The Grounds of Moral Status
Jaworska (Agnieszka) & Tannenbaum (Julie)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2013-18
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. An entity has moral status if and only if it or its interests morally matter to some degree for the entity’s own sake. For instance, an animal may be said to have moral status if its suffering is at least somewhat morally bad, on account of this animal itself and regardless of the consequences for other beings.
  2. At the most general level, there are two ways of understanding moral status, or what others sometimes call “moral standing” or “moral considerability.”
    1. On the utilitarian approach (see the entry on the history of utilitarianism), moral considerability (their preferred term) is a matter of having one’s interests (e.g., the intensity, duration, etc. of one’s pleasure or pain) factored into the calculus that determines which action brings about the greatest utility.
    2. On the non-utilitarian approach, to have moral status is for there to be reasons to act for the sake of the entity or its interest, reasons which are prior to, and may clash with, what the calculation of the overall best consequences would dictate.
  3. The non-utilitarian approach is necessarily coupled with two further ideas:
    1. Acting unjustifiably against such reasons as well as failing to give these reasons their proper weight in deliberation is not only wrong, but ...
    2. Wrongs the entity and one owes it to the entity to avoid acting in this way.
  4. Note that utilitarians could incorporate these two ideas by claiming that it is owed to entities with moral status to properly incorporate their interests into the utilitarian calculus, and that one wrongs an entity when this is not done. But these two ideas are inessential to the utilitarian approach.
  5. Some non-utilitarian philosophers allow for the possibility that moral status comes in degrees1, and introduce the notion of a highest degree of status: full moral status (FMS).
  6. After reviewing which entities have been thought to have moral status and what is involved in having FMS, as opposed to a lesser degree of moral status, this article will survey different views of the grounds of moral status, focusing especially on FMS, as well as the justification for treating these as grounds of moral status.

  1. For Which Entities Does the Question of Moral Status Arise?
  2. What Is Full Moral Status (FMS)?
    → 2.1 Stringent Presumption against Interference
    → 2.2 Strong Reason to Aid
    → 2.3 Strong Reason to Treat Fairly
    → 2.4 Distinguishing Reasons Constitutive of Moral Status from Other Reasons
  3. Degrees of Moral Status
  4. Scalar versus Threshold Conceptions of Moral Status
  5. Grounds of Moral Status
    → 5.1 Sophisticated Cognitive Capacities
    → 5.2 Capacity to Develop Sophisticated Cognitive Capacities
    → 5.3 Rudimentary Cognitive Capacities
    → 5.4 Member of Cognitively Sophisticated Species
    → 5.5 Special Relationships
    → 5.6 Incompletely Realized Sophisticated Cognitive Capacities
    → 5.7 Other Grounds
  6. Justifying the Grounds of Moral Status


First published Thu Mar 14, 2013; substantive revision Wed Jan 10, 2018

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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