Articles in peer-reviewed philosophy journals
“Ethics after Darwin: Completing the Revolution,” Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics 11 (2020), pp. 43-48
This is a big-picture discussion of an important implication of Darwinism for ethics. I argue that there is a misfit between our scientific view of the natural world and the view, still dominant in academic philosophy and wider society alike, that there is a discrete hierarchy of moral status among conscious beings. I will suggest that the clear line of traditional morality – between human beings and other animals – is a remnant of an obsolete moral outlook, not least because it has no counterpart in empirical reality, and I will invite the reader to think, with me, about tenable alternatives.
Translated and reprinted in French: “L’éthique après Darwin: Achever la Révolution,” L’Amorce (1 February 2021)
“Are Humans More Equal Than Other Animals? An Evolutionary Argument Against Exclusively Human Dignity,” Philosophia 48 (2020), pp. 1807-1823
Secular arguments for equal and exclusively human worth generally tend to follow one of two strategies. One, which has recently gained renewed attention because of a novel argument by S. Matthew Liao, aims to directly ground worth in an intrinsic property that all humans have in common, whereas the other concedes that there is no morally relevant intrinsic difference between all humans and all other animals, and instead appeals to the membership of all humans in a special kind. In this article, I argue that both strategies necessitate drawing a line that is both arbitrary and implausibly opens a moral gulf between individuals whose difference from one another in terms of empirical reality is entirely unremarkable, providing reasons to reject them that go beyond the standard objections in the literature. I conclude that, if all humans are to be included in the community of equals, we must lay to rest the idea that we can do so without also including a wide range of non-human animals.
“Mental-Threshold Egalitarianism: How Not to Ground Full Moral Status,” Social Theory and Practice 44 (2018), pp. 75-93
Mental-threshold egalitarianism, well-known examples of which include Jeff McMahan’s two-tiered account of the wrongness of killing and Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights, divides morally considerable beings into equals and unequals on the basis of their individual mental capacities. In this paper, I argue that the line that separates equals from unequals is unavoidably arbitrary and implausibly associates an insignificant difference in empirical reality with a momentous difference in moral status. In response to these objections, McMahan has proposed the introduction of an intermediate moral status. I argue that this move ultimately fails to address the problem. I conclude that, if we are not prepared to give up moral equality, our full and equal moral status must be grounded in a binary property that is not a threshold property. I tentatively suggest that the capacity for phenomenal consciousness is such a property, and a plausible candidate
“Good to die,” Diacrítica 27 (2013), pp. 139-156
Among those who reject the Epicurean claim that death is not bad for the one who dies, it is popularly held that death is bad for the one who dies, when it is bad for the one who dies, because it deprives the one who dies of the good things that otherwise would have fallen into her life. This view is known as the deprivation account of the value of death, and Fred Feldman is one of its most prominent defenders. In this paper, I explain why I believe that Feldman’s argument for the occasional badness of death fails. While staying within an Epicurean framework, I offer an alternative that adequately accounts for a significant range of widely held intuitions about prudential value. My account implies that death is almost always good for the one who dies, yet often less good than not dying. Finally, I discuss some puzzles that remain for my account and hint at possible ways to address them.
“The Concept of Human Dignity in German and Kenyan Constitutional Law” (with Reginald M. J. Oduor), Thought and Practice: A Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya 4 (2012), pp. 43-73
This paper is a historical, legal and philosophical analysis of the concept of human dignity in German and Kenyan constitutional law. We base our analysis on decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, in particular its take on life imprisonment and its 2006 decision concerning the shooting of hijacked airplanes, and on a close reading of the Constitution of Kenya. We also present a dialogue between us in which we offer some critical remarks on the concept of human dignity in the two constitutions, each one of us from his own philosophical perspective.
“Innocent Threats and the Moral Problem of Carnivorous Animals” (with Tibor R. Machan), Journal of Applied Philosophy 29 (2012), pp. 146-159
The existence of predatory animals is a problem in animal ethics that is often not taken as seriously as it should be. We show that it reveals a weakness in Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights that also becomes apparent in his treatment of innocent human threats. We show that there are cases in which Regan’s justice‐prevails‐approach to morality implies a duty not to assist the jeopardized, contrary to his own moral beliefs. While a modified account of animal rights that recognizes the moral patient as a kind of entity that can violate moral rights avoids this counterintuitive conclusion, it makes non‐human predation a rights issue that morally ought to be subjected to human regulation. Jennifer Everett, Lori Gruen and other animal advocates base their treatment of predation in part on Regan’s theory and run into similar problems, demonstrating the need to radically rethink the foundations of the animal rights movement. We suggest to those who, like us, find it less plausible to introduce morality to the wild than to reject the concept of rights that makes this move necessary to read our criticism either as a modus tollens argument and reject non‐human animal rights altogether or as motivating a libertarian‐ish theory of animal rights.
Rainer Ebert & Anteneh Roba (eds.), Africa and Her Animals: Philosophical and Practical Perspectives (Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 2018)
Africa and Her Animals challenges the common view that animals are essentially inferior to human beings: it is both the start of a long overdue conversation and a call to action. Non‐human animals, essential to the everyday lives and well-being of Africans, impact and are affected by African societies in diverse ways. Africa and Her Animals investigates and analyses the moral, social, cultural, religious, and legal status of non‐human animals in Africa. The contributors, drawn from a wide range of countries and specialist fields, purposefully demonstrate how theoretical and practical issues are inextricably linked, illustrating the importance of transcending disciplinary boundaries, and showing how scholars and practitioners can benefit greatly from genuine and sustained interaction with each other. Their research provides a fresh understanding of the philosophical, religious, and scientific underpinnings of the issues at the heart of the human-animal relationship in Africa. Africa and Her Animals is a valuable source of information and inspiration for researchers, students, development and NGO workers, policy makers, animal rights activists, and all who work with, or are interested in, animals in Africa.
Rainer Ebert et al. (eds.), Tierrechte – Eine interdisziplinäre Herausforderung (Erlangen: Harald Fischer Verlag, 2007)
Der Band vereinigt die Vorträge der internationalen Vorlesungsreihe “Tierrechte” an der Universität Heidelberg im Sommersemester 2006. Herausgegeben von der Interdisziplinären Arbeitsgemeinschaft Tierethik (IAT) mit ihren gegenwärtigen und früheren Mitgliedern Katharina Blesch, Alexandra Breunig, Stefan Buss, Guillaume Dondainas, Rainer Ebert, Florian Fruth, Nils Kessler, Matthias Müller, Uta Panten, Anette Reimelt, Bernd Schälling, Jürgen Schneele, Adriana Sixt-Sailer, Manja Unger und Alexander Zehmisch, setzt er die mit der Vorlesungsreihe begonnenen Bemühungen um eine unvoreingenommene Vermittlung der tierethischen Forschung fort. Der Band will es Lesern und Leserinnen ermöglichen, von verschiedenen Seiten Einblick in den modernen Tierrechtsdiskurs zu erhalten. Beiträge lieferten: Silke Bitz, Gieri Bolliger, Carl Cohen, Raymond Corbey, Eugen Drewermann, Mylan Engel Jr., Antoine F. Goetschel, Helmut F. Kaplan, Eisenhart von Loeper, Jörg Luy, Renate Rastätter, Tom Regan, Kurt Remele, Hanna Rheinz, Peter S. Wenz, Markus Wild, Hanno Würbel.
“The African university and the moral status of non-human animals” (with Workineh Kelbessa), in: R. Ebert & A. Roba (eds.), Africa and Her Animals (Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 2018), pp. 67-81
Carl Cohen, “Haben Tiere Rechte?”, in: R. Ebert et al. (eds.), Tierrechte (Erlangen: Harald Fischer Verlag, 2007), pp. 89-104
“Review of Kurt Remele’s Die Würde des Tieres ist unantastbar: Eine neue christliche Tierethik,” The Journal of Animal Ethics 9 (Spring 2019), pp. 113-114
“Review of Alasdair Cochrane’s Animal Rights Without Liberation,” The Journal of Animal Ethics 5 (Spring 2015), pp. 114-116
“Review of Fritz Mauthner’s Die Sprache,” Copula: Jahangirnagar University Studies in Philosophy 30 (June 2013), pp. 65-67
Selected other publications
“Mohandas K. Gandhi and Tom Regan: Advocates for Animal Rights,” Gandhi Marg Quarterly 38 (2017), pp. 395-403
“On What a Good Argument Is, in Science and Elsewhere,” Dhaka University Journal on Journalism, Media and Communication Studies 1 (May 2011), pp. 17-26
“Weierstrass meets Enriques” (with Andreas P. Braun, Arthur Hebecker & Roberto Valandro), Journal of High Energy Physics 2010 (February 2010), pp. 1-28
We study in detail the degeneration of K3 to T^4/Z_2. We obtain an explicit embedding of the lattice of collapsed cycles of T^4/Z_2 into the lattice of integral cycles of K3 in two different ways. Our first method exploits the duality to the heterotic string on T^3. This allows us to describe the degeneration in terms of Wilson lines. Our second method is based on the blow-up of T^4/Z_2. From this blow-up, we directly construct the full lattice of integral cycles of K3. Finally, we use our results to describe the action of the Enriques involution on elliptic K3 surfaces, finding that a Weierstrass model description is consistent with the Enriques involution only in the F-theory limit.
There are few moral convictions that enjoy the same intuitive plausibility and level of acceptance both within and across nations, cultures, and traditions as the conviction that, normally, it is morally wrong to kill people. Attempts to provide a philosophical explanation of why that is so broadly fall into three groups: Consequentialists argue that killing is morally wrong, when it is wrong, because of the harm it inflicts on society in general, or the victim in particular, whereas personhood and human dignity accounts see the wrongness of killing people in its typically involving a failure to show due respect for the victim and his or her intrinsic moral worth. I argue that none of these attempts to explain the wrongness of killing is successful. Consequentialism generates too many moral reasons to kill, cannot account for deeply felt and widely shared intuitions about the comparative wrongness of killing, and gives the wrong kind of explanation of the wrongness of killing. Personhood and human dignity accounts each draw a line that is arbitrary and entirely unremarkable in terms of empirical reality, and hence ill-suited to carry the moral weight of the difference in moral status between the individuals below and above it. Paying close attention to the different ways in which existing accounts fail to convince, I identify a number of conditions that any plausible account of the wrongness of killing must meet. I then go on to propose an account that does. I suggest that the reason that typically makes killing normal human adults wrong equally applies to atypical human beings and a wide range of non-human animals, and hence challenge the idea that killing a non-human animal is normally easier to justify than killing a human being. This idea has persisted in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the present, and even progressive moral thinkers and animal advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan are committed to it. I conclude by discussing some important practical implications of my account.
I have also published more than 50 columns on contemporary moral, social, and political issues and travel articles in print and online newspapers in numerous countries, some of which can be found on my blog and here.