Volume 25, 2018
Animals: Ethics, Agency, Culture
The Moral Problem of Other Minds
In this paper I ask how we should treat other beings in cases of uncertainty about sentience. I evaluate three options: (1) an incautionary principle that permits us to treat other beings as non-sentient, (2) a precautionary principle that requires us to treat other beings as sentient, and (3) an expected value principle that requires us to multiply our subjective probability that other beings are sentient by the amount of moral value they would have if they were. I then draw three conclusions. First, the precautionary and expected value principles are more plausible than the incautionary principle. Second, if we accept a precautionary or expected value principle, then we morally ought to treat many beings as having at least partial moral status. Third, if we morally ought to treat many beings as having at least partial moral status, then morality involves more cluelessness and demandingness than we might have thought.