Our Fellow Creatures

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This chapter outlines and defends a particular development of certain ideas in Wittgenstein—most prominently in his Investigations—according to which, and against a widely held view in moral philosophy, our moral responses to other human beings and animals, and the kind of moral claims they might make on us, are not dependent on their possession of various isolable properties or capacities that might justify those responses and claims. This Wittgensteinian position has been called the “common life” view and an example may serve to illustrate it: when I describe how I am riveted for a moment on the struggle of an injured bird outside my window to get up on a wall, nothing in what I say about my response to this bird, my concern for it, assumes it was justified by some view about the cognitive capacities of birds. Rather, my words, like my response, express my engagement with other creaturely life, an aspect of my fellowship with creatures, which you might both comprehend and come to share in. But if you do come to share in this sense of fellowship and are similarly engaged that is not, again, because some thought about the cognitive capacities of such creatures provides you with a reason to accept this fellowship. Whereas critics of the “common life” view assess the relevant sense of fellowship in terms of the reasons for it, the position just described turns this on its head: The kind of shared natural responsiveness to creaturely life indicated previously, and which gives expression to our fellowship, on the one hand, with animals, and on the other, with human beings, provides the background against which we have reason to do, believe and more broadly to say specific things in everyday commerce with other human beings and animals in the first place.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthics in the Wake of Wittgenstein
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781315181172
ISBN (Print)9781138744295
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2019


  • Wittgenstein
  • moral philosophy


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