The great apes and the severely disabled: Moral status and thick evaluative concepts [Book Review]

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (3):305 - 326 (2008)
The literature of bioethics suffers from two serious problems. (1) Most authors are unable to take seriously both the rights of the great apes and of severely disabled human infants. Rationalism—moral status rests on rational capacities—wrongly assigns a higher moral status to the great apes than to all severely disabled human infants with less rational capacities than the great apes. Anthropocentrism—moral status depends on membership in the human species—falsely grants all humans a higher moral status than the great apes. Animalism—moral status is dependent on the ability to suffer—mistakenly equates the moral status of humans and most animals. (2) The concept person is widely used for justificatory purposes, but it seems that it cannot play such a role. It seems that it is either redundant or unable to play any justificatory role. I argue that we can solve the second problem by understanding person as a thick evaluative concept. This then enables us to justify assigning a higher moral status to the great apes than to simple animals: the great apes are persons. To solve the first problem, I argue that certain severely disabled infants have a higher moral status than the great apes because they are dependent upon human relationships for their well-being. Only very limited abilities are required for such relationships, and the question who is capable of them must be based on thick evaluative concepts. Thus, it turns out that to make progress in bioethics we must assign thick evaluative concepts a central role.
Keywords Animal rights  Disability  Fellow human  Great ape  Human relationship  Moral status  Person  Thick evaluative concepts
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,209
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Daniel C. Dennett (1976). Conditions of Personhood. In Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (ed.), The Identities of Persons. University of California Press

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Stijn Bruers (2015). In Defense of Eating Vegan. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 28 (4):705-717.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

79 ( #59,943 of 1,941,072 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

5 ( #197,987 of 1,941,072 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.