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An Alternative to the Orthodoxy in Animal Ethics? Limits and Merits of the Wittgensteinian Critique of Moral Individualism

Unit of Ethics and Human-Animal-Studies, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna, 1210 Vienna, Austria
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Animals 2019, 9(12), 1057; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121057
Received: 27 September 2019 / Revised: 21 November 2019 / Accepted: 25 November 2019 / Published: 1 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Ethics: Questioning the Orthodoxy)
Traditional approaches to animal ethics depart from the assumption that the moral consideration that we owe to different beings depends on their individual characteristics—that if we want to know how to treat a particular animal, the answer is ultimately “in the animal”. This view, which has come to be known as “moral individualism”, has been criticised by the Wittgensteinian authors Cora Diamond and Alice Crary. In this paper, we argue that there are severe limitations to this criticism, which make the target of their critique significantly smaller than these authors presume. At the same time, we also argue that there are important merits to their critique, and that we should incorporate several of their insights into our reflections on how to treat other animals.
In this paper, we analyse the Wittgensteinian critique of the orthodoxy in animal ethics that has been championed by Cora Diamond and Alice Crary. While Crary frames it as a critique of “moral individualism”, we show that their criticism applies most prominently to certain forms of moral individualism (namely, those that follow hedonistic or preference-satisfaction axiologies), and not to moral individualism in itself. Indeed, there is a concrete sense in which the moral individualistic stance cannot be escaped, and we believe that it is this particular limitation that justified Crary’s later move to a qualified version of moral individualism. At the same time, we also argue that there are significant merits to the Wittgensteinian critique of moral individualism, which pertain to its attack on the rationalism, naturalism, and reductionism that characterise orthodox approaches to animal ethics. We show that there is much of value in the Wittgensteinians’ call for an ethics that is more human; an ethics that fully embraces the capacities we are endowed with and one that pays heed to the richness and complexity of our moral lives.
Keywords: animal ethics; moral individualism; Alice Crary; Cora Diamond; utilitarianism; axiology animal ethics; moral individualism; Alice Crary; Cora Diamond; utilitarianism; axiology
MDPI and ACS Style

Monsó, S.; Grimm, H. An Alternative to the Orthodoxy in Animal Ethics? Limits and Merits of the Wittgensteinian Critique of Moral Individualism. Animals 2019, 9, 1057.

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