Benjamin Hale
  Associate Professor, Philosophy and Environmental Studies
Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Community
Office SEEC S238A
Campus Box 488
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0488
Applied Ethics Research

Trajectory of Research

In earlier work I presented a positive theory of moral considerability, demonstrating that the scope of moral theory can be determined by attending closely to the constitutive rules of interaction. To make this case, I explored the subject-centered position of Kant, and the more intersubjective positions of Rawls, Korsgaard and Habermas, to propose that we must adopt a third approach, an interaction-centered approach, in order to understand the roots of this complex problem. I defended the interaction-centered approach by proposing that the principles that undergird early and later variations of Kantianism – namely, that agents are to harmonize their personal maxims with constitutive rules, whether they be the Kantian moral law or Habermas's formal pragmatic rules – also point to an imperative on the part of agents to take non-human others into moral consideration.

It was my contention there that animals, plants, and natural objects require of us a consideration that bears on moral problems. Ultimately, I proposed that not considering the entities with which we, rational beings, interact constitutes a failure of reason. I demonstrated this failure of reason by showing that rational reflection depends upon our own coming to terms with our beliefs about who we are as agents, which we do by engaging the world seriously, as though it responds to us. What is reason, I argued, if it is not informed by the consideration of another? What is rationality, I continued, if it does not entail seeking an answer by taking up the world as a serious interactant? If we ignore our relationship to the world around us, and the world's reactions to our actions, we ignore constitutive obligations that give content to our reasons. I demonstrated this by deferring to the way in which obligation takes root in Kantian moral philosophy. Where the strong Kantian moral position negates all non-human entities because they are not rational, the deontological position that I am advocating, the interaction-centered approach, includes non-human entities precisely because we, humans, are.

Over the next few years, I aim to extend this discussion on moral considerability to explore the broader question of moral significance. I take moral significance to be the substantive/applied counterpart to moral considerability. As I see it, moral considerability is a formal question pertaining to the scope of moral theory (asking which entities we must consider), where moral significance is a substantive question pertaining to the way in which we must consider entities (asking how significant certain entities are and how we are to treat them). In this project, I intend to discuss numerous bioethics issues, ranging from our treatment of animals to our treatment of embryos. Given my position on moral considerability, I do not think that questions of moral significance can be answered without close attention to specific cases.

This research therefore involves extensive investigation into many applied issues. Specifically, I must investigate distinctions between, for instance, genetically-modified organisms and genetically "natural" organisms, between indigenous species and introduced species, and between technological instruments and natural entities. As well, because my position on moral considerability has its roots in discourse theory, I will need to investigate the social implications of granting significance to nature, which means evaluating cases of environmental protection as tempered by concerns for indigenous rights and tradition. To do this, I must rely on statistical analyses, economic research, and policy assessments. My primary aim is to demonstrate how the interaction-centered approach that I advocate can provide useful insight into environmental policy.

Most importantly, the interaction-centered approach holds promise for influencing public and environmental policy. Unlike many contemporary democracy theories, it offers a normative justification for considering the interests of stakeholders that do not otherwise have the means to speak for themselves. I have been working on the beginning stages of this project for some time now. I am excited about the prospect of continuing the project in the upcoming years.

Philosopher, Advice Peddler, Tree Hugger