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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Moral Insignificance of Self-consciousness

Joshua Shepherd
European Journal of Philosophy
First published February 2, 2017

Abstract

In this paper, I examine the claim that self-consciousness is highly morally significant, such that the fact that an entity is self-conscious generates strong moral reasons against harming or killing that entity. This claim is apparently very intuitive, but I argue it is false. I consider two ways to defend this claim: one indirect, the other direct. The best-known arguments relevant to self-consciousness's significance take the indirect route. I examine them and argue that (a) in various ways they depend on unwarranted assumptions about self-consciousness's functional significance, and (b) once these assumptions are undermined, motivation for these arguments dissipates. I then consider the direct route to self-consciousness's significance, which depends on claims that self-consciousness has intrinsic value or final value. I argue what intrinsic or final value self-consciousness possesses is not enough to generate strong moral reasons against harming or killing.

The article is here.
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