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Moral Agency in Other Animals


Some philosophers have argued that moral agency is characteristic of humans alone and that its absence from other animals justifies granting higher moral status to humans. However, human beings do not have a monopoly on moral agency, which admits of varying degrees and does not require mastery of moral principles. The view that all and only humans possess moral agency indicates our underestimation of the mental lives of other animals. Since many other animals are moral agents (to varying degrees), they are also subject to (limited) moral obligations, examples of which are provided in this paper. But, while moral agency is sufficient for significant moral status, it is by no means necessary.

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I’d like to thank David DeGrazia, Gaverick Matheny, and Ryan Shapiro for their invaluable comments on this paper.

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Correspondence to Paul Shapiro.

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Shapiro, P. Moral Agency in Other Animals. Theor Med Bioeth 27, 357–373 (2006).

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  • animals
  • animal behavior
  • moral agency
  • moral obligations
  • moral status
  • speciesism