Jamieson, on “Biocentrism” from Ch. 6 (145-49)



1.       Criticism of animal liberation/rights philosophy of Singer/Regan (sentiocentrism) that it does not extend moral concern far enough

          a.       Including sentient/subject of a life animals in the moral club is barely to move beyond traditional human centered morality

          b.       Letting in our closest cousins--those living creatures most like us--into the moral arena

          c.       Vast majority of living creatures (including living animals) are not sentient and thus are excluded from direct moral concern

2.       Biocentrism: All life is morally considerable

          a.       Schweitzer’s reverence for life

3.       Having interests is necessary for being morally considerable

          a.       Sentientists think that capacity for experience is necessary for having interests

          b.       Biocentrists deny this and assert all living things have interests (a good of their own), even if they have no subjective experiences

4.       Examples of interests of non-sentient beings

          a.       Plants have interests based on need for sun and water

          b.       Even human have interests (e.g., needs) independent of fact we are experiencing creatures

                    i.        We need vitamin C (in our interest to have some) whether conscious of this or not

          c.       All living things have biological needs that is in their interests to satisfy.

5.       Sentientist reply (1): Nothing matters to plants

          a.       W/o sentience nothing for morality to take into account

          b.       Nothing that happens to an insentient organisms matters to it

          c.       Biocentrist reply: But even though a tree does not care if you crush its roots with a bulldozer, it is bad for the tree

6.       Biocentrist’s reply: Two senses of “interests”

          a.       Preference interests (caring, wanting, desiring)

          b.       Welfare interests (needs, good of one’s own)

          c.       Only sentient beings have former, but all living beings and not

artifacts have the latter

          d.       Either sense of interest is enough to get moral concern going

7.       Sentientist reply (2): Plant interests imply machine interests, which is bizarre

          a.       If non-sentient beings like plants have interests then so do machines like cars

          b.       Plants need water and cars need oil

          c.       Talking about cars having interests is strange and non-literal use of ‘interests’

          d.       But so is talking about plants having interests

          e.       Humans and sentient animals have interests (because what happens to them matters to them)

                    i.        Neither cars nor plants have interests in this sense

8.       Biocentrists reply: Machine’s needs not their own

          a.       Machine’s “interests” not their own, but belong to their owner, maker, or user

                    i.        Car’s need for oil is not its own, but need of the owner or user

          b.       Tree’s need for water really is its own need and not reducible to the need of the human who wants its shade

9.       Jamieson reply to biocentrist claim: Having a designer does not mean interests are not your own

          a.       Fact machine has a designer-maker does not give us a reason to deny it has interests

          b.       If one organism was made by natural selection and another with identical characteristics by Biotechnology Systems, no reason to say the former has interests and later does not

          c.       “Nothing about a beings origin affects whether or not it has interests”

          d.       Things have interests and are morally considerable in light of their features, not because of their history

10.     Possible reply to Jamieson’s argument:

          a.       One difference between the makers of machines and that of living organisms is that the designers of machines have intentional goals/purposes for the machines (where as evolution has no design goals for organisms)

          b.       And perhaps it is plausible to say that the “interests” of a being become the interests of the designer when the designer is an intentional agent

          c.       One worry about this response is that it might seem to imply that genetically engineered organisms like mice engineered to have breast cancer do not have interests of their own (and it seems intuitively that they do)

Questions on Jamieson on Biocentrism


1.       Explain the criticism that claims sentiocentrists do not extend moral concern far enough.

2.       Is the capacity for having experience necessary for having interests? What do the sentiocentrists say? What do the biocentrists say?

3.       Explain the debate between biocentrists and sentiocentrist about whether or not plants have interests in a sense that matters morally. Include a discussion of the “interests” of machines and an evaluation of whether or not having a designer can affect if one has one’s own interests.