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William Gildea

Philosophy, University of Warwick

Thesis title:

Creatures of Welfare: A Theory of the Moral Status of Humans and Animals

The central themes of my research are moral status, basic equality, and our duties to animals.

My doctoral thesis asks which entities matter morally for their own sake, and why. It aims to provide a new answer to two questions: what are the grounds of moral status? And how is moral status distributed among humans and animals?

These questions generate a puzzle, and so have not been answered satisfactorily. The puzzle arises from the tension between two commonly held ethical intuitions. The hierarchical intuition is that humans matter morally more than animals. And the egalitarian intuition is that humans matter equally amongst themselves. But explanations of hierarchy tend to undermine equality. For instance, one popular explanation of why humans matter more than animals is that humans have a greater capacity for rational thought. But if that’s so, can we account for the rights of human beings without rational capacity? If not, we might forge a more inclusive view of who matters by moving away from capacities like rationality, and asking whether moral status might be grounded in less hifalutin capacities such as the capacity for experience of a positive or negative valence. But then what of the common idea that humans matter more than the other animals? If we need to relinquish the idea that humans matter more than animals, how revisionary need that be for our ethics in general?

I am developing a new account of moral status which can solve this puzzle in a theoretically defensible way. I aim to leverage the account to help illuminate the nature of some of our duties to animals, in an individual sense and a political sense too.

Research Area

  • Philosophy


Selected conference papers:

  • Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT) workshop on Moral Equality at the Margins, January 2022, 'The Experience View of Moral Status: Towards a Credible Egalitarianism about Humans and Animals'.
  • Oxford Graduate Philosophy Conference, November 2021, 'Towards a New View of Moral Status'.
  • British Society for Ethical Theory Graduate Conference, September 2021, 'Towards a New View of Moral Status'.
  • Warwick Philosophy Postgraduate Work in Progress Seminar, June 2021. ‘The Moral Status of Humans and Animals’.
  • Warwick Philosophy Department Welcome Conference for Postgraduates (invited), September 2020, 'Moral Status, Modality, and Misfortune'.
  • Warwick Graduate Conference in Political and Legal Theory, February 2020, 'Moral Status: A Puzzle and a Possible Solution?'
  • Eating Animals Conference, Centre for Practical Normativity, University of Kent, 2017, ‘Against Humane Omnivorism’.
  • Reading Ethics and Political Philosophy Graduate Conference, 2017, ‘Against Humane Omnivorism’.


I have a B.Phil. in Philosophy from the University of Oxford, and a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Warwick. Before beginning my doctorate, I worked in food policy for an NGO.