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Moral standing

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L062-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Towards whom is it appropriate to direct fundamental moral consideration? This is the question of moral standing. Many different answers have been offered: all and only those creatures that are themselves capable of extending moral concern and consideration; all humans, whether capable of functioning as moral agents or not; humans plus certain other ‘higher’ animals (such as gorillas, chimpanzees and porpoises) that can think, reason and be self-aware; creatures capable of feeling sensations such as pain, no matter how otherwise rudimentary their psychological existence; living beings, whether sentient or not; ‘holistic’ entities such as political states, cultural traditions, biological species, natural ecosystems.

The moral standing issue has great significance both practically and theoretically. Earnestly reconsidering who, or what, counts morally could change what we eat, how we clothe ourselves, the extent to which we spread out over the land. Even those who believe that only humans count morally must still address the theoretically challenging question of what it is about humans that warrants such exclusive concern.

To try to resolve this difficult issue, philosophers have pursued several different strategies. Some work from plausible convictions about particular cases (such as ‘"Normal" healthy adult humans have moral standing, if anyone does’) and then, subject to the demand for principled consistency, try to extrapolate to a more general account of what confers moral standing. Others try to articulate a broad view of the general nature of moral consciousness (as involving, for example, the disposition to empathize with others or promote their good) and work back from that to an account of the most basic conditions of the possibility of being conscientiously considered (for instance, having feelings with which others can empathize or a good which they can take into account).

Citing this article:
Kuflik, Arthur. Moral standing, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L062-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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