Mapping this insight onto the moral circle, a team of Australian psychologists noted in a 2016 study: “One possibility is that moral expansiveness is evident in cases for which people’s basic needs have been met, allowing them to turn their attention and resources to more distant entities.” Scholars have tried to show through particular historical examples how the development of new technologies can create the conditions for more people to gain rights.In some cases, that’s because the inventions take care of some of our more basic needs.The same is true for the belief that black people should have the same rights as white people.
Some people think sentience is the wrong litmus test; they argue we should include anything that’s alive or that supports living things.
Maybe you think we should secure rights for natural ecosystems, as the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is doing.
If that’s the case, what degree of sentience is required to make the cut?
Maybe you think we should secure legal rights for chimpanzees and elephants — as the Nonhuman Rights Project is aiming to do — but not for, say, shrimp.
The idea of expanding humanity’s moral circle raises knotty questions.
What happens when different beings have competing needs? These are questions that activists for the rights of animals, nature, and robots all grapple with as they use the idea of the moral circle to mount their arguments.Abraham Maslow famously illustrated this basic concept with his image of a pyramid representing our hierarchy of needs.It’s pretty hard to worry about the lofty goals at the top of the pyramid if we’re busy worrying about our own bodily safety, which is at the base.What about a robot we may invent in the future that seems just as sentient as chimpanzees and elephants, despite being made of silicon?Maybe you think it would be wrong to discriminate on the basis of substrate, so we need the legal system to recognize robot rights, a theme Northern Illinois University media studies professor David Gunkel explores in his new book of that name.This isn’t to say we should adopt a technologically deterministic view.Tech innovation isn’t necessarily the primary factor allowing the moral circle to expand (and in fact, it can often cause a lot of harm). Some activist movements have been more successful than others.“The only justifiable stopping place for the expansion of altruism is the point at which all whose welfare can be affected by our actions are included within the circle of altruism.” Singer went on to argue that reason, by its nature, doesn’t tolerate inconsistency and arbitrariness — so if we follow the path of rational thinking, it’ll lead us to push past inherited biases, whether they’re against other people or other species.He believes rational thought has played a major role in expanding the moral circle over the centuries.Other technological innovations contributed to women’s liberation, not by nixing the need for them to labor so long at home but just by making it easier for them to leave home.The invention of the bicycle increased women’s mobility and independence so dramatically that Susan B.