All Animals are Equal, but Some More than Others?

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Does the moral badness of pain depend on who feels it? A common, but generally only implicitly stated view, is that it does not. This view, ‘unitarianism’, maintains that the same interests of different beings should count equally in our moral calculus. Shelly Kagan’s project in How to Count Animals, more or less (2019) is to reject this common view, and develop an alternative to it: a hierarchical view of moral status, on which the badness of pain does depend on who feels it. In this review essay, we critically examine Kagan’s argument for status hierarchy. In particular, we reject two of the central premises in his argument: that (1) moral standing is ultimately grounded in agency and (2) that unitarianism is overdemanding. We conclude that moral status may, despite Kagan’s compelling argument to the contrary, not be hierarchical.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342–357
JournalJournal of Moral Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2020


  • moral standing
  • moral status
  • overdemandingness
  • pain
  • unitarianism
  • wellbeing


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