published on January 26, 2018
How Not to Ground Full Moral Status
Mental-threshold egalitarianism, well-known examples of which include Jeff McMahan’s two-tiered account of the wrongness of killing and Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights, divides morally considerable beings into equals and unequals on the basis of their individual mental capacities. In this paper, I argue that the line that separates equals from unequals is unavoidably arbitrary and implausibly associates an insignificant difference in empirical reality with a momentous difference in moral status. In response to these objections, McMahan has proposed the introduction of an intermediate moral status. I argue that this move ultimately fails to address the problem. I conclude that, if we are not prepared to give up moral equality, our full and equal moral status must be grounded in a binary property that is not a threshold property. I tentatively suggest that the capacity for phenomenal consciousness is such a property, and a plausible candidate.