Jamieson on Speciesism

Chap. 5, Sec 1: pp. 102-112



2.      Moral Standing:

         a.      “Being a member of the moral community”

         b.      “Being morally considerable”

         c.      “Having intrinsic value in 2nd sense (p. 70)

         d.      Count morally (directly)

         e.      A being to whom direct duties are owed

         f.       Being a moral patient (see below)

3.      Direct and indirect duties

         a.      “Direct duties to” a being versus “duties regarding” a being or “indirect duties” (or being “indirectly morally relevant”)

         b.      Even if a being does not have moral standing, it could be “indirectly morally relevant” in that one might have duties regarding it or indirect duties pertaining to it

         c.      Examples: My car



5.      Idea that all humans and no non-humans have moral standing (are members of the moral community)

         a.      A version of “anthropocentrism” (“absolute speciesism”)

6.      What makes humans different so that all and only they have moral standing?

7.      Two proposed criteria (by which humans and non-humans differ)

         a.      (1) Linguistic competence

                   i.       A degree phenomenon and why on earth would one think that linguistic competence has anything to do with moral status?

         b.      (2) Self-consciousness

                   i.       On basis of mirror test for self-consciousness, some elephants, for example, are self-conscious

                   ii.      For discussion of animal consciousness, including self-consciousness click here

8.      Problems: These two criteria are too demanding and not demanding enough (to include all and only humans)

         a.      Two demanding (leaves out some humans)

                   i.       Some humans not self-conscious nor linguistically competent: newborns, comatose individuals, those with advanced dementia

         b.      Not demanding enough (some non-humans get included)

                   i.       Great-apes (e.g., chimps, gorillas) and cetaceans (e.g., dolphins) are self-conscious

9.      (3) Sentience as a criteria for moral standing (“Sentiocentrism”

         a.      Sentience: Ability to feel pleasure and pain

         b.      Includes humans left out by lack of self-consciousness or linguistic competence (babies, etc.)

         c.      Also includes most of animals we commonly use for food/research: cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, fish, cats, rats, monkeys

10.    Moral agents and moral patients

         a.      Moral agent: a being who has moral obligations

         b.      Moral patient: a being to whom obligations are owed (having moral standing)

11.    (4) Moral agency as a criteria (for moral standing)

         a.      Some claim that to be a moral patient (have moral standing) one must be a moral agent

                   i.       Idea is that only those beings who have moral obligations can be owed moral obligations

         b.      Since no animals are moral agents, none are moral patients (none have moral standing)

         c.      Problem: Newborn infants and severely brain-damaged humans are moral patients, but not moral agents (don’t have moral obligations to others)

         d.      Jamieson asks: “If accept the idea there are human moral patients who are not moral agents, why should we not accept idea there are non-human moral patients who are not moral agents?”


12.    Jamieson concludes: No morally significant criterion for membership in moral community that is satisfied by all and only humans



14.    (5) Being human as the criterion of moral standing (the difference between humans/non-humans that justifies anthropocentrism)

         a.      Universal human rights based solely on our humanity

                   i.       Idea behind notion of universal human rights is that all humans have such rights simply in virtue of being human (and not because of some other characteristic)

         b.      Mere fact that we are human is what makes us different and special and what gives us--and only us--moral standing

                   i.       A manifestation of “speciesism”

15.    Criticism of speciesism: “A prejudice/bias in favor of interests of members of one’s own species and against those members of other species”

         a.      Like racism/sexism, speciesism is a preference for one’s own kind based on a shared characteristic (skin color, sex, species) that in itself has no moral relevance

16.    Speciesism originates from theological dogma of the special importance and dignity of human beings

         a.      Humans as crowns of creation

         b.      Humans have a special role in God’s plan

         c.      Our value far exceeds rest of creation

17.    Naturalistic worldview of modern science suggests this is an unjustified prejudice in favor of our own kind

         a.      Darwin/biology showed that humans one branch of the evolutionary tree, not the crown of creation but a small part of the story of life on earth

         b.      What is striking is how much we share with other animals, not what distinguishes us from them


18.    Jamieson’s thought experiments to undermine speciesism (idea that merely being human justifies sole or higher moral status)

         a.      Trafalmadore species (superior life form; more intelligent, knowledgeable, compassionate, etc.)

                   i.       According to speciesism, because they not human, it is okay to destroy their civilization and cause them great suffering, for they don’t count at all....

                   ii.      This is not plausible

         b.      Hominid species (homo floresiensis or hobbits, as self-aware as we are, found on remote island)

                   i.       Rare hunting opportunity or creatures to whom owe respect–even though not human?

         c.      Remnant Neanderthals survived; different species, but find out your roommate is one of them

                   i.       Take him to local medical school for vivisection?

         d.      Fact they are not human not sufficient to exclude them from moral protection



20.    One: Homo sapiens-centric speciesism: All and only humans count morally (speciesism discussed above)

         a.      Bizarrely implies that Trafalmadoreans (who are superior to us humans in every way) have a duty to sacrifice their most fundamental interests (in life) for the sake of the most trivial human interests (in tasting new types of food)

21.    Two: Indexical speciesism: Members of each species should hold that all and only members of their own species count morally

         a.      Implies that Trafalmadoreans should think only members of their species counts morally

         b.      But on this view if they caused us utterly gratuitous and horrific suffering, they would not be doing anything morally objectionable

22.    Three: Absolute versus moderate speciesism

         a.      Absolute: Only humans count morally and this is because they are human

         b.      Moderate: Humans are more important than non-humans, because they are human

                            (1)    Defense: Idea we own more to humans than non-humans

23.    One might (reject moderate speciesism and) still systematically prefer humans to non-humans for other reasons, such as

         a.      Some forms of conscious life are more valuable than others and these forms are manifest in humans but not in most other animals (Singer and Mill)

                   i.       J.S. Mill: Better to be Socrates (a human) dissatisfied than a pig satisfied (because anyone who experiences both would prefer the former; Socrates’ psychological state is more valuable than the pigs)

         b.      Or because we have special relations with humans (family obligations, contractual obligations, dependency)

24.    Moderate speciesism not simply the view that we should systematically prefer humans to other animals

         a.      But also gives a reason: Simply because they are humans


25.    Jamieson’s two objections to moderate speciesism

         a.      Dylan & Casey have same psychologies and only differences are that Dylan is suffering much more than Casey and only one of them is human. Can only relieve the suffering of one of them

                   i.       Absurd to argue that don’t know enough about which one’s suffering to relieve; that you also need to know their species

                   ii.      Shows that species membership is not relevant

         b.      If species matters, how much? A little or a lot? What principled reason could be given for an answer?


26.    Lessons from rejection of speciesism

         a.      What has primary moral relevance is individuals and their properties, not fact that they belong to certain groups/kinds

                   i.       For moral purposes, properties like being a member of Lions Club or citizen of U.S. are not morally relevant in themselves

         b.      Anti-speciesist slogan: Facts about biological classification do not determine moral status

                   i.       Morally relevant properties of individuals are not things like species, race, gender, but characteristics such as sentience, capacity for desire, or self consciousness

                            (1)    Note he does not say “being alive” or “being naturally evolved”

         c.      Does this mean we can’t give preference to members of endangered species over others simply because they are members of endangered species? No. Explain why not.

Study questions Jamieson, 5.1: Speciesism


1.         Explain the difference between being a moral agent and being a moral patient (that is, having moral standing or being morally considerable).

2.         Give an example of an indirect duty regarding something and explain why the existence of that duty does not entail that the thing had moral standing. (Hint: consider the duty not to damage my car.)

3.         Using examples, explain why virtually all of the proposed criteria that are suppose to distinguish all humans from all animals end up being too demanding (excluding some humans) or not demanding enough (including some animals).

4.         What is an obvious problem with making moral agency the criterion of moral standing?

5.         Define “speciesism.” Explain the difference between Homo sapiens-centric speciesism and indexical speciesism. Explain the difference between absolute and moderate speciesism. What is the reason moderate speciesism gives for why humans count more?

6.         Explain why the following argument is not speciesist: Because President Obama cares about his life and has complex plans for his future it would be worse for him to die than for the Obama family dog Bo to die, since Bo does not have complex plans for his future.

7.         If one systematically preferred the interests of humans to nonhumans, does it follow that one is embracing speciesism? Why does Jamieson argue that it does not?

8.         Explain how Jamieson uses his Dylan and Casey example to argue against moderate speciesism.