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Open AccessArticle

Misadventures of Sentience: Animals and the Basis of Equality

Department of Classics, Philosophy and History, University of Genova, via Balbi 30, 16126 Genova, Italy
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1044; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121044
Received: 31 October 2019 / Revised: 26 November 2019 / Accepted: 27 November 2019 / Published: 29 November 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Ethics: Questioning the Orthodoxy)
Equal moral worth in animal ethics is an elusive moral notion not only because of the notorious human prejudice but also because grounding equal moral worth requires attending to the problem of the basis of equality. How can we ground equality given that all human and nonhuman individuals vary in all the morally considerable features? John Rawls claimed that we can use range properties, namely properties that are equally possessed by all people who pass a certain threshold of moral relevance (e.g., the age of majority gives equal right to vote). In this paper, I critically discuss two different attempts to defend an egalitarian theory in animal ethics: Alasdair Cochrane’s and Peter Singer’s. The former seeks to eschew the problem of range properties by appealing to a binary property naturally possessed by all sentient beings (the property of having interests). His attempt fails because this property has the same problems as range properties. The latter dispenses with equal moral worth altogether by defending the principle of equal consideration of interests. I argue that this principle has weak egalitarian credentials. I conclude by outlining the conditions that a sound theory in animal ethics should meet.
This paper aims to put in question the all-purposes function that sentience has come to play in animal ethics. In particular, I criticize the idea that sentience can provide a sound basis of equality, as has been recently proposed by Alasdair Cochrane. Sentience seems to eschew the standard problems of egalitarian accounts that are based on range properties. By analysing the nature of range properties, I will show that sentience cannot provide such a solution because it is constructed as a sui generis range property. After criticizing the approaches seeking to ground animals’ equal status, I turn to Singer’s principle of equal consideration of interests. Despite its seeming non-controversiality, I argue that it cannot do without referring to the moral status of a being in order to determine the weight of a being’s interests. Moreover, it outlines a weak egalitarian basis because it relies on the presumption of equality of interests in virtue of our lack of knowledge of the weight of individuals’ interests. I conclude in a more positive tone by arguing that, irrespective of the troubles of range property egalitarianism, animal ethics can rely on other normative resources to defend the cause of animals. View Full-Text
Keywords: basis of equality; equal consideration of interests; equality in animal ethics; sentience; proportionality; Alasdair Cochrane; Peter Singer basis of equality; equal consideration of interests; equality in animal ethics; sentience; proportionality; Alasdair Cochrane; Peter Singer
MDPI and ACS Style

Zuolo, F. Misadventures of Sentience: Animals and the Basis of Equality. Animals 2019, 9, 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121044

AMA Style

Zuolo F. Misadventures of Sentience: Animals and the Basis of Equality. Animals. 2019; 9(12):1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121044

Chicago/Turabian Style

Zuolo, Federico. 2019. "Misadventures of Sentience: Animals and the Basis of Equality" Animals 9, no. 12: 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121044

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Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

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