Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Philosophy (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Mark Rowlands

Second Committee Member

Michael Slote

Third Committee Member

Simon Evnine

Fourth Committee Member

Bradford Cokelet


In this dissertation I explore the question of whether T.M. Scanlon's contractualist ethical theory can be revised such that the resulting theory makes room for moral obligations to non-human animals. A number of attempts have been made to justify our intuitions regarding the treatment of animals, but none of these has succeeded. I argue that Scanlon's reliance on the rationality criterion is flawed and that a focus on moral capacities creates both a more inclusive and a more satisfying moral framework. By building on Julia Driver's objective consequentialist account of virtue, I am able to support the claim that, at minimum, animals are capable of virtuous behavior. I follow Mark Rowlands in arguing that while animals are not moral agents, they are more than moral patients - they are moral subjects. This, I argue, is what matters for full contractual status. I demonstrate that Scanlon's attempt to defend his rationality criterion from the charge of speciesism fails, and that my view is not only more successful in avoiding speciesism, but is also capable of direct inclusion of children and the mentally disabled, which his is not. I conclude by considering remaining challenges and possible directions for future research.


contractualism; animals; Scanlon; ethics; virtue; empathy