A Sensible Speciesism?

Philosophical Inquiries 4 (1):49-70 (2016)


In his essay “The Human Prejudice” Bernard Williams presented a sophisticated defense of the moral relevance of the concept “human being”. Here I offer both an analysis of his essay and a defense of his conclusions against criticisms made by Julian Savulescu and Peter Singer. After a discussion of the structure of Williams’s argument, I focus on several complaints from Savulescu: that Williams underestimates the similarities between speciesism and racism or sexism, that Williams relies on a disputable internalism about reasons to make his case, that Williams ignores the arbitrariness of species membership, and (a complaint also made by Singer) that Williams attacks a straw man in considering only negative utilitarianism when criticizing the idea of an Impartial Observer. I defend Williams against these charges and end with a brief discussion of how his alien invasion example illustrates the fundamentally different philosophical sensibility of Bernard Williams in comparison to critics like Savulescu and Singer.

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Christopher Grau
Clemson University

References found in this work

Internal and External Reasons.Bernard Williams - 1979 - In Ross Harrison (ed.), Rational Action. Cambridge University Press. pp. 101-113.
On Bullshit.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1986 - Princeton University Press.
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.Bernard Williams - 1987 - Behaviorism 15 (2):179-181.

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Citations of this work

Cognitive Disability and Moral Status.David Wasserman - 2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Speciesism and Speciescentrism.Frauke Albersmeier - 2021 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (2):511-527.

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