The Moral Agency of Animals: Responsible in Practice
Ring, Rebecca Lynn
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Mark Rowlands argues some non-human animals can be moral subjects that can act for moral reasons, but cannot be moral agents because they lack sufficient understanding for responsibility. I argue Rowlands’ mere moral subjects are responding to, not acting for, moral reasons. Action for moral reasons is necessarily normative and the actor must be able to track the moral reason. I argue Rowlands’ conflation of moral agency and moral autonomy results in falsely denying responsibility to animals. Moral autonomy is an ideal to which some humans can aim. Responsibility is not contingent on this ability, but on the cognitive and volitional capacities of the individual and her normative social practices. Some animals can be moral agents in virtue of their normative social practices that involve harm to others and sharing resources. Moral agency and responsibility can be ascribed to some animals in terms of their intentional agency within such practices.