Between the Species 9 (2009)
By giving sympathy a central role, Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) can be regarded as one of the ‘enlightened’ moral theories of the Enlightenment, insofar as it widened the scope of moral consideration beyond the traditionally restricted boundary of human beings. This, although the author himself does not seem to have been aware of this fact. In this paper, I want to focus on two aspects which I think lead to this conclusion. First, by making sentience the requisite to be taken into moral consideration, nonhuman animals in Smith’s moral theory can count as moral patients towards whom we should exercise the virtue of beneficence (if not justice). Secondly, Smith’s idea of morality as working in concentric circles –generating more stringent duties towards those closer to us– could explain and perhaps also justify our caring for some nonhuman animals, especially pets.
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