37 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2000
According to the human rights claim, every human being has a moral status that other entities--like rocks or plants--do not. No matter how weak, despised or criminal, every person is owed consideration and, with regard to her most vital interests, deference.
On one account, human beings count morally in this way because they are created in the image of God, and thus the human rights claim is necessarily a religious one. This paper considers whether there is an alternative secular explanation of what it is about every human being that demands moral respect--and if so, whether this attribute is shared with other beings as well.
After considering three possible secular accounts--derived respectively from the intuitionist, utilitarian and Kantian traditions--the paper proposes a fourth, alternative theory according to which all sentient beings count morally. As to human beings in particular, the paper concludes that they are morally entitled to certain rights simply in virtue of their interests as sentient beings, and others in virtue of additional morally relevant characteristics peculiar to human beings, such as rationality and self-consciousness.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation