Beastly Morality: Animals as Ethical Agents

Beastly Cover

We have come to regard nonhuman animals as beings of concern, and we even grant them some legal protections. But until we understand animals as moral agents in and of themselves, they will be nothing more than distant recipients of our largesse. Featuring original essays by philosophers, ethicists, religionists, and ethologists, including Marc Bekoff, Frans de Waal, and Elisabetta Palagi, this collection demonstrates the ability of animals to operate morally, process ideas of good and bad, and think seriously about sociality and virtue.

Envisioning nonhuman animals as distinct moral agents marks a paradigm shift in animal studies, as well as philosophy itself. Drawing not only on ethics and religion but also on law, sociology, and cognitive science, the essays in this collection test long-held certainties about moral boundaries and behaviors and prove that nonhuman animals possess complex reasoning capacities, sophisticated empathic sociality, and dynamic and enduring self-conceptions. Rather than claim animal morality is the same as human morality, this book builds an appreciation of the variety and character of animal sensitivities and perceptions across multiple disciplines, moving animal welfarism in promising new directions.



Issues surrounding animal moral agency have become a cutting-edge area of research in animal studies. Beastly Morality is poised to make a significant contribution to the field. (Matthew Calarco, author of Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida)

Beastly Morality is a wide-ranging, scholarly, and forward-looking book that will surely cause many people to think about animals in new and more respectful ways. Congratulations to all concerned. I hope it enjoys a wide audience. (Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE, United Nations Messenger of Peace)

Building on copious contemporary philosophical and scientific work, Beastly Morality moves from previous, somewhat limited interspecific comparisons of moral behavior to a wider discourse within which the very notion of moral agency is reshaped in an open-ended, species-neutral manner, thus marking a further step in the development of a more impartial worldview. (Paola Cavalieri, author of The Animal Question. Why Nonhuman Animals Deserve Human Rights)

This is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. It does not just bring together scholars from across the academy interested in questions about the animal but also shows the synergistic benefits of intense discussions among philosophers, ethologists, and experts from diverse religious traditions. The reader is caught up in wave after wave of arguments that will challenge current thinking on the status and significance of other animals. The depth and level of inquiry is impressive while still being accessible for the nonspecialist. This book is radical in the very best sense of the word, serious scholarship combined with far reaching ethical implications. (Celia Deane-Drummond, Inaugural Director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing and Professor, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame, Indiana)

This worthwhile, thought-provoking collection opens an important dialogue concerning nonhuman animals and moral agency…. Recommended. (Choice)

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