve non-human versions of the problem lend support to impersonal solutions to the problem which avoid issues of personhood or species identity. Finally, we conclude that some environmental arguments against climate change that rely on the notion of personal harm should be recast in impersonal terms.


Non-identity problem Derek Parfit Non-human animals Harm Future generations 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Studies and BioethicsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Studies and PhilosophyUniversity of Colorado-BoulderBoulderUSA

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