Animals that act for moral reasons

Non-human animals (henceforth, “animals”) are typically regarded as moral patients rather than moral agents. Let us define these terms as follows: 1) X is a moral patient if and only if X is a legitimate object of moral concern: that is, roughly, X is something whose interests should be taken into account when decisions are made concerning it or which otherwise impact on it. 2) X is a moral agent if and only if X can be morally evaluated–praised or blamed (broadly understood)–for its motives and actions. Nothing in (1) and (2), of course, rules out one and the same individual being both a moral agent and a patient. Most humans are both. The notion of a moral agent is typically run together with that of a moral subject: 3) X is a moral subject if and only if X is, at least sometimes, motivated to act by moral considerations. However, (2) and (3) are not equivalent: the motivation for an action is one thing, the evaluation of the action quite another; indeed evaluation is often of motivation. As a matter of practice these are, for obvious reasons, run together. But motivation and evaluation are conceptually distinct. This is a claim that many will regard with surprise. In effect, the bulk of this paper can be regarded as an attempt to defend this claim as it applies to the case of animals. In this section, I merely offer some preliminary remarks in its defense. Suppose that my wife, worn down by the domestic squalor that goes with two young boys, a very large dog, and a slovenly husband, has me (unknowingly) hypnotized. Now, whenever she utters the word ‘Rosebud’, I experience an uncontrollable desire to mop the floor. This desire is, it seems, a motivational state, one that when combined with relevant cognitive states (the belief that this is a mop, the belief that this is a floor, and so on) will, ceteris paribus, result in a certain sort of behavior on my part. This floor-mopping, however, is not something for which I can be praised or blamed. Ex hypothesi, it is the result of a motivational state that is outside my control..
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