Moral Subjects

Authored by: Mark Rowlands

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds

Print publication date:  July  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138822887
eBook ISBN: 9781315742250
Adobe ISBN:


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A dog has been hit by a car, and lies unconscious on a busy highway in Chile. The dog’s canine companion, at enormous risk to his or her own life, weaves in and out of traffic, and eventually manages to drag the unconscious dog to the side of the road (see A female elephant, Grace, tries to help the dying matriarch of another family of elephants, and appears distressed when she is unable to do so effectively (Douglas-Hamilton et al. 2006). A gorilla lifts the unconscious body of a small boy, who has fallen into her enclosure, and carries him to the gate where she hands him over to a keeper (Bekoff and Pierce 2009). A rhesus monkey refuses to take food, when doing so will subject another monkey to an electric shock. The monkey persists in this refusal for twelve days, nearly starving himself to death (Wechkin et al. 1964). What should we make of cases such as these? Here is one possibility: these cases form parts of a large and growing body of evidence for the claim that some nonhuman animals (henceforth ‘animals’) can exhibit moral behavior (see de Waal 2006 and Bekoff and Pierce 2009 for excellent surveys of the evidence). Most philosophers and scientists reject this possibility. I shall defend it.

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