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Moral Individualism, Moral Relationalism, and Obligations to Non-human Animals

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Abstract

Moral individualists like Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer argue that our moral obligations to animals, both human and non-human, are grounded in the morally salient capacities of those animals. By contrast, what might be called moral relationalists argue that our obligations to non-human animals are grounded in our relationship to them. Moral relationalists are of various kinds, from relationalists regarding assistance to animals, such as Clare Palmer and Elizabeth Anderson, to relationalists grounded in a Wittgensteinian view of human practice, such as Cora Diamond and Alice Crary. This article argues that there are, in fact, two distinct types of moral reasons, those based on salient capacities and those based on relationships. Neither type of reason is reducible to the other, and there is no third type to which to reduce them both. Any attempt at reduction would run counter to deep intuitions about our moral relation to non-human animals as well as to other humans. Among the implications of this is that certain kinds of arguments, such as the argument from marginal cases, seem to be incomplete precisely because they do not capture the complexity of our moral relations to non-human animals.

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