John Vorhaus: Are we justified in treating human beings as having a higher moral status than non-human animals?

On Tuesday December 1st, the Williams Project was visited by the philosopher John Vorhaus from the UCL Institute of Education. John led us in a provocative and controversial discussion of the treatment of human beings as having a higher moral status than non-human animals. John introduced us to the thesis of Moral Individualism, which asserts that, when assessing what we owe to a creature – any creature – we must look at its actual characteristics, not just the species to which it belongs. We then used this idea to determine the extent to which human dignity should be applied to all humans, including the profoundly cognitively impaired.

We learnt about the philosopher J. McMahan, who argues that profoundly cognitively impaired people are afforded their moral status due to the ‘special relations’ they have with those around them. McMahan applies this logic to household pets also, who he argues only have moral status due to their relation to their owner. John also introduced us to Nozick’s philosophy which states that all humans are deserving of moral status purely because they are human. The talk was thought-provoking and enjoyable, and I hope that John will be able to revisit us in the future.


Jada Coker

John Vorhaus

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