Can Animals Be Moral?

Can Animals Be Moral?

Can Animals Be Moral?

Can Animals Be Moral?

Synopsis

From eye-witness accounts of elephants apparently mourning the death of family members to an experiment that showed that hungry rhesus monkeys would not take food if doing so gave another monkey an electric shock, there is much evidence of animals displaying what seem to be moral feelings. Butdespite such suggestive evidence, philosophers steadfastly deny that animals can act morally, and for reasons that virtually everyone has found convincing. In Can Animals be Moral?, philosopher Mark Rowlands examines the reasoning of philosophers and scientists on this question - ranging from Aristotle and Kant to Hume and Darwin - and reveals that their arguments fall far short of compelling. The basic argument against moral behavior in animals isthat humans have capabilities that animals lack. We can reflect on our motivations, formulate abstract principles that allow that allow us to judge right from wrong. For an actor to be moral, he or she must be able scrutinize their motivations and actions. No animal can do these things - no animalis moral. Rowland naturally agrees that humans possess a moral consciousness that no animal can rival, but he argues that it is not necessary for an individual to have the ability to reflect on his or her motives to be moral. Animals can't do all that we can do, but they can act on the basis of some moralreasons - basic moral reasons involving concern for others. And when they do this, they are doing just what we do when we act on the basis of these reasons: They are acting morally.

Excerpt

When I became a father for the first time, at the rather ripe old age of forty-four, various historical contingencies saw to it that my nascent son would be sharing his home with two senescent canines. There was Nina, an incontrovertibly ferocious German shepherd / malamute cross, and Tess, a wolf-dog mix who, though gentle, had some rather highly developed predatory instincts. I was a little concerned about how the new co-sharing arrangements were going to work. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried at all. During the eighteen months or so that their old lives overlapped with that of my son, I was alternately touched, shocked, amazed, and dumbfounded by the sorts of care, solicitude, toleration, and patience they exhibited toward him. They would follow him from room to room, everywhere he went in the house. Crawled on, dribbled on, kicked, elbowed, and kneed: these occurrences were all treated with a resigned fatalism. The fingers in the eye they received on a daily basis would be simply shrugged off with an almost Zen-like calm. In many respects they were a better parent than I. If my son so much as squeaked in the middle of the night, I would instantaneously feel two cold noses pressed against my face: get up, you negligent parent—your son needs you!

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