Mental-Threshold Egalitarianism

Social Theory and Practice 44 (1):75-93 (2018)

Authors
Rainer Ebert
University Of Dar Es Salaam (UDSM)
Abstract
Mental-threshold egalitarianism, well-known examples of which include Jeff McMahan’s two-tiered account of the wrongness of killing and Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights, divides morally considerable beings into equals and unequals on the basis of their individual mental capacities. In this paper, I argue that the line that separates equals from unequals is unavoidably arbitrary and implausibly associates an insignificant difference in empirical reality with a momentous difference in moral status. In response to these objections, McMahan has proposed the introduction of an intermediate moral status. I argue that this move ultimately fails to address the problem. I conclude that, if we are not prepared to give up moral equality, our full and equal moral status must be grounded in a binary property that is not a threshold property. I tentatively suggest that the capacity for phenomenal consciousness is such a property, and a plausible candidate.
Keywords moral status  moral worth  egalitarianism  Tom Regan  Jeff McMahan  moral equality  full moral status  consciousness  animal ethics  equality
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ISBN(s) 0037-802X
DOI 10.5840/soctheorpract201812330
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