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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 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 different beings?

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 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 are more rational. But if humans matter more because they are more rational, why do more rational humans not matter more than less rational humans? To avoid a sinister inegalitarianism, we may row back from emphasising the advanced capacities humans often possess. But then what exactly is it – if anything – that elevates the status of humans over non-human animals? 

I aim to develop a new account of moral status which can solve this puzzle in a theoretically defensible way. I will then leverage the account to help illuminate the nature of our duties to animals in key applied contexts.

Research Area

  • Philosophy

Conferences

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’.

Biography

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.