Aristotle and the Moral Status of Animals

In the last three decades, the consideration of whether non-human animals should be ascribed any moral status, and if so in what way it ought to be ascribed to them, has become of central philosophical, political and economic importance. Thus, given thecontemporary significance of what may be called (jar simplicity’s sake) the “animal issue,” it is worthwhile to examine in what way Ancient Greek philosophy might contribute to our understanding of the issue and to our philosophical response to it. With this in mind,in this essay I examine the issue of the moral status of animals from a “critical” Aristotelian perspective, on the basis of which I shall attempt: (§I) to show how, unlike the Cartesian view of animal nature, Aristotle’s conception of the non-moral status of animals stillinforms the prevailing contemporary view of the animal, and (§II) to establish that Aristotle’s failure to ascribe moral status to animals should be rejected (a) given his admission that animals are, by nature, capable of suffering while they are unable to engage in rational deliberation, and (b) given his understanding of the connection between moral blameworthiness, natural disposition, and various kinds of acts, particularly un-chosen and chosen willing acts. In this way, we shall show that although the prevailing contemporary view of the animal’s moral status represents a slightly more “elevated” view than Aristotle’s, insofar as (typically) we do not explicitly claim, as Aristotle did, that animals are due no moral consideration, by critically appropriating the relevant Aristotelian texts, we nonetheless findrich philosophical evidence that permits us to further elevate our conception of the moral status of animals such that we are prepared to grant them genuine moral significance, not just in theory but also in practice.
Keywords Applied Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 1077-1999
DOI 10.5840/pcw200613218
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