Expanding the Circle
Expanding the circle means accepting others as moral equals. The metaphor expanding circle
captures humanity's progress as a moral species; we are developing morally by drawing more beings into our moral circle of concern. Not long ago society excluded slaves from the core of humanity and marginalised women. Slaves and women were outside the circle, morally excluded. For many people animals are still outside the circle.
Expanding the circle
Lecky's statue stands at the University of Dublin but his reputation gathers dust.
is a phrase coined by William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838 - 1903), a 19th century Irish historian and philosopher. In his book published in 1869 he writes:
"At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world..." (1)
You might consider just one moral circle for all, but there could be different designs of moral circles. For example, one design could be a moral circle composed of several concentric circles. A concentric design allows for gradations of distinct levels of moral consideration. Humans and some animals, such as some primates and cetaceans, occupy the inner or highest moral circle, while other species worthy of moral consideration could occupy successive circles extending outwards from the centre.
So how close are we to accepting animals within the expanding circle? It is apt that the distinguished animal liberation philosopher Peter Singer invoked Lecky's metaphor as the title of his book The Expanding Circle
(2). Singer reasons that indeed the human moral circle is beginning to embrace animals, confirmed by the existence of a growing number of people struggling for animal liberation. Nevertheless, even with Singer's optimism and energy, we still have a long way to journey toward the day when humanity finally accepts animals within its moral circle.
(1) Lecky, William Edward Hartpole. 1869. History of European Morals From Augustus to Charlemagne
. 100–101. Vol 1.
(2) Singer, Peter. 1998. The Expanding Circle: ethics and sociobiology
. Clarendon Press: Oxford.
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