Alice Crary at The European:
Today the classical idea that people merit solicitude simply in virtue of being human – or, more succinctly, that bare humanity is morally important – is on the defensive. It is not uncommon for contemporary thinkers to simply dismiss this idea. Many philosophers and popular writers maintain that a human or non-human creature’s moral standing is a direct function of its individual capacities of mind and hence that the sheer fact of being human (i.e., apart from the possession of any particular individual capacities) is morally indifferent. While some are motivated by the laudable aim of showing that certain animals (viz., those who possess whatever capacities are deemed morally relevant) should be treated better, these thinkers nevertheless wind up implying – shockingly – that human beings with severe cognitive disabilities have diminished claims to moral attention.
One good reason to defend the now embattled idea that merely being human matters is to challenge those who in this way suggest that we owe less to some of the most vulnerable members of society. But the interest of a plausible account concerning the importance of being human extends beyond its usefulness for contesting the repugnant suggestion that human beings with severe cognitive disabilities are somehow less fit objects of moral concern. A plausible account of how being human matters sheds light on what is involved in bringing any human being into focus in ethics, and thus helps us to understand the kind of work we need to do to combat not only biases related to cognitive disability but also other forms of bias that obstruct the kind of clear-sighted understanding we require if we are to respond to each other justly.