Animals and the Moral Community

Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship

Gary Steiner
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/stei14234
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  • Book Info
    Animals and the Moral Community
    Book Description:

    Gary Steiner argues that ethologists and philosophers in the analytic and continental traditions have largely failed to advance an adequate explanation of animal behavior. Critically engaging the positions of Marc Hauser, Daniel Dennett, Donald Davidson, John Searle, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, among others, Steiner shows how the Western philosophical tradition has forced animals into human experiential categories in order to make sense of their cognitive abilities and moral status and how desperately we need a new approach to animal rights.

    Steiner rejects the traditional assumption that a lack of formal rationality confers an inferior moral status on animals vis-à-vis human beings. Instead, he offers an associationist view of animal cognition in which animals grasp and adapt to their environments without employing concepts or intentionality. Steiner challenges the standard assumption of liberal individualism according to which humans have no obligations of justice toward animals. Instead, he advocates a "cosmic holism" that attributes a moral status to animals equivalent to that of people. Arguing for a relationship of justice between humans and nature, Steiner emphasizes our kinship with animals and the fundamental moral obligations entailed by this kinship.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51260-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Arguments Against Rationality in Animals
    (pp. 1-28)

    The African greater honey guide is a bird that eats wax from honeycombs but is unable to open bee nests on its own. It is dependent on humans—and, in some cases, other animals—to open the nests so that it can eat the honeycomb. The honey guide has developed a symbiotic relationship with humans, who benefit from the relationship by obtaining honey from the nests. When the honey guide finds a nest that is of interest to it, it emits a series of “churring” sounds within hearing range of a human being. When the human approaches, the honey guide...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Arguments for Rationality in Animals
    (pp. 29-56)

    There is no settled view regarding the precise relationship between intentionality, rationality, and language. To say that animals are “rational” can mean a variety of things. It can mean that animals possess an explicit sense of self and can engage in acts of practical deliberation in an effort to achieve goals they have set for themselves. To attribute rationality to animals in this sense would be to endow them with the ability to engage in acts of abstract reflection, enabling them, for example, to grasp themselves as individual selves among other selves. It might also involve attributing to animals the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE An Associationist Model of Animal Cognition
    (pp. 57-88)

    The debate examined in the previous two chapters is between what could be called an intellectualist conception and an information-processing conception of animal cognition. In general, proponents of the intellectualist conception maintain that animals employ conceptual abstraction and propositional attitudes. These capacities enable animals to form complex intentions, which account for the ability of animals to engage in such practices as deception and long-term planning. Proponents of the information-processing conception argue that such capacities as self-awareness and predicative intentionality are not needed to account for the abilities of animals to engage in these sorts of practices. In particular, they claim...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Liberal Individualism and the Problem of Animal Rights
    (pp. 89-116)

    In the previous three chapters I examined some important contemporary debates concerning the mental capacities of animals and argued that animals possess perceptual but not conceptual/linguistic intelligence. On my view, animals cannot think in abstract terms. Why, then, has it become more common in recent years for philosophers and ethologists to argue that animals do think? There are three principal reasons for this. First, the limitations of behavioral ethology have become increasingly apparent; the proposition that only humans are capable of inner subjective awareness has been losing credibility. Second, the endeavor to attribute complex modes of thinking to animals is...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Ideal of Cosmic Holism
    (pp. 117-142)

    The chief limitation of the liberal perspective as regards the moral status of animals is its anthropocentrism. The liberal perspective is fundamentally concerned with considerations of social justice, and hence with relations between rational human agents. Attempts to vindicate the moral status of animals from within a liberal framework are limited by the anthropocentric vocabulary of individuality, agency, reciprocity, and rights—a vocabulary that, in the absence of a firm grounding in certain non-anthropocentric values, seems ill-suited to fully articulating a possible justice relationship between human beings and nonhuman animals. It is not surprising, for example, that John Rawls categorically...

  10. CHAPTER SIX “Cosmo-Politics”: Grounding Liberal Individualism in Cosmic Holism
    (pp. 143-164)

    To be a cosmic holist in the sense I articulated in the preceding chapter is to be committed to the moral parity of all sentient beings. The ideal of cosmic holism acknowledges human duties of justice toward animals on the grounds that animals are teleological centers of life and that many animals are sentient beings whose lives matter to them. In calling for a “cosmo-politics,” Karl Löwith affirms the Stoic ideal of living in accordance with nature (kata physin). To live in accordance with our own nature as political beings is to take our bearings from the totality of nature....

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 165-190)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 191-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-212)