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Minding What Already Matters: A Critique of Moral Individualism


This article offers a critique of moral individualism. I introduce the topic of moral individualism by discussing how its characteristic assumptions play an organizing role in contemporary conversations about how animals should be treated. I counter that moral individualism fails to do justice not only to our ethical relationships with animals but also to our ethical relationships with human beings. My main argument draws on elements of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of psychology, and in presenting the argument I address the case of human beings before returning to the case of animals. Given that moral individualists frequently defend what I call the ethical view of animals, i.e., the view that animals are in themselves proper objects of ethical concern, it is worth stressing that it is no part of my project to undermine this view. On the contrary, the critique of moral individualism I develop makes available a better understanding of what is right about the idea that animals as such merit certain forms of respect and attention.

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