Texas A&M University
Perceiving Nonhumans: Human Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics.
Degree: PhD, Philosophy, 2014, Texas A&M University
There are currently very few discussions of moral psychology in the animal
ethics literature. This dissertation aims to fill this void. My main contention is that many
theories in animal ethics hold mistaken views about the moral psychology of human
beings. These mistaken moral psychological views, I argue, limit these theories’ ability
to act as a guide in people’s treatment of animals.
To develop my argument, I propose five criteria by which to assess the
psychological plausibility of ethical theories, drawing from numerous recent
developments in empirical moral psychology. I also draw a comparison between cases of
physical impossibility in the “ought implies can” literature and cases of psychological
difficulty, primarily as they arise in the literature on moral ideals. In both cases, I argue,
limitations in individual resources constrain what ethical theories can ask of individuals.
I then investigate three different topics relevant to human moral psychology and
normative evaluation of animals: attributing mental states to animals, the status of
animals as disgust elicitors, and our empathic responses to animals. With respect to
mental state attribution, I argue that the best research to date indicates that phenomenal
mental states, like pain, determine our judgments of the moral considerability of animals.
I also argue that the behavioral triggers we possess for attributing phenomenal states to
animals are quite narrow—primarily animals that look and act like human beings. With
respect to disgust, I examine research suggesting animals elicit disgust-based avoidance.
I draw from research on dehumanization to argue that one way we cope with animals, despite their disgust-evoking powers, is by attributing them mental states that evaluate
them positively but simultaneously cement their status as inferior beings. In the case of
empathy, I argue against the idea that empathy is psychologically central to expressing
moral concern for animals. I examine six empirical claims made about empathy in the
animal ethics literature and argue that all six are problematic to varying degrees.
I conclude by making suggestions for overcoming specific psychological
obstacles identified throughout the dissertation. I also outline a research plan for
constructing psychologically plausible theories in animal ethics.
Advisors/Committee Members: Palmer, Clare (advisor), Varner, Gary (advisor), Radzik, Linda (committee member), Bermúdez, José (committee member), Schmeichel, Brandon (committee member).
Subjects/Keywords: Animal ethics; Moral psychology; Psychological Plausibility; Mentalizing; Disgust; Empathy
to Zotero / EndNote / Reference
APA (6th Edition):
Kasperbauer, T. (2014). Perceiving Nonhumans: Human Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics. (Doctoral Dissertation). Texas A&M University. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/152594
Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):
Kasperbauer, Tyler. “Perceiving Nonhumans: Human Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics.” 2014. Doctoral Dissertation, Texas A&M University. Accessed September 21, 2020.
MLA Handbook (7th Edition):
Kasperbauer, Tyler. “Perceiving Nonhumans: Human Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics.” 2014. Web. 21 Sep 2020.
Kasperbauer T. Perceiving Nonhumans: Human Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. Texas A&M University; 2014. [cited 2020 Sep 21].
Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/152594.
Council of Science Editors:
Kasperbauer T. Perceiving Nonhumans: Human Moral Psychology and Animal Ethics. [Doctoral Dissertation]. Texas A&M University; 2014. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/152594