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.

Title: Human Rights Beyond the Human?

 

Do animals have rights? And if so, are those rights similar to or fundamentally different from our own? In order to answer these questions, I start by investigating the notion that Human Rights are grounded in “Human Dignity”. I argue that if we understand Dignity to be a signifier for moral status, then there is no justification for a distinctly human dignity. From this, I argue that a recharacterization of Dignity as the grounds of basic rights is required and offer that recharacterization in terms of the capacity to value. Since this is possessed by humans and nonhumans alike, it constitutes a grounds for “human” rights that extend beyond the human.

In chapter 1, I argue that Dignity cannot be restricted to all and only humans when understood as moral status. If it is restricted to humans, it fails to fulfil two essential criteria for a plausible account of Dignity: (a) Dignity should be grounded in intrinsically valuable external properties and (b) offer an independently plausible explanation for why beings who are moral patients can be wronged.

In chapters 2 and 3, 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). In chapter 2 I elucidate and defend this account. I argue that this account of Dignity captures the intuitive force of sentientist accounts and overcomes objections surrounding underinclusivity. In chapter 3 I then argue that it is not only a basis for moral status, but it is the only basis for the moral status relevant to ‘what we owe to one another’. To do so, I explain why the capacity to value is a property with intrinsic value, and why this property grounds the derivative value of other properties some might think also have intrinsic value (on a Pluralist account).

In chapters 4 and 5, I use this account of the basis of moral status to provide a revisionary account of basic “human” rights which apply beyond the human. To do so, in chapter 4 I first assume that interests ground rights in some sense, in order to defend the idea that all moral patients possess the same moral status, and are therefore one another’s moral equals because they have the same number and an equal stringency of fundamental rights. This is because, according to my argument, they all possess a single right of absolute stringency: the right to the opportunity to achieve what they value. Subsequently, in chapter 5, I turn to the question of how the interest in achieving what one values grounds the right to the opportunity to achieve what one values. I address this question second because the reflections in chapter 4 allow me to simultaneously provide a framework for a theory of basic rights: I argue that this grounds, together with a Dignitarian strategy of interpretation and contextual specification, allows us to specific the instances of these rights and the deontic relations they embody. I thus conclude that not only does dignity apply beyond the human, but so do rights – and those rights are not fundamentally different, no matter the kind of moral patient who possesses them.

Chapter-by-Chapter Outline

  1. “Human” Dignity Beyond the Human. In this chapter, I argue that dignity should not be restricted to nearly all and only humans. 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 almost exclusively to 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. I demonstrate this conclusion by analysing two kinds of account which justification for dignity can be characterised into and illustrating the force of the above objection against each of them where those accounts endorse the Human Scope Thesis. I also draw out the important implications of this for justifying an account of dignity moving forward.
     

  2. The Grounds of Dignity: The Capacity to Value. In this chapter, I propose a ground for dignity which I argue meets the explanatory burden of the previous chapter: the capacity to value. This capacity constitutes two necessary and sufficient conditions 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. 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. My account is similar to Sentientist views, but as I explain, diverges from them in important ways. I also respond to the prominent objection that my account could be under-inclusive. I argue that “Biocentric” accounts (which take the capacity for teleological interests to be a necessary and sufficient condition) are vulnerable to a reductio ad absurdum. I thus defend my account of the grounds of dignity against the claim that it is underinclusive because it excludes environmental entities such as plants.
     

  3. Why Only One Property Grounds Your Dignity. This chapter argus that not only is the capacity to value a grounds of moral status, but it is the only grounds. To start, I further develop and defend the claim that possession of dignity is determined by possession of an intrinsically valuable property. Second, I elaborate on the claim from the previous chapter that the capacity to value is intrinsically valuable with reference to the Intuitive Argument and the Regress Argument. Subsequently, I argue that the best account is likely to be one which strikes the best balance between coherent plausibility and conceptual economy. On my account, we only need to posit that the capacity to value has intrinsic value in order to explain how and why moral patients are vulnerable to wronging. I explain how my account can accommodate the value of properties traditionally claimed to ground dignity, including rationality and moral agency. Such properties are valuable prudentially or for reasons of stewardship. This not only makes my account more plausible than Pluralist alternatives, but more conceptually economical.
     

  4. Wronging Without Hierarchy? Most people tend to think that humans have a hierarchically superior moral status to nonhumans. In this chapter, I nonetheless argue for the opposite Unitarian claim: that all moral patients have the same moral status. I argue that the standard presumption against Unitarianism, only holds if we endorse at least one of two claims: that rights obtain in prima-facie terms and that the things that moral patients value should be compared against an absolute standard. But we should not endorse these claims. Instead, we should endorse two alternative claims: that rights should be holistically specified, and that moral patients’ values should be compared against a relative standard. Therefore, the presumption against Unitarianism can be overcome – and what’s more, this produces a more plausible theory of moral status. On that theory, all moral patients have the same moral status because they all have a single equally stringent fundamental right: the right to the opportunity to achieve what they value.
     

  5. Rights Beyond the Human. This final chapter is the only chapter that is currently undrafted. I provide the groundwork for a theory of basic rights which applies beyond the human. I argue that this will create an account of “human” rights which apply to non-human moral patients and hence 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 and “human” dignity. Elucidating these two aspects will be the goal of the final chapter. I investigate the question of basic entitlements are grounded in/explained by possession of dignity across the beings to whom dignity applies. In doing so, I provide a theory of how to distinguish between categorical/basic interests and incidental/non-basic interests.