IEET > Rights > Personhood > Vision
Personhood Beyond the Human: Lori Gruen on Rethinking Personhood

On December 7, 2013 Lori Gruen spoke on “Rethinking Personhood: Recognizing sameness and valuing difference” at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University. Lori Gruen is Professor of Philosophy, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies.

The Personhood Beyond the Human conference was organized by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, Yale’s Animal Ethics Group and Yale’s Technology and Ethics Group.

Abstract: Ethical arguments for considering the claims of the more than human world have tended to parallel arguments that extend ethical consideration outward from those who occupy the moral center — moral agents or “persons.” Expanding the circle is one way scholars and activists have tried to combat what is alternatively termed “speciesism,” “humanormativity,” or “human exceptionalism”. One of the main strategies for expanding the circle is to turn to empirical work designed to show that other animals share similar qualities to human persons. To be considered consistent and fair, we are implored to treat like cases a like. If those on the margins of the sphere of moral concern can be shown, through ethological and cognitive research, for example, to have some of the relevant qualities that we admire in ourselves and to which we attach value, then we ought to admire and value those qualities in whatever bodies they arise. While there is much to be learned from about ourselves and other animals by drawing on the work on our cognitive, behavioral, emotional and social similarities what I call “the sameness view” can also lead us astray.

When what we are looking for is similarities—how we might share the same general type of intelligence or cognitive skills, the same sensitivities and vulnerabilities, the same emotional responses—we tend to obscure or overlook distinctively valuable aspects of the lives of others. We ignore valuable “difference.” To hold up personhood as the standard of moral considerability allows us to see other animals differently, but also is potentially dangerous in that it reconfigures a dualism that requires the exclusion of some “other.” I suggest strategies for appreciating similarities while also valuing difference.


COMMENTS No comments

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Libertarianism and the Basic Income (Part One)

Previous entry: A Review of The Techno-Human Shell, by Joseph Carvalko