Caring animals and care ethics

Biology and Philosophy 37 (2022)
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Abstract

Are there nonhuman animals who behave morally? In this paper I answer this question in the affirmative by applying the framework of care ethics to the animal morality debate. According to care ethics, empathic care is the wellspring of morality in humans. While there have been several suggestive analyses of nonhuman animals as empathic, much of the literature within the animal morality debate has marginalized analyses from the perspective of care ethics. In this paper I examine care ethics to extract its core commitments to what is required for moral care: emotional motivation that enables the intentional meeting of another’s needs, and forward-looking responsibility in particular relationships. What is not required, I argue, are metarepresentational capacities or the ability to scrutinize one’s reasons for action, and thus being retrospectively accountable. This minimal account of moral care is illustrated by moral practices of parental care seen in many nonhuman animal species. In response to the worry that parental care in nonhuman animals lacks all evaluation and is therefore nonmoral I point to cultural differences in human parenting and to normativity in nonhuman animals.

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Birte Wrage
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna