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Environmental Values

The Moral Status of Beings who are not Persons: A Casuistic Argument

Jon Wetlesen

Environmental Values 8(1999): 287-323. doi: 10.3197/096327199129341842

This paper addresses the question: Who or what can have a moral status in the sense that we have direct moral duties to them? It argues for a biocentric answer which ascribes inherent moral status value to all individual living organisms. This position must be defended against an anthropocentric position. The argument from marginal cases propounded by Tom Regan and Peter Singer for this purpose is criticised as defective, and a different argument is proposed. The biocentric position developed here is related to that of Albert Schweitzer and Paul F. Taylor, but rejects their assumption of equal inherent value for all living organisms. It argues instead for equal moral status value for moral persons and agents, and gradual moral status value for nonpersons, depending on their degree of similarity with moral persons. Mary Ann Warren's recent book on Moral Status is also discussed. The argument is constructed as a casuistic argument, proceeding by analogical extension from persons to non-persons. The meta-ethical question of its pragmatic validity is discussed.


KEYWORDS: moral status, inherent value, casuistic argument, strong cognitivism, weak cognitivism, pragmatic validity

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles:

A Constrained-Utility Alternative to Animal Rights Joshua Frank

Environmental Risks, Uncertainty and Intergenerational Ethics. Kristian Skagen Ekeli

The Argument from Marginal Cases and the Slippery Slope Objection. Julia K. Tanner


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