Moral Standing: Qualities & Scope

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  • 0:00 Moral Standing
  • 1:26 Real World Example
  • 3:49 Moral Standing in History
  • 4:56 Schools of Thought
  • 6:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explains the concept of moral standing. Using modern examples and history, it also defines the terms anthropocentrism, sentiocentrism, and biocentrism.

Moral Standing

Today's lesson on moral standing is both simple and complex. It's simple because the definition of moral standing is pretty easy to grasp. It's complex because there are very, very differing and heated opinions on the topic. With this little oxymoron of sorts, let's jump into what the term moral standing actually means. We'll then take a look at how it plays out in our world.

Academically speaking, moral standing is the system we use to place value on the people and things around us. It's the measuring stick we use to decide whether or not something stands alone as worthy of respect. If we believe someone has moral standing, we are saying It makes a moral difference how we treat them. Going a step further, if we give someone or something moral standing, we are claiming our behavior toward them should take their best interests into account for their sake and not just because it benefits us. In other words, they have intrinsic value all on their own. They are not mere tools to be used or factors to be manipulated. If we believe something has moral standing, it matters simply because it matters and therefore, should be treated as such. Things that are assigned moral standing by a society or culture are expected to be treated with morality, or to make it simple, with kindness and consideration.

Real World Example

Working to bring this definition home, here's a modern, yet slightly absurd, scenario. A young couple buys a dog. They love and enjoy the dog. They take it everywhere they go, and they call it their baby. Fast forward three years, and the couple brings home their first real baby.

Unfortunately, the dog growls when the woman holds the baby and snarls when the man pays attention to the baby. Eventually, the dog bites the baby, and the once beloved dog goes bye-bye. After all, you can't have a dog biting a baby! Yes, they may have enjoyed the dog, but when push comes to shove, the dog gets the boot. He's worn out his welcome.

Fast forward three more years. The same couple brings home their second baby. Their now toddler acts aggressively toward the baby. He cries when his mom holds it, and yells when his dad plays with it. Eventually, he gets so jealous he bites the baby and bites him bad!

Question? Does the toddler go the same way as the dog? Is he hauled off to the nearest kid version of the SPCA? Of course not! That would be absurd! Instead, the parents explain that biting is bad, tuck little Bobbie the Biter into bed, and then they read as many books as they can find on sibling jealousy and aggression.

Now, why the difference in reaction between the biting dog and the biting child? Why does the dog get the boot while the child gets to stay? Although it's a bit of a ridiculous question, our answer for today is 'moral standing.' The child has moral standing, while the dog does not.

The child's parents (along with society) believe it makes a moral difference how he is treated. Unlike the dog, they won't just get rid of him because he misbehaves. They will continue to act in a way that is best for him without regard to what he can give back. The same can't always be said for the poor Fidos of the world. Although the couple once said they loved their dog, it could be argued they really just liked the benefits of him. They liked his wagging tail, and they liked being dog owners. However, as soon as his negatives outweighed his positives, poor Fido was out of luck! On his own, he didn't have the moral standing needed to put up with his behavior. For this reason, giving him away (or even worse) did not seem like an immoral decision.

Moral Standing in History

Unlike the differing opinions on the moral standing of animals, modern culture (at least on paper) declares that all humans should be treated with respect, morality, and dignity. In other words, human life equals moral standing. However, one only needs to turn on the evening news to see that this is not always the case. From genocide to racial prejudice, we see instances where humans are treated as though they have no value.

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