Can Animals Be Moral?


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?, ...

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Can Animals Be Moral?

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Philosophers will appreciate the carefulness of Rowlands's arguments, the clarity of his writing, and his understated sense of humor."—Jessica Pierce, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"An excellent book, not only on what it is for animals to be moral, but what it is for humans to be moral, whether one agrees with the conclusions or not. In short, it is a book on what it is to be moral per se that challenges with skill and imagination goes-without-saying preconceptions of the moral and so deserves to be widely read."—John Shand, The Philosophical Quarterly

"This book makes an enormous contribution to an under-explored topic. It makes a novel and persuasive case that animals can be moral within certain limits, and lays the way for future philosophical and empirical enquiry."—Dr. Tom McClelland, Metapsychology

"Mark Rowlands is one of the rarest creatures today: a genuine intellectual, a fearless interrogator, and a frighteningly capable person who can who can turn his attention to practically any subject and provide insightful commentary.... Can Animals Be Moral? is a brilliant book, superbly written with wit and panache—it will be remembered as a classic."—Andrew Linzey, Director, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

"In his well-argued book that blends philosophical inquiry with empirical data, Mark Rowlands argues that animals can and sometimes do act for moral reasons. I couldn't agree more. People with varying interests will find this book to be a welcomed addition to their required reading list. Despite having been long interested in the moral lives of animals, I learned a lot from this wide-ranging book."—Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, Boulder, author (with Jessica Pierce) of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals

"Rowlands carves out a space where animals can act for moral reasons without being as self-reflective (or self-congratulatory) as humans sometimes are. With clear-headed thinking, he maps out the terrain where ethics, philosophy of mind, and cognitive ethology meet. This book will be an indispensable to everyone concerned about justifying moral respect for animals."—Colin Allen, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University

"Readers enticed by the title and anticipating an animal rights book for general audiences will be challenged by this closely reasoned work.... Rowlands...has produced both a valuable contribution to animal ethics literature and a fine example of the application of philosophical reasoning to a controversial topic."— W.P. Hogan, CHOICE

Publishers Weekly
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—that 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.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780190240301
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2015
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Rowlands 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.

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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

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