AR-FAQ - #17

#17 Morals are a purely human construction (animals don't understand morals); doesn't that mean it is not rational to apply our morality to animals?

The fallaciousness of this argument can be easily demonstrated by making a simple substitution: Infants and young children don't understand morals, doesn't that mean it is not rational to apply our morality to them? Of course not. We refrain from harming infants and children for the same reasons that we do so for adults. That they are incapable of conceptualizing a system of morals and its benefits is irrelevant. The relevant distinction is formalized in the concept of "moral agents" versus "moral patients". A moral agent is an individual possessing the sophisticated conceptual ability to bring moral principles to bear in deciding what to do, and having made such a decision, having the free will to choose to act that way. By virtue of these abilities, it is fair to hold moral agents accountable for their acts. The paradigmatic moral agent is the normal adult human being. Moral patients, in contrast, lack the capacities of moral agents and thus cannot fairly be held accountable for their acts. They do, however, possess the capacity to suffer harm and therefore are proper objects of consideration for moral agents. Human infants, young children, the mentally deficient or deranged, and nonhuman animals are instances of moral patienthood. Given that nonhuman animals are moral patients, they fall within the purview of moral consideration, and therefore it is quite rational to accord them the same moral consideration that we accord to ourselves. DG

SEE ALSO: #19, #23, #36