Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Philosophy, religion and theology, Artificial life, Biocentrism, Environmental ethics, Etiology, Inherent worth, Proper function
Some biocentrists argue that all living things have "inherent worth". Anything that has inherent worth has interests that provide a reason for why all moral agents should care about it in and of itself. There are, however, some difficulties for biocentric individualist arguments which claim that all living things have inherent worth.
Some biocentrists maintain that all living things have inherent worth and that artificial living things do not because the former, but not the latter, have interests by recourse to their natural selection etiology. Some also argue that synthetic forms of life do not have moral standing because they are "artificial" instead of "natural". However, there are good reasons to think that naturally-selected functions do not adequately define biocentric interests or that what is "natural" is not always of interest to the individual organism.
A systems-based account of interests, on the other hand, attempts to solve the problem of harmful, selected functions by construing what is in a thing’s interests by recourse to whether it has highly integrated functions aimed at its self-maintenance. Cases of harmful selected functions are handled adequately, but unfortunately this account allows for the existence of non-sentient “instant organisms”, that have teleofunctional interests but that do not have teleofunctional interests that provide them direct moral standing. It also allows possible, future, designed entities to count as interest possessors.
A systems-based account cannot provide guidance on what makes the teleofunctional interests of non-sentient beings morally considerable to the extent that they have direct moral standing. While rational agents and sentient beings have interests that provide them with direct moral standing regardless of their etiology, it does not appear that non-sentient living things also have interests that provide them with direct moral standing. Indirect moral standing is the only kind of moral standing that non-sentient living things can have.
I argue that the non-design etiology of natural selection is incapable of guaranteeing indirect moral standing for non-sentient living things. If, on the other hand, all non-sentient living things were designed, then they would be guaranteed to have indirect moral standing.
Rice, D. L. (2016). Biocentrism in Environmental Ethics: Questions of Inherent Worth, Etiology, and Teleofunctional Interests. Graduate Theses and Dissertations Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/1650