Focusing respect on creatures Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Foreman, Elizabeth
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • One of our important moral intuitions is that we owe basic respect to persons insofar as they are persons; however, when we attempt to ground such an obligation, a particular problem arises. In order to explain why a creature is owed respect, we must identify some feature in virtue of which that respect is owed. As a result, our grounding of the obligation of respect will focus on features of creatures rather than the creatures themselves. This also means that the creatures to whom we are obligated lose their claim on us if they lose the feature that qualified them for regard, and that creatures who never possessed the relevant feature (e.g., severely brain-damaged infants) are not objects of respect at all. Given our strong inclination to respect all human beings, such a result is counter-intuitive. To resolve these difficulties, I offer a formal analysis of respect according to which the objects of respect are the creatures themselves, and not their features. I argue that possession of a certain feature confers value on those creatures that possess it, and that this gives them an irrevocable status as objects of respect. Further, creatures that lack the feature can also be objects of respect in virtue of being of a kind that normally has it. I then argue more substantively that this value-conferring feature is not the sort of rationality Kantians identify, but is instead being a subject of a life. I argue that our attitude of respect is fundamentally a response to this morally considerable quality, and that accounts that identify rationality alone as morally considerable are unsatisfactory. This substantive claim brings non-human animals more robustly inside the moral sphere, while the formal analysis helps to bridge the gap between the theoretical foundation of respect and the practice of it, giving support to the intuition that we owe respect to those who are of a kind that normally possesses the obligation-generating feature, even if they lack it.
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  • Wolf, Susan
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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