Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 671–690 | Cite as

Empathy and morality in behaviour readers



It is tempting to assume that being a moral creature requires the capacity to attribute mental states to others, because a creature cannot be moral unless she is capable of comprehending how her actions can have an impact on the well-being of those around her. If this assumption were true, then mere behaviour readers could never qualify as moral, for they are incapable of conceptualising mental states and attributing them to others. In this paper, I argue against such an assumption by discussing the specific case of empathy. I present a characterisation of empathy that would not require an ability to attribute mental states to others, but would nevertheless allow the creature who possessed it to qualify as a moral being. Provided certain conditions are met, a behaviour reader could be motivated to act by this form of empathy, and this means that behaviour readers could be moral. The case for animal morality, I shall argue, is therefore independent of the case for animal mindreading.


Empathy Morality Moral emotions Nonhuman animals Behaviour reading Mindreading/theory of mind 



This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, under Grants BES-2012-052504 and FFI2011-23267. I would also like to thank Kristin Andrews, Álex Díaz, José A. Gascón, Javier González de Prado, Mark Rowlands, Cristian Saborido, Kim Sterelny, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Additionally, this material benefitted from discussion at the 2013 SEFA and SIFA meetings, as well as the IV PBCS workshop.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic, History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED)MadridSpain

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