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Ethical Extensionism under Uncertainty of Sentience: Duties to Non-Human Organisms without Drawing a Line

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Ethical extensionism generally involves drawing one or more lines of moral standing. I argue (i) for all living organisms, there is a non-zero probability of sentience and consciousness, and (ii) we cannot justify excluding beings from consideration on the basis of uncertainty of their sentience, etc., and rather we should incorporate this uncertainty into the strength of our moral responsibilities. This use of probabilities differs critically from multi-criteria theories of moral standing and those that assign benefit of the doubt, which involve unjustified exclusions and dilutions of duties. From uncertainty rises certainty: we have duties to non-human organisms, although they may often be minor. This modification of extensionist ethics provides foundation for an environmental ethic that parallels interpersonal and animal welfare ethics, and it suggests that we owe much greater concern to 'lower' organisms than they are typically given.
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Keywords: animals; consciousness; extensionism; moral considerability; the Golden Rule

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2018) of 1.933. 5 Year Impact Factor: 2.493.
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