Contractualism and our duties to nonhuman animals

Environmental Ethics 28 (2):201-215 (2006)
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The influential account of contractualist moral theory offered recently by T. M. Scanlon in What We Owe to Each Other is not intended to account for all the various moral commitments that people have; it covers only a narrow—though important—range of properly moral concerns and claims. Scanlon focuses on what he calls the morality of right and wrong or, as he puts it in his title, what we owe to each other. The question arises as to whether nonhuman animals can be wronged in the narrow sense of a moral wrong with which contractualism is concerned. Can we owe things to nonhuman animals? Scanlon is sensitive to the importance of this question, but he ultimately favors an account in which the perspectives of nonhuman animals are not explicitly included in contractualist theorizing. Nevertheless, it appears that contractualism, largely as Scanlon conceives it, can accommodate duties to nonhuman animals. Moreover, if contractualism cannot make this accommodation, then its status as a theory that answers to important common-sense moral intuitions becomes questionable in ways that extend beyond its failure to live up to intuitions many share about the status of nonhuman animals



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Matthew Talbert
West Virginia University

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