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Environmental Ethics

Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 1980

W. Murray Hunt
Pages 59-65
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics19802111

Are Mere Things Morally Considerable?

Kenneth Goodpaster has criticized ethicists like Feinberg and Frankena for too narrowly circumscribing the range of moral considerability, urging instead that “nothing short of the condition of being alive” is a satisfactory criterion. Goodpaster overlooks at least one crucial objection: that his own “condition of being alive” may aIso be too narrow a criterion of moral considerability, since “being in existence” is at least as plausible and nonarbitrary a criterion as is Goodpaster’s. I show that each of the arguments that Goodpaster musters in support of his criterion can be used equally weIl to bolster “being in existence” as a test of moral considerability. Moreover, I argue that “being in existence” appears to be a stronger criterion overall, since it is broader. Until or unless a fuller justification is forthcoming of “being alive” as a satisfactory criterion of moral considerability-a justification which must demonstrate that “mere things,” included under the condition of “being in existence,” do not deserve moral consideration--Goodpaster’s thesis is confronted with a serious problem.

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