Autonomy and the Value of Animal Life

The Monist 70 (1):50-63 (1987)

Abstract

In Anglo-American society, virtually every moral theory of any note, including any plausible form of utilitarianism, places great stress upon autonomy, treats it as intimately bound up with morality, and regards it as of considerable moral significance to normal adult humans and to the value of their lives. In these respects, Kantianisms, contracturalisms, rightstheories, and utilitarianisms are very alike. They are also alike in that their emphasis upon autonomy inevitably sets up fully autonomous beings as something of a special or privileged class, against which the lives of nonautonomous beings, such as infants, the very severely mentally-enfeebled, the seriously brain-damaged, the irreversibly comatose, and animals are viewed and their value assessed. The attempts theorists of all stripes make to squeeze as many beings as possible into the autonomous class illustrate the special or privileged caracter of that class in our moral thinking.

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