Slaves, embryos, and nonhuman animals: Moral status and the limitations of common morality theory

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 15 (4):323-346 (2005)
Abstract
: Common morality theory must confront apparent counterexamples from the history of morality, such as the widespread acceptance of slavery in prior eras, that suggest core norms have changed over time. A recent defense of common morality theory addresses this problem by drawing a distinction between the content of the norms of the common morality and the range of individuals to whom these norms apply. This distinction is successful in reconciling common morality theory with practices such as slavery, but only at the cost of underscoring the limits of common morality theory, in particular its inability to resolve disputes about the moral status of entities. Given that many controversies in bioethics center on the disputed status of various entities, such as embryos and nonhuman animals, this is an important limitation. Nonetheless, common morality theory still can be a useful resource in diminishing moral conflict on issues that do not involve disputes over moral status
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