Research.

I have interest in a wide variety of topics in contemporary political and moral philosophy. I am particularly interested in questions of moral status, moral equality and basic rights, with an emphasise on the rights of animals and other beings traditionally understood to occupy marginal spaces.

I also have a deep interest in the connection between political  philosophy and other disciples/practices, especially law and social policy. I believe ideal political theory has a lot to offer for the practical implementation and achievement of just welfare policies and legislation. I follow the debates in environmental justice, animal ethics, social justice, feminism, racism, anarchism, meta-ethics, human rights and theories of knowledge.

You can find a fuller outline of my PhD research, supervised by Dr Liam Shields and Dr Richard Child, below.

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PhD Thesis.

Main Question:

 

What is Dignity and how does it act as a foundation for beings' basic rights, if at all?

Overview:

 

I investigate the notion of Dignity as a grounding for basic/"human" rights. Notably, I take an explicitly anti-speciesist perspective. I understand Dignity as a foundational moral status: the capacity to be vulnerable to wronging by others. Call this Moral Patienthood. In the first instance, I argue that Dignity cannot be restricted to all and only humans when understood as Moral Patienthood. That is, Dignity should apply beyond the human if it is to (a) be grounded in intrinsically valuable external properties and (b) offer an independently plausible explanation for why beings who are Moral Patients are vulnerable to wronging. Secondly, I develop an account of Dignity which can apply beyond the human. This account argues that what explains a being's possession of Dignity is their capacity to value (grounded in their capacity for teleological interests, and their capacity to experience of modifiable mental states). I argue that this account of Dignity captures the intuitive force of agential and sentientist accounts. Finally, I provide the groundwork for a revisionary account of basic human rights which apply beyond the human by attending to two questions: firstly, on my expansive account of the scope of Dignity, how ought we to make sense of the claim that Dignity-possessors are moral equals? Secondly, what are "human" rights if they apply beyond the human, as I suggest?

 

Chapter Outline:

  1. Human Dignity Beyond the Human. In this chapter, I argue that Dignity cannot be restricted to all and only humans when understood as Moral Patienthood. This is because an adequate account of Dignity must provide criteria of inclusion which (a) are grounded in intrinsically valuable external properties and (b) offer an independently plausible explanation for why beings who are Moral Patients are vulnerable to wronging. I argue that this is a burden which accounts of Dignity which maintain that Dignity applies to all and only humans cannot meet. Therefore, Dignity must apply to only some humans or it must apply beyond the human. The latter is the most plausible route. A video recording of me presenting this chapter can be found here: https://youtu.be/Kz_1EBap6_s
     

  2. The Grounds of Dignity as Patienthood. In this chapter, I propose a grounds for Dignity which I argue meets the explanatory burden of the previous chapter. This, I claim, is that Dignity-possessors have the capacity to value. This capacity arises from the possession of two external properties i) the capacity for teleological interests and ii) the capacity to experience modifiable mental states. Where a being possesses these two properties, I argue that they possess ends which are of final importance to them. In other words, the being values their ends. It is this which not only explains why some beings, and not others, are vulnerable to wronging, but explains why those beings have intrinsic value.
     

  3. Biocentricism and The Under-Inclusiveness Objection. In this chapter, I defend my account of Dignity as Moral Patienthood against the Under-Inclusiveness Objection. This objection states that the capacity to value is not inclusive enough. To do so, it proposes that the first of the two properties I identify (the capacity for teleological interests) is both necessary and sufficient for a being to be vulnerable to wronging. These so-called Biocentric accounts therefore argue that plants and other non-sentient creatures can be wronged. I reject this claim by (a) defending the necessity of the second condition (the capacity to experience modifiable mental states) in further depth and (b) showing that Biocentrism is vulnerable to a reductio ad absurdum, for if the capacity for teleological interests is sufficient to ground a vulnerability to wronging the scope of Dignity as Patienthood would be too inclusive.
     

  4. Agential Accounts. In this chapter, I continue my defence of my account of Dignity as Moral Patienthood. This time, against the objection that my account of Dignity is too inclusive or obtuse. Such a claim is likely to be made from those who endorse agential accounts of Moral Patienthood, whereby it is only those with the capacity for agency, rationality, or moral personality who can be wronged. I argue that such an objection would not succeed for two reasons. Firstly, agential accounts fail to offer sufficient explanation for why agency is of intrinsic value. My account, on the other hand, provides that explanation. Secondly, I argue that agency has moral relevance if and only if a being already has the capacity to value. Thus, even if agency can ground a moral status, it is not a status associated with a beings mere vulnerability to wronging.
     

  5. Are moral patients also moral equals? In this chapter, I address the common-sense notion that beings who possess Dignity possess it equally. That is, not only are Dignity possessors taken to have moral worth, but they are taken to have equal moral worth, either insofar as they ought to be awarded the same degree of consideration in our moral deliberations, or insofar as they have the same amount of intrinsic value. One possible claim which I will explore here is that those who possess Dignity are not moral equals, at least not in the sense that they ought to be awarded the same degree of consideration. That is, they might have the same amount of intrinsic value but this does not translate to equal consideration due to differential capacities. Moral equality, on this view, would become a merely relational concern for beings that value relating to one another as equals.
     

  6. What are "human" rights if they apply "beyond the human"? The previous sections have focused largely on the foundational issue concerning the notion of Dignity. In the final two chapters, I wish to begin providing the groundwork for a theory of human rights which applies beyond the human. I argue that this will create an account of basic rights which are more robust in their justification. Despite applying beyond the human these constitute revisionary "human" rights insofar as they are minimalist in their prescriptions (focusing on the basic entitlements that individuals have to achieving a minimally good life) and faithful to the current practice of human rights. Elucidating these two aspects will be the goal of this chapter. For the former, the focus will be how basic entitlements are grounded in/explained by possession of Dignity across the beings to whom it applies. For the latter, the focus will be on how mediating principles and context sensitivity support the interspecies application of this revisionary understanding, in much the same way that cultural sensitivity does to the claimed universality of human rights.
     

  7. A Problematic Conclusion? In the final chapter, I want to attend to one of the strongest objections against my account. If humans and animals both possess Dignity (to some form of equal degree) and share basic rights, then this could result in the problematic conclusion that we should direct considerable resources to non-human animals at the high cost of humans. I wish to offer some guidance on how such interest conflicts can be managed, as well as qualifying the extent to which this conclusion is problematic with the use of examples, for instance the implications for animal testing and human impact on wildlife environments. One possibility is that after doing so the conclusion that some resources should be diverted to non-human animals at the cost of humans is less problematic, as opposed to being merely an albeit inconvenient demand of justice.