The Scope of Moral Consideration
Discussion of “Is a Dolphin a Person?”- further expanded on
Do animals have rights? Can they be considered as persons?
Justice or injustice going on in the world now
*Exam- 70 questions, 1 hr
She begins her essay “Is a Dolphin a Person?” by describing a court case: two people are prosecuted
for releasing two dolphins from a marine research facility in Hawaii. One defendant, Kenneth
Vasseur, argued that he was morally bound to release them because they were clearly suffering and
were emotionally damaged by the conditions of their captivity.
The judge rejected Vasseur’s defence on the grounds that a dolphin is a thing, as opposed to
a person, and so there is no complication. Vasseur stole or lost a thing, someone’s property.
Cruel treatment was irrelevant to the case. Persons, the judged proclaimed, means human
beings and nothing more. That is how the law views it.
The judge, Midgley concludes, used a legal fiction i.e- that dolphins are things (based on
what law agrees on), which has no basis in fact. Midgley argues that there is a sense in
which persons includes other creatures, in so far as this distinguishes them from mere
An undeniable fact about dolphins, for example, Midgley points out, is that they “each have a more
or less independent life”, that is they are autonomous (self ruling)
A dolphin has a life, a community and is a complex creature
With respect to the concept of person, Midgley notes that originally the word meant a
mask, that is, a character in a play.- playing parts and being another character, having roles
Midgley goes on to point out that not all legal persons are human beings even. For a century or
more, corporations such as banks or universities, etc. , have also been considered persons, and
accordingly have been give the rights of a person, that are relevant to them of course
Due to the laws concerning slavery, and what counts as a person. Lawyers decided to make
certain things seen as human beings because of this.
Nonetheless, there is little consistency here. Midgley points to the fact that women until recently
were not treated as legal persons, at least in the public sphere. These facts reveal how whether
someone or something is regarded as a person or is not context dependent. Women at this time
were still seen as persons in the private sphere.
Was not in sync with what is morally correct.
A person, to be clear, is here thought of as a being that is not merely a thing to be owned or
otherwise, but as an autonomous being with its own interests and ends. That is the crucial contrast:
Persons are not merely things. They are owned moral considered. (Though this is problematic with
respect to corporations) Turning to Kant, Midgley notes that he reasoned that ‘cause humans clearly have ends of their own,
they cannot, morally speaking, be treated as means to an end. They must be treated with respect, as
ends in themselves
Midlgey writes: By dwelling on the simple, stark contrast involved here, Kant was able to make some
splendid moral points which are still vital today, about thoroughgoing respect which is due to every
free and rational human being. But the harsh, bright light which he turned on these situations
entirely obscured the intermediate cases. A mouse is not a thing either, before we even start to think
about a dolphin (152)
Midgley believes that living creatures are not things
In the end, Kant is blind to this middle ground. He concluded that so long as someone’s
treatment of animals does not damage their own good will, she/he can do whatever they
like with them, including kicking them around, and so on. – Who is worse than the other? It
poses this question. Also, that the animal is irrational and is just a thing.
The law has failed to keep up our moral development. We are inclined to think that cruelty to
animals, animals like dolphins especially, overrule their treatment as mere things to be owned. So
that releasing a dolphin from captivity on grounds that it is being treated badly excuses the persons
from being thought of as a thief
Midgley concludes that we owe animal’s moral consideration not because they are intelligent
enough but rather because they are capable of suffering. Moreover, they often have emotionally
complex lives that point to their autonomy and capacity for suffering more broadly construed.
Problem with experimentation and what we do to them
What about rights to animals? Don’t they deserve it just like we do?
Another moral philosopher, Peter Sing