Synopses & Reviews
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. But despite 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 is that 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 animal is 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 moral reasons--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.
"In an undertaking that is far more philosophical than scientific, Rowlands (The Philosopher and the Wolf) argues that animals are moral subjects as opposed to moral agents‚--îthat is, they can act morally but are not responsible for their actions. But, he further argues, animals can be worthy of 'moral respect.' Though Rowlands, a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, draws on behavioral studies of chimpanzees, elephants, and wolves to illustrate his claim that animals can act morally, this is virtually all the reader has to go on, until the conclusion, as Rowlands engages in drawn-out philosophical discussions of arcane subjects such as 'the phenomenology of moral motivation.' His tackling of some of philosophy's greats (Aristotle; Kant) and at-times highly developed reasoning will interest those already knowledgeable in and accustomed to the writing style of philosophical texts. This book will prove a tougher read, however, for the ‚--òunschooled' or those for whom the morality of animals is of genuine interest, but for whom case studies provide stronger evidence than complex distinctions between acting morally and being responsible for those actions.
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Can animals act for moral reasons? Philosophical tradition answers, almost univocally, "no." Recent work in cognitive ethology, however, points in the other direction. Philosophical tradition has apparently convincing arguments on its side. But cognitive ethology can point to a growing body of empirical evidence that suggests these arguments must be wrong. This groundbreaking book assimilates both philosophical and ethological frameworks into a unified whole. In part, ethologists have not understood the enormous logical obstacles facing the claim that animals can act morally. But, in part also, philosophers have been guilty of over-intellectualizing crucial concepts such as moral motivation and action. Building on the ethological evidence, this book engages in meticulous philosophical analysis and argument, and the resulting answer to the question is a qualified "yes." Animals can act morally in the sense they can act for moral reasons. Or, at least, they are no compelling logical obstacles to supposing that this is the case. This conclusion has important implications not just for our understanding of animals but also of the central concepts we employ in understanding the moral lives of humans, such as motivation, action, and agency.
About the Author
is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami. He is the author of fourteen books, translated into more than twenty languages. His autobiography, The Philosopher and the Wolf
was published in 2008, and became an international bestseller.
Table of Contents
1. Can Animals be Moral?
2. Attributing Emotions to Animals
3. Moral Agents, Patients, and Subjects
4. The Reflection Condition: Aristotle and Kant
5. The Idiot
6. The Phenomenology of Moral Motivation
7. Moral Motivation and Meta-Cognition
8. Moral Reasons and Practice
9. Reconstructing Normativity and Agency
10. A Cognitive Ethologist from Mars