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Can Animals Be Moral?

This book defends a very controversial thesis: animals can act morally.

By: Mark Rowlands (Author)

274 pages, no illustrations

Oxford University Press USA

Paperback | Apr 2015 | #221058 | ISBN-13: 9780190240301
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.99 $21/€19 approx
Hardback | Dec 2012 | #197369 | ISBN-13: 9780199842001
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £21.49 $26/€24 approx

About this book

Can animals act for moral reasons? Philosophical tradition answers, almost univocally, "no." Recent work in cognitive ethology, however, points in the other direction. Philosophical tradition has apparently convincing arguments on its side. But cognitive ethology can point to a growing body of empirical evidence that suggests these arguments must be wrong. This groundbreaking book assimilates both philosophical and ethological frameworks into a unified whole. In part, ethologists have not understood the enormous logical obstacles facing the claim that animals can act morally. But, in part also, philosophers have been guilty of over-intellectualizing crucial concepts such as moral motivation and action.

Building on the ethological evidence, Can Animals Be Moral? engages in meticulous philosophical analysis and argument, and the resulting answer to the question is a qualified "yes." Animals can act morally in the sense they can act for moral reasons. Or, at least, they are no compelling logical obstacles to supposing that this is the case. This conclusion has important implications not just for our understanding of animals but also of the central concepts we employ in understanding the moral lives of humans, such as motivation, action, and agency.

"Philosophers will appreciate the carefulness of Rowlands's arguments, the clarity of his writing, and his understated sense of humor."
– Jessica Pierce, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

"An excellent book, not only on what it is for animals to be moral, but what it is for humans to be moral, whether one agrees with the conclusions or not. In short, it is a book on what it is to be moral per se that challenges with skill and imagination goes-without-saying preconceptions of the moral and so deserves to be widely read."
– John Shand, The Philosophical Quarterly

"This book makes an enormous contribution to an under-explored topic. It makes a novel and persuasive case that animals can be moral within certain limits, and lays the way for future philosophical and empirical enquiry."
– Dr. Tom McClelland, Metapsychology

"An important contribution to the extended field of Ethics [...] very crisply and also engagingly written."
– Chris Bratcher, Ethical Record

"I would strongly recommend this book [...] to those who are studying animal behaviour and to those who are working on ethics and moral status of animals."
– Martin Whiting, Animal Welfare


1. Can Animals be Moral?
2. Attributing Emotions to Animals
3. Moral Agents, Patients, and Subjects
4. The Reflection Condition: Aristotle and Kant
5. The Idiot
6. The Phenomenology of Moral Motivation
7. Moral Motivation and Meta-Cognition
8. Moral Reasons and Practice
9. Reconstructing Normativity and Agency
10. A Cognitive Ethologist from Mars

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Mark Rowlands is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami. He is the author of fourteen books, translated into more than twenty languages. His autobiography, The Philosopher and the Wolf was published in 2008, and became an international bestseller.

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