In Lucy Allais & John J. Callanan (eds.), Kant on Animals. Oxford: pp. 157-175 (2020)

Helga Varden
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Working out a Kantian theory of moral responsibility for animals2 requires the untying of two philosophical and interpretive knots: i.) How to interpret Kant’s claim in the important “episodic” section of the Doctrine of Virtue that we do not have duties “to” animals, since such duties are only “with regard to” animals and “directly to” ourselves; and ii.) How to explain why animals don’t have rights, while human beings who (currently or permanently) don’t have sufficient reason for moral responsibility do have rights. At the heart of the problem lies the philosophical challenge of whether a Kantian account of moral responsibility for animals can take the animals themselves into account in the right way, that is, without utilizing arguments that (wrongly) presuppose that non-human animals are moral agents or can be morally responsible for their actions. The task of untying these two knots is the aim of this chapter. I start by defending Kant’s general claim that our duties regarding animals are not “to” them, but rather “with regard to” them. Relations between human and other animals are not relations between two kinds of moral beings, since animals are not capable of the kind of consciousness, in particular the reflective self-consciousness moral being requires. Instead the more complex human-animal relations are affectionate, social relations to which humans can and sometimes should relate morally. This is why these moral duties are “direct” only to ourselves; we are the only ones in the relations that can be morally responsible for them. Correspondingly, respect (in Kant’s precise sense of the word) is a distinctly reflective, moral emotion internal to the specific normative orientation we have only to beings that can be truly free (reflectively self-conscious), and so, to human beings; morality and respect single out how we regard ourselves and other human beings capable of freedom. As we will see, Kant has a consistent and not counter-intuitive account of why we have the moral attitudes we do about animals and of how it is that these attitudes have the appearance of being about the animals themselves. In addition, Kant can explain why it doesn’t follow from this that these moral attitudes arise from attributing moral rights to the animals themselves. Central to this interpretation is Kant’s Religion, as it contains an account of human nature that adequately explains why we have the positive attitudes we do towards animals; similarly, the Religion contains an account of human evil that explains why we consider other occasions of attitudes towards animals as genuine examples of moral failure. Hence, the Religion is central to understanding why Kant’s approach to animals is neither internally inconsistent nor counter-intuitive.
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