Recognizing Nonhuman Morality
Between the Species An Online Journal for the Study of Philosophy and Animals
Claims that some sorts of genuine moral behavior exist in nonhuman beings are increasingly common. Many people, however, remain unconvinced, despite growing acceptance of the remarkable behavioral complexity of animals and despite the admission that there may be significant differences between human and nonhuman moral behavior. This paper argues that the rejection of "moral animals" is misplaced. Yet at the same time, it attempts to show how the philosophical task of exhibiting the possibility
... ng the possibility of nonhuman moral behavior is often misguided, leaving claims about nonhuman morality unnecessarily exposed to philosophical rejection. The question of nonhuman morality is increasingly on the scientific and philosophical agenda. There are two general philosophical positions on the possibility of genuine nonhuman moral behavior that are considered in this essay. The first position, though not necessarily skeptical about the behavioral complexity of animals, nevertheless rejects this possibility or reduces it to a metaphorical or analogical one. This rejection or reduction is the result of conceptual criticism. The second position embraces the possibility of nonhuman morality, typically offering certain empirical and conceptual grounds that are intended to underwrite it. The approach in this paper is to identify, and suggest the removal of, philosophical assumptions, shared by both these positions, which either (a) encourage for insufficient reasons the rejection of nonhuman moral behavior, or (b) allow too readily the repudiation of that possibility on the grounds of conceptual naiveté or confusion. The paper is about nonhuman animals. But the possibility might also be noted of applying its conclusions to very young children and the severely retarded.