Two Arguments against Biological Interests

Environmental Ethics 32 (3):229-245 (2010)
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Abstract

In both environmental ethics and bioethics, one central issue is the range of entities that are morally considerable. According to one view on this issue, we ought to extend consideration to any entity that possesses interests. But what kinds of entities possess interests? Some philosophers have argued that only sentient beings can have interests, while others have held that all living organisms possess interests in the fulfillment of their biological functions. Is it true that all living organisms have biological interests? The standard arguments made against biological interests are unsatisfactory. There are two central reasons why we ought to reject the idea of biological interests: a metaphysical reason and a normative reason. First, the idea of biological interests implies a metaphysically mysterious account of the nature of how things come to have value for an entity. Second, as normative interests, the idea of biological interests implies that what is good for human beings is at least partly determined by things that are external to themselves, completely independent of their capacities for desires, conflicting with the individual ideal of self-direction, according to which it is fundamentally desirable that how we ought to live (or what is good for one) is grounded in one’s own capacities for desires. It is still an open possibility that nonsentient entities may be morally considerable in the sense of having intrinsic value.

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Aaron Simmons
Marywood University

Citations of this work

Aesthetic Animism.Ryan P. Doran - 2022 - Philosophical Studies 179 (11):3365-3400.
The good of non-sentient entities: Organisms, artifacts, and synthetic biology.John Basl & Ronald Sandler - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):697-705.

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