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Transactionism, Dominionism, and Moral Exceptionalism in Animal Ethics

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image of Contemporary Pragmatism

I advocate an animal ethics view of moral exceptionalism, which can serve as an alternative to what I call transactionism and dominionism. In transactionism, there is stress upon the mutually defining relationships between human and nonhuman animals. In dominionism, there is a belief that humans are fundamentally different from animals and yet are duty-bound to take care of them – at least to some extent. Moral exceptionalism is based on a recognition that humans have a tendency to kill animals while still being friends with them, or kill animals because they believe animals have less moral worth. Appropriate respect for animals, as well as any kind of superiority over them, means that humans have exceptional duties toward the preservation of life, duties which many animals cannot themselves follow. Moral exceptionalism agrees with a pragmatist understanding of the interconnectedness of humans and nonhumans – one promoted by recent authors such as Erin McKenna and Cynthia Willett – but simply holds humans to a higher moral standard with regard to the act of killing.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor of Philosophy, St. Ambrose University,


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1. Emerson Ralph Waldo. 1991. “"Fate"” in Heritage of American Literature: Volume I . New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
2. James William. 2000. “"Is Life Worth Living?",” in Pragmatism and Other Writings . New York: Penguin Books.
3. Lewis C. S. 1976. The Problem of Pain . New York: MacMillan.
4. Linzey Andrew. 2009. Creatures of the Same God: Explorations in Animal Theology . New York: Lantern Books.
5. McKenna Erin. 2013. Pets, People and Pragmatism . New York: Fordham University Press.
6. Scully Matthew. 2002. Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy . New York: St. Martin’s Press.
7. Smith Wesley J. 2010. A Dog is a Pig is a Rat is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement . New York: Encounter Books.
8. Pollan Michael. 2007. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals . New York: Penguin.
9. Willett Cynthia. Interspecies Ethics . 2014. New York: Columbia University Press.

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