Carruthers and the Argument from Marginal Cases

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Peter Carruthers has argued that the present popular concern with animal rights is a sign of moral decadence. I argue against this conclusion by focusing on how Carruthers handles the notorious argument from marginal cases. I first explain what the argument from marginal cases is and how a theory can run foul of that argument. I then show that Carruthers must face this argument since he concludes that the marginal cases have, while animals lack, direct moral status. I then introduce a two-tiered moral theory as a way of accommodating the concept of direct moral status within Carruthers's framework. Although the concept of direct moral status that results from such a two-tiered theory has important differences from the standard conception, it does justify Carruthers's claim that the marginal cases have direct moral status. However, I argue that animals will likewise have direct moral status with this new conception, thus demonstrating that, even given Carruthers's theory, a concern for the rights of animals is no more a sign of moral decadence than a concern for the rights of the marginal cases is.

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