The Moral Insignificance of Self-consciousness
European Journal of Philosophy , Volume 25 - Issue 2 p. 398- 415
In this paper, I examine the claim that self-consciousness is highly morally significant, such that the fact that an entity is self-conscious generates strong moral reasons against harming or killing that entity. This claim is apparently very intuitive, but I argue it is false. I consider two ways to defend this claim: one indirect, the other direct. The best-known arguments relevant to self-consciousness's significance take the indirect route. I examine them and argue that (a) in various ways they depend on unwarranted assumptions about self-consciousness's functional significance, and (b) once these assumptions are undermined, motivation for these arguments dissipates. I then consider the direct route to self-consciousness's significance, which depends on claims that self-consciousness has intrinsic value or final value. I argue what intrinsic or final value self-consciousness possesses is not enough to generate strong moral reasons against harming or killing.