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Everyone reading this sentence likely (hopefully!) agrees that women deserve the same rights as men. But just a couple of centuries ago, that idea would’ve been dismissed as absurd.

The same is true for the belief that black people should have the same rights as white people. Commonly accepted now; unthinkable a couple of centuries ago.

There’s a concept from philosophy that describes this evolution — it’s called humanity’s expanding moral circle. The circle is the imaginary boundary we draw around those we consider worthy of moral consideration. Over the centuries, it’s expanded to include many people who were previously left out of it. As they were brought into the circle, those people won rights. Slavery was abolished. Women got the vote. Same-sex marriage was legalized.

The moral circle is a fundamental concept among philosophers, psychologists, activists, and others who think seriously about what motivates people to do good. It was introduced by historian William Lecky in the 1860s and popularized by philosopher Peter Singer in the 1980s.

Now it’s cropping up more often in activist circles as new social movements use it to make the case for granting rights to more and more entities. Animals. Nature. Robots. Should they all get rights similar to the ones you enjoy?

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