‘Dismantling “Reason-based Moral Status” in Environmental Ethics.’
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This article critically explores the assumptions of ‘reason-based moral status’ theorists, as well as ‘sentient’ theorists in establishing moral status. While ‘reason based moral status’ theorists regard reason as the key defining feature of moral status; Peter Singer names sentience as the defining characteristic of moral status. Having looked closely at these submissions, I argue that both arguments are morally repugnant. I maintain that reason is just but one criterion of establishing moral status and it will be wrong to suppose that only reason defines moral status, as nonhuman animals are not endowed with this capacity and hence cannot be disadvantaged because of a capacity which they do not possess in the ‘state of creation.’ In my submissions I also observe that sentience has degrees which Singer fails to identify and discuss. My thesis is at variance with these two positions; for I take it that sentience may not be limited to a mere feeling of pain and pleasure. Against this background, I dismiss Singer’s sentience argument and call for a return to the ‘state of creation’ where all living beings are equal on the basis of having lifespan, species and genus specifications, the brains as well as having flesh and blood.
This paper was presented in the department of philosophy of the University of Fort Hare as part of the philosophy colloquium series running under the theme Being Human in August 2009. The original manuscript carried the title: Man – A Moral Ape? On Singer and Naess: The Roots All Beings Share. I have since incorporated comments by those who attended the seminar, in order to give the article its present shape. The article now carries a new title which is very specific to the issues being addressed as recommended by the participants.