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If that’s the case, what degree of sentience is required to make the cut?Maybe you think we should secure legal rights for chimpanzees and elephants — as the Nonhuman Rights Project is aiming to do — but not for, say, shrimp.
They say there’s no reason to assume that once we’ve included all human beings, the circle has expanded as far as it should.
They invite us to envision a possible future in which we’ve stretched our moral universe still further.
There’s a concept from philosophy that describes this evolution — it’s called humanity’s expanding moral circle.
The circle is the imaginary boundary we draw around those we consider worthy of moral consideration. The moral circle is a fundamental concept among philosophers, psychologists, activists, and others who think seriously about what motivates people to do good. Should they all get rights similar to the ones you enjoy?
There are other psychological, sociological, and economic forces at work.
Psychologists have shown that we tend to feel more capable of extending moral concern to others if we’re not competing with them for scarce resources and if our own needs are already taken care of.Anthony once said, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Similarly, other inventions have arguably catalyzed the expansion of the moral circle.Steven Pinker, in his book , says the printing press was crucial to humanity’s ethical development because it helped spread humanitarian ideas.Over the centuries, it’s expanded to include many people who were previously left out of it. It was introduced by historian William Lecky in the 1860s and popularized by philosopher Peter Singer in the 1980s. For example, you have the right not to be unjustly imprisoned (liberty) and the right not to be experimented on (bodily integrity). If you’re tempted to dismiss that notion as absurd, ask yourself: How do you decide whether an entity deserves rights?As they were brought into the circle, those people won rights. Now it’s cropping up more often in activist circles as new social movements use it to make the case for granting rights to more and more entities. Many people think that sentience, the ability to feel sensations like pain and pleasure, is the deciding factor.Lake Erie won legal personhood status in February, and recent years have seen rights granted to rivers and forests in New Zealand, India, and Colombia.And then there are some who argue that even machines can be granted rights.Some people think sentience is the wrong litmus test; they argue we should include anything that’s alive or that supports living things.Maybe you think we should secure rights for natural ecosystems, as the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is doing.“Reason enables us to take the point of view of the universe,” he told me.Although rationality might help nudge us toward a more universal perspective, it alone can’t get us all the way there.