Moral agents

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

1. Agents versus recipients

Moral agents should be distinguished from moral recipients (see Moral standing). Moral agents are those who are morally accountable for at least some of their conduct. They are subject to moral duties and obligations, and, therefore, to moral praise and blame. Moral recipients are those who are owed moral consideration for their own sakes (see Respect for persons). On certain views moral agents and moral recipients are coextensive. Thus according to Kantians persons are the only moral agents and the only moral recipients (see Kant 1785). We should not be cruel to animals, not because animals are owed anything for their own sakes, but because cruelty to animals may indirectly harm persons who are the only ends in themselves (see Animals and ethics). According to utilitarians all sentient beings are owed consideration to the extent that they have feelings; so on this view there are moral recipients who are not moral agents – for instance, animals, or at least their feelings. Can there be moral agents who are not moral recipients? It would seem not, unless perhaps one uses moral agency in a weak sense which includes among moral agents nonsentient entities such as robots and corporations.

Citing this article:
Haksar, Vinit. Agents versus recipients. Moral agents, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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