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What’s Wrong with Speciesism

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  1. 1.

    Shelly Kagan, “What’s Wrong With Speciesism?,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 33, no. 1 (2016): 1-21.

  2. 2.

    See David DeGrazia, “Modal Personhood and Moral Status: A Reply to Kagan’s Proposal,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 33, no. 1 (2016): 22-25; Jeff McMahan, “On ‘Modal Personism,’” Journal of Applied Philosophy 33, no. 1 (2016): 26-30. For more detailed defenses of modal personism, see Doran Smolkin, “Kagan on Speciesism and Modal Personism,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 36, no. 1 (2019): 73-92; Shelly Kagan, How to Count Animals, More or Less (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

  3. 3.

    See Peter Singer, “Why Speciesism Is Wrong: A Response to Kagan,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 33, no. 1 (2016): 31-35.

  4. 4.

    See Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, updated edn. (New York: Harper, 2009); Practical Ethics, 3rd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

  5. 5.

    Kagan provides a second reconstruction of Singer’s argument, according to which speciesism is wrong because it is mere prejudice—that is, “a view [held] on the basis of evidence that you wouldn’t otherwise consider adequate” (“What’s Wrong With Speciesism?,” p. 8; see also Samuel Director, “Speciesism, Prejudice, and Epistemic Peer Disagreement,” The Journal of Value Inquiry (2020): 1-20). In his response paper, Singer complains that this is a straw man. Speciesism is not wrong because of some kind of epistemic defect but because it breaches the principle of equal consideration (“Why Speciesism Is Wrong,” p. 33).

  6. 6.

    Kagan, op. cit., p. 21.

  7. 7.

    Ibid., p. 5.

  8. 8.

    Ibid., p. 21.

  9. 9.

    Ibid., p. 6 ; see also Kagan, Counting Animals, p. 107.

  10. 10.

    Kagan, “What’s Wrong With Speciesism?,” p. 5.

  11. 11.

    Singer, op. cit., p. 33.

  12. 12.

    Ibid., p. 33.

  13. 13.

    For evidence of how widespread (something like) this more abstract intuition is, see Jonathan Baron & Ilana Ritov, “Intuitions About Penalties and Compensation in the Context of Tort Law,” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 7, no. 1 (1993): 17-33; K.M. Carlsmith, J.M. Darley, & P.H. Robinson, “Why Do We Punish? Deterrence and Just Deserts as Motives for Punishment,” Journal of personality and social psychology 83, no. 2 (2002): 284-299.

  14. 14.

    Kagan, Counting Animals, p. 107.

  15. 15.

    See Oscar Horta, “What Is Speciesism?,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 23, no. 3 (2010): 243-266, p. 254.

  16. 16.

    See Singer, op. cit., p. 32, where Singer makes the same point but at the level of races and sexes: we need the principle of equal consideration to rule out racism and sexism because, as far as we know, there might be factual inequalities between races or between sexes.

  17. 17.

    James Rachels, Created From Animals. The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 183.

  18. 18.

    See also Hugh LaFollette & Niall Shanks, “The Origin of Speciesism,” Philosophy 71, no. 275 (1996): 41-61, p. 43; Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 214; Jeff McMahan, “Our Fellow Creatures,” The Journal of Ethics 9, no. 3-4 (2005), 353-380, p 361.

  19. 19.

    For example, see Cora Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People,” Philosophy 53, no. 206 (1978): 465-479; Cora Diamond, “The Importance of Being Human,” Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 29 (1991): 35-62; Stephen Mulhall, “Fearful Thoughts,” London Review of Books 24 (2002): 18.

  20. 20.

    For example, see McMahan, “Our Fellow Creatures.”

  21. 21.

    McMahan, The Ethics of Killing, p. 226.

  22. 22.

    See Isaac Wiegman, “The Evolution of Retribution: Intuitions Undermined,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98, no. 2 (2017): 193-218; Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek & Peter Singer, “The Objectivity of Ethics and the Unity of Practical Reason,” Ethics 123, no. 1 (2012): 9-31.

  23. 23.

    J.D. Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotions, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them (New York: Penguin, 2013), pp. 279-284; J.D. Greene & Jonathan Baron, “Intuitions About Declining Marginal Utility,” Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 14 (2001): 243-55.


For their helpful feedback on previous drafts of this paper, I would like to express my gratitude to Maxime Berthiaume, Florian Cova, Martin Gibert, Valéry Giroux, Angela Martin, Hichem Naar, Nathan Nobis, Kristin Voigt, an anonymous referee for this journal, and audiences at the Universität Basel’s Philosophical Seminar and at the CRÉ/Parr/Hoover Joint Conference. I would also like to thank the Centre for Research on Ethics and the Swiss National Science Foundation, which supported this work as part of the project “Debunking Arguments in Animal Ethics”.

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Correspondence to François Jaquet.

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Jaquet, F. What’s Wrong with Speciesism. J Value Inquiry (2020).

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