Consider whether non-human animals have moral standing

Starting on page 242 of the reading, “Puppies, Pigs, and People,” Norcross discusses “moral agents” and “moral patients”. This is medieval language that is unusual outside of philosophy, so it might have been a bit unclear. You can think of an agent as “the one who acts” and a patient as “the one who is acted upon.” (This is the original sense of a patient in a medical setting, too.) In general, agent and patient need not be human or even sentient; they can be any two beings. The key point is that one is active and the other passive.

The last section of Norcross’s article argues that the fact that animals are not (and cannot be) moral agents does not mean they are not moral patients. That is, even though they are not moral beings (i.e., we cannot judge them as behaving morally or immorally), nevertheless, because we are moral agents, we owe moral duties towards animals. In other words, there is no guarantee that just because something has moral standing that it therefore has moral responsibility.

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