Decolonizing the Demarcation of the Ethical

Miller, Joseph Len. "Decolonizing the Demarcation of the Ethical." Philosophical Studies (2019 Pacific APA Special Issue) 177(2), February 2020: 337-352.

The question of what distinguishes moral problems from other problems is important to the study of the evolution and functioning of morality. Many researchers concerned with this topic have assumed, either implicitly or explicitly, that all moral problems are problems of cooperation. This assumption offers a response to the moral demarcation problem by identifying a necessary condition of moral problems. Characterizing moral problems as problems of cooperation is a popular response to this issue—especially among researchers empirically studying the beginnings and limits of moral psychology. However, demarcating the moral in this way severely restricts the domain of moral problems. There are plenty of moral problems that aren’t simply problems of cooperation. In this paper I argue that understanding moral problems as problems of cooperation is too restrictive and offer an alternative way of demarcating moral from non-moral problems. Characterizing what makes a problem moral in terms of cooperation excludes a variety of problems that are ordinarily understood and responded to as moral. The alternative characterization that I propose is based on the American Indian/Native American concept of harmony. Using the concept of cooperation to demarcate the moral removes moral agents from their surroundings or contexts by assuming moral agency applies only to humans or other similarly evolved lifeforms. In contrast, using the concept of harmony allows for moral consideration to be granted to non-humans as well (e.g., non-human animals, plant life, ecosystems, etc.).