The Kantian View of Animal Ethics

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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...
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