The Kantian View of Animal Ethics
Kant’s Ethics of Metaphysics: A Response To the Charge of Speciesism I. In this paper I will present the charge of speciesism contended by many animal right’s activists. I will attempt to substantiate Immanuel Kant’s view on animal morality and justify how his philosophy is not in violation of speciesism.
Furthermore, I will explain how the Kantian view still grants animals some moral consideration through the designation of “indirect duties”. Lastly, I will present a difficulty with accepting the Kantian view of “indirect duties” towards animals.
Moral quandaries regarding animals are still demanding the attention of many philosophers as they attempt to modify and inspect the relationship between morality and social policy. Contemporary applications of this issue can range from experimentations on animals for developing medicines (or even cosmetics) to whether human beings should avoid eating animal-based foods. There is a vast spectrum of moral issues that arise with respect to animals. However, most of the morally questionable situations are contingent on one fundamental question: do animals even have moral rights?
And if so, to what extent? Although animal moral considerability has peaked the interest of many contemporary philosophers, such as James Rachels and Peter Singer, the question is really an age-old question that can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. Immanuel Kant has probed the question of whether an animal has moral considerability. Kant continuously makes the distinction between humans and animals throughout his best-known contributions to moral philosophy.
Therefore, I will address and present the counter-argument to the charge of speciesism, one of critical arguments of the animal rights movement, through a Kantian lens. II. One of the prevailing charges on humanity proposed by champions of animal rights is that humans act in violation of ‘speciesism’. The term, first coined by psychologist Richard Ryder in 1973, is used to describe an arbitrary bias that humans have towards their own species (Homo sapiens).
The argument is as follows: to assign primacy to humans by considering only a human to be within the system of morality is similar to other types of discrimination, such as racism and sexism. Just as in racism and sexism the dominating force arbitrarily assumes itself as the normative ideal, in this case whites or males respectively, so too human beings arbitrarily assume themselves as the ideal and to be the only species deserving of morality. Therefore, because there is no legitimate basis for this distinction, other species of animals should be equally included within the system of morality.
Ryder believes that those in violation of speciesism “overlook and underestimate the similarities between the discriminator (humans) and those discriminated against (animals or any other species). ” His argument assumes that most animals are fundamentally the same. Of course those who charge humanity to be guilty of ‘speciesism’ acknowledge that there are obvious differences between humans and non-humans. They just believe these differences to be irrelevant for delineating the scope of a moral system. Man’s higher intelligence, being the most conspicuous difference, should have no authority on morality.
If intelligence were the decisive factor then it would follow that people who are intellectually superior should be treated with superior moral standards. Moreover, some apes could potentially have more intelligence than a human if the human was insane or otherwise intellectually compromised. Thus, although intelligence is the distinguishing factor between most human beings and non-humans, it cannot be the sole criterion for defining a moral system . III. It would appear that aside from intelligence (that has no moral bearing) there is no fundamental quality that separates humans and non-humans.
Therefore, animals really should be treated with equal moral standards, and those who do not equate moral rights are guilty of speciesism. Philosopher Michael Pollan challenges Kant with being in violation of arbitrary discrimination of animals; “none of these (Kant’s) argument evade the charge of speciesism” (pg 439 Vice and Virtue). So we are left with the daunting question: is there any validity to Pollan’s claim? At first it would appear that Kant presupposes human beings as the only species worthy of morality without giving any explanatory criterion. Kant evelops one of his foundational doctrines called “The Categorical Imperative”, which can be summarized in the following sentence: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity in such a way, whether in ourselves or in others, as an end in itself” (Groundwork II). It seems that Kant believes that human beings bar none deserve what he calls ‘respect’ or what we are calling moral consideration. However, after a closer examination it becomes apparent that Kant is not guilty of speciesism at all. In a remarkably similar excerpt Kant says, “as rational beings, we must always at the same time be valued as ends (pg 239 4:430).
It is almost as if Kant just substituted the phrase humanity with rational beings. When both excerpts are read in conjunction it becomes apparent that Kant includes human beings into his moral system not because of an arbitrary nepotism towards his own kind (homo sapiens) but because of a human being’s attribute of rationality. In other words, Kant’s criterion for moral considerability is rationality and not intelligence. When Kant says to treat humanity in such a way, he is referring to a human’s rational nature, which happens to be the unique quality of human beings and is thus presented as rationality’s synonym.
According to Kant, rationality is not the same as intelligence and is what makes human beings worthy of moral consideration and animals unworthy. Rationality is the ability to be governed autonomously and make advised decisions of what is right and wrong. It is not the ability to display reasoning skills. Therefore, a being, such as a chimpanzee with excellent cognitive abilities, cannot exercise rationality, which is Kant’s basis for morality. Human beings, on the other hand, belong to a ‘Kingdom of Ends’, where moral laws are meticulously chosen by each individual.
This capability to discern and choose which laws have absolute moral worth binds all human beings in a cohesive moral community. Each member of this community has the authority to legislate and decide which laws are unconditional and then subsequently act in accordance with those laws. Not even the highest functioning chimpanzee has the capability to decide whether an action can be universally applied. Nor can a chimpanzee mull over the question “what ought I do? ”. Thus it follows that a person only has obligations towards other beings that can obligate themselves, or act rationally.
Kant chose rationality as the marker that defines the line of required morality because of its pureness. Rational knowledge is not influenced by history, anthropology or psychology. It is not qualified by emotion. Other potential values, such as intelligence, have the possibility of being used immorally; “Intelligence and wit are doubtless in many respects good and desirable but they can also become extremely harmful if the will…is not good (pg 231). ” Consequently, a being’s rationality, the ability to decide whether an action is ‘good’ universally, is the only incorruptible value that could define the scope of morality..
Now that it is clear that Kant is not guilty of speciesism, since his moral system is predicated on the standard of rationality, one can still ask how Kantian Ethics views animals. Kantian Ethics prescribes indirect duties towards animals. This means that it is wrong to act maliciously towards animals because it will damage a person’s sympathies. Damaging ones sympathies will inevitability lead to a failure of ones duties to others. On the one hand, animals cannot be granted direct duties, for they lack rationality. Their moral value is categorized in a sort of limbo between inanimate objects and human beings.
On a practical level, a Kantian might perform the same actions towards animals as a Utilitarian would. But Kantian Ethics is problematic for many philosophers, at least in theory. Christina Hoff offers an example where a “kind” man spends his life fulfilling his duties to himself and towards other human beings except he secretly burns stray dogs to death. Despite how disturbing and wrong this seems, Kantian ethics does not consider this man as having committed any wrongful action in and of itself. The suffering of the dogs is only problematic as it affects our duties to rational beings.
It is difficult to challenge the Kantian view of animals on philosophical grounds. The Kantian moral system is consistent in that it is rooted in the assumption that rationality alone has absolute moral value. To challenge this assumption would involve dismantling Kant’s entire moral system by showing why rationality is inadequate as the supreme value. When Kant is concerned with damaging our sympathies he is only concerned in so far as sympathies ability to promote rationality and the ability to fulfill ones duties. He does not award sympathy any independent value.
Yet, to allow, even if just in theory, the scenario of the man burning dogs seems against common morality. To be indifferent to an animals suffering is intuitively immoral. An animal rights champion would be more likely do adopt a Utilitarian view, which incorporates suffering into the fabric of its moral system. IV. Consequently, Kant can evade attempts to label him guilty of speciesism. Kantian ethics does have a criterion that differentiates humans and non-humans. With rationality as its hallmark, Kantian Ethics views animals as deserving of only indirect moral considerability.
As Christine Korsgaard explains in her essay Kantian Ethics and Our Duties to Animals, “moral laws may be viewed as the laws legislated by all rational beings in the Kingdom of Ends (pg 5) Animals incidentally do not share this capacity for rationality. But if they did, they would surely be included. Interestingly, when referring to animals he ambiguously labels them as a human being’s analogue. Perhaps Kant was identifying that animals have similar qualities such as intelligence that link us together. But animals are analogues and not exactly similar.
As such, Kant grants animals some moral considerabilitiy, through indirect duties, but not equal moral considerability. A being earns moral considerability only through the capacity to implement the Categorical Imperative and exercise an autonomous level of cognition, not through reasoning skills or mathematical abilities. Therefore, animals rightfully have moral limitations. Works Cited: 1)Ryder, Richard. “Richard Ryder: All Beings That Feel Pain Deserve Human Rights | World News | The Guardian. ” Latest News, Sport and Comment from the Guardian | The Guardian. Web. 27 Dec. 2011. 2)Kant, Immanuel, and H. J. Paton. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. Print. 3)Sommers, Christina, Frederic Tamler Sommers. Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003. Print 4)Korsgaard, Christine M. “Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and Our Duties to Animals. ” Www. Tannerlectures. utah. edu. University of Utah Press Volume 25/26. Web Author’s personal website 5)Sebo, Jeff. “A Critique of the Kantian Theory of Indirect Moral Duties to Animals. ” Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal Volume II Pp. 1-14, 2004. Web.