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Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship Hardcover – September 15, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0231142342 ISBN-10: 023114234X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


Highly recommended.


The book is interesting, stimulating, and well worth reading for anyone interested in animals' cognition and/or moral status.

(Julia Tanner Journal of Applied Philosophy)

Steiner weaves his narrative through a great deal of material, and in the end proposes a theory of kinship that is sure both to provoke and delight.

(Brett Buchanan Society & Animals 1900-01-00)


Animals and the Moral Community is a stimulating and comprehensive philosophical inquiry into animal cognition and sentience and the bearing of what we learn about animal minds on how we treat them. Although Gary Steiner argues that animals are unable to make rational inferences, his notions of cosmic holism and cosmic justice demand nonviolence toward animals and that we value their moral status as we value our own. A radical shift in how we treat animals will have a positive effect not only on their lives but also on ours, and I hope that the principle of cosmic justice will be adopted globally.

(Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, and, with Jessica Pierce, the forthcoming Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals)|

In this marvelously clear and accessible book, Gary Steiner presents an innovative theory of animal cognition that does not depend on nonhuman animals having conceptual or predicative abilities in order for us to explain their behavior. He defends the view that only sentience is required for full membership in the moral community, but he maintains that we must go beyond the liberal tradition if we want to achieve the recognition of moral personhood for nonhuman animals. The solution he proposes is a theory of cosmic holism that recognizes our kinship with other animals but that includes the liberal values of rationality, justice, and fairness. This is an important book that will fundamentally restructure our discourse about animal cognition. Steiner's theory of cosmic holism is one of the most important developments in animal ethics in recent years.

(Gary L. Francione, Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University, and author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation)|

Even those who disagree with Gary Steiner's vegan end point will appreciate the thoroughness with which he surveys two and a half millenia of Western philosophical thought about the minds and moral status of animals. Steiner argues that although animals are incapable of rational thinking, what matters morally is that they are intelligent, sentient beings, whose lives should matter to us because their lives matter to them.

(Colin Allen, professor of history and philosophy of science, professor of cognitive science, Indiana University, Bloomington)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023114234X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231142342
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,238,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Medius on May 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Animals and the Moral Community takes up two major topics in six chapters. The first three chapters, drawing on previous works of philosophy and cognitive ethology, take the reader on a superb tour and analysis of both historical and current thought on the mental life of animals, settling on a moderate and compelling theory of animal minds that avoids the attribution to animals of complex and abstract cognition (i.e. conceptual rationality) found in normal adult humans and avoids the ludicrous neo-Cartesian denial of perceptual intelligence and experiential awareness. Bringing out the important difference between perceptual intelligence and conceptual rationality, Professor Steiner states at the end of these chapters on animal minds, "Animals are intelligent creatures with subjective states of awareness. The more we come to appreciate this fact, the less we will be able to cling to a related anthropocentric prejudice, namely, that animals, being cognitively inferior to humans, are morally inferior as well." (p. 88) This leads us to the second major topic of the book: moral status and kinship.

In discussing the moral status of and our kinship with animals, Steiner explores the conflict between liberal individualism and animal rights. As it has been traditionally conceived, liberal individualism posits Kantian rational autonomy of the moral agent as a necessary criterion for inclusion in the moral community. As such, many thinkers today who uncritically accept this traditional conception of liberal individualism, but nevertheless realize that the degree and severity of our exploitation of animals is morally unacceptable, have sought to argue that animals have sufficient cognitive abilities (i.e.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By ROROTOKO on August 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Animals and the Moral Community" is on the ROROTOKO list of cutting-edge intellectual nonfiction. Professor Steiner's book interview ran here as cover feature on May 20, 2009.
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