Sympathy and subjectivity
Carruthers (Peter)
Source: Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 77 (1999), 465-482
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. This paper makes four main assumptions – two about consciousness and two about value – which together raise an important question concerning the possible scope of morality and moral concern. I shall make little attempt to defend these assumptions, beyond saying just enough to explain and motivate them. Each of them can be made to seem plausible, at least; and three have been defended at length elsewhere.
  2. If these premises are granted, then fundamental questions are raised about the moral status of non-human animals. But even those who are not prepared to grant one or more of my assumptions should take an interest in the questions they generate, and in my proposed answers. For the discussion will lead us to look quite closely at the nature of psychological (as opposed to biological) harm, and at the proper objects of sympathy; raising issues which have not, I think, been discussed before.
  3. Even if one or more of my assumptions are rejected, there will remain the question whether, and in what sense, sympathy is necessarily tied to subjectivity – which is not a question with quite the same practical import as the one I address, admittedly; but an interesting one nonetheless.
  4. The Assumptions:-
    • A1: All of the mental states of non-human animals (with the possible exception of the great apes) are non-conscious, ones.
    • A2: Non-conscious mental states lack1 phenomenology, or subjective 'feel'.
    • A3: Metaphysical realism about moral values is false; rather, such values are somehow constructed from a basis in human attitudes, or human reason, or both.
    • A4: Attempts to ground sympathy in interests either collapse into a form of moral realism, or covertly appeal to the more basic importance of psychological harm.


See Link and Link.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  1. Carruthers’ Conclusion 1 is:
    • The mental states of non-human animals lack phenomenal feels (unless those animals are apes, perhaps).
  2. If this is what his theory of consciousness leads to, it is plain wrong.
  3. And, even if it should happen to be true, we do not see its truth so clearly as to be able to act on it with any confidence – given the dreadful consequences of being wrong – so we should not act on it at all.

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