The Struggle for Recognition : On Animal Rights — part ten

‘Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged. The Notion of this its unity in its duplication embraces many and varied meanings. Its moments, then, must on the one hand be held strictly apart, and on the other hand must in this differentiation at the same time also be taken and known as not distinct, or in their opposite significance. The twofold significance of the distinct moments has in the nature of self-consciousness to be infinite, or directly the opposite of the determinateness in which it is posited. The detailed exposition of the Notion of this spiritual unity in its duplication will present us with the process of Recognition.

- Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Through the course of necessary self-origination and dissolution of the various shapes of Spirit as stations on the way through which Spirit becomes pure knowledge at one point consciousness breaks down as its purely object-centred theoretical attitude disintegrates and so the move is made to self-consciousness thereby assuming an opposing stance through situating the subject at the centre of things, but of course both attitudes are one-sided, consciousness was one-sided in virtue of trying to displace itself from the world and take up a purely objective stance while self-consciousness is one-sided in virtue of trying to impose itself upon the world too forcibly so that the self/world distinction falls apart and self-consciousness is reduced to the motionless tautology of I am I. As Hegel explains elsewhere:

‘The defect of abstract self-consciousness lies in this: it and consciousness are still two different things confronting each other, they have not yet achieved a reciprocal equilibrium. In consciousness, we see the tremendous difference, on the one side, of the I, this wholly simple entity, and on the other side, of the infinite variety of the world. This opposition of the I and the world, which does not yet come to genuine mediation here, constitutes the finitude of consciousness. Self-consciousness, by contrast, has its finitude in its still wholly abstract identity with its own self. What is present in the I = I of immediate self-consciousness is only a difference that ought to be, not yet a posited, not yet an actual difference. This rift between self-consciousness and consciousness forms an inner contradiction of self-consciousness with itself, because self-consciousness is also the stage directly preceding it, consciousness, and consequently is the opposite of itself. That is to say, since abstract self-consciousness is only the first, hence still conditioned, negation of the immediacy of consciousness, and not already absolute negativity, i.e. , the negation of that negation, infinite affirmation, it has itself still the form of a being, of an immediate, of something that, in spite of, or rather just because of, its differenceless inwardness, is still filled by externality. Therefore, it contains negation not merely within itself but also outside itself, as an external object, as a non-I, and it is just this that makes it consciousness’.

- ‘Philosophy of Spirit’

Hegel is endeavouring to bring out the one-sidedness of self-consciousness by demonstrating that it cannot properly resolve the dialectic of universal and individual not this time in relation to the object but in relation to itself as subject and the conception it has of its own identity and having introduced the turn from consciousness to self-consciousness a move can be made from the ‘arid forms and shapeless generalities’ of the theoretical attitude which concluded his discussion of consciousness to a conception of nature that is once again noisy with life:

‘The more thought predominates in ordinary perceptiveness, so much the more does the naturalness, individuality, and immediacy of things vanish away. As thoughts invade the limitless multiformity of nature, its richness is impoverished, its spring times die, and there is a fading in the play of its colours. That which in nature was noisy with life, falls silent in the quietude of thought; its warm abundance, which shaped itself into a thousand intriguing wonders, withers into arid forms and shapeless generalities, which resemble a dull northern fog’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hence as self-consciousness begins by interacting with the world at the level of desire as a practical rather than theoretical attitude it discovers the dull northern fog has lifted to reveal a world teeming with living things:

‘But for us, or in-itself, the object which for self-consciousness is the negative element has, on its side, returned into itself, just as on the other side consciousness has done. Through this reflection into itself the object has become Life. What self-consciousness distinguishes from itself as having being, also has in it, in so far as it is posited as being, not merely the character of sense-certainty and perception, but it is being that is reflected into itself, and the object of immediate desire is a living thing. For the in-itself, or the universal result of the relation of the Understanding to the inwardness of things, is the distinguishing of what is not to be distinguished, or the unity of what is distinguished. But this unity is, as we have seen, just as much its repulsion from itself; and this Notion sunders itself into the antithesis of self-consciousness and life: the former is the unity for which the infinite unity of the differences is; the latter, however, is only this unity itself, so that it is not at the same time for itself. To the extent, then, that consciousness is independent, so too is its object, but only implicitly. Self-consciousness which is simply for itself and directly characterizes its object as a negative element, or is primarily desire, will therefore, on the contrary, learn through experience that the object is independent’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

And furthermore self-consciousness cannot be certain of itself by merely identifying itself with this world of living things for in that world there appears to be too little room for any notion of individuality, what matters at the level of life is the genus, (see previous two articles), not the particular individual so that at this level, the I, as a particular individual, counts for vey little and hence self-consciousness conceives of itself as more than a merely animal consciousness:

‘Since we started from the first immediate unity and returned through the moments of formation and of process to the unity of both these moments, and thus back again to the original simple substance) this reflected unity is different from the first. Contrasted with that immediate unity, or that unity expressed as a [mere] being, this second is the universal unity which contains all these moments as superseded within itself. It is the simple genus which, in the movement of Life itself, does not exist for itself qua this simple determination; on the contrary, in this result, Life points to something other than itself, viz. to consciousness, for which Life exists as this unity, or as genus. This other Life, however, for which the genus as such exists, and which is genus on its own account, viz. self-consciousness, exists in the first instance for self-consciousness only as this simple essence, and has itself as pure ‘I’ for object. In the course of its experience which we are now to consider, this abstract object will enrich itself for the ‘I’ and undergo the unfolding which we have seen in the sphere of Life’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

‘The Music Lesson’, 1896, Francis Sydney Muschamp

Well of course it can happen with great philosophers even a genius like Hegel that they don’t always see the full implications of their theory. And after all he had just discovered a new kind of rationality. Recollective rationality. I have already touched upon Hegel’s views on normativity. Language is the concrete existence of normativity, subjectivity, of the discursive, and his social recognitive account of self-consciousness is a linguistic account. But the story can be told without emphasising the priority of language to thought. There was an objective world before any acting knowing subjects, this is a principle of objective idealism. And we need to distinguish between sense dependence and reference dependence. Our understanding of people in terms of facts and the relations of objects and properties and laws that govern them, that is all on the side of reference, the real order rather than the conceptual order, and the fact that we can determine facts about the human animal in terms of facts about things that cannot talk, let us suppose this to be the case, insofar as facts about talking must consist in some way of facts about components that cannot talk. It doesn’t follow that we can understand talking in terms of the concepts that we use to understand things that have natures rather than histories. Sense dependence cuts finer than reference dependence, we cannot make sense of the notion of a fact apart from what is stateable in a declarative sentence albeit that there are facts that we cannot state in declarative sentences in the language we actually speak but what it is for something to be a fact we have to understand in the capacity of saying it.

Hegel’s central notion of Geist is the notion of normativity, all of our doings are describable in a normative meta-vocabulary. The geistig is the normative realm and the normative pragmatic vocabulary that Hegel provides for us depends upon three crucial distinctions. First, between normative statuses and normative attitudes, the former is like a commitment or responsibility, the latter is taking something to have a normative status, attributing to them a responsibility. This is a distinction between what subjects are in themselves and what they are for consciousness. What they are in themselves is their normative status. Understanding subjects in normative terms means understanding the distinction between what subjects are in themselves, their normative status, and what they take themselves and others to have as their normative statuses. And then there are distinctions within the attitudes and statuses. Within normative status there is a distinction between authority and responsibility. A distinction between what you are entitled to do and what you are committed to do. A distinction between independence and dependence. Normative independence is authority and entitlement, the right to do something, and dependence is responsibility and obligation. As for subjects, normative independence is authority and responsibility.

And so what we have in terms of this normative pragmatic meta-vocabulary of great potency and flexibility all of the terms of which, in itself and for consciousnesses, independence and dependence, for another consciousness and for itself, all express logical speculative philosophical concepts rather than empirical and practical determinate concepts. Traditional societies understood their most fundamental norms as objective features of the non-human world, either of the natural world or of the supernatural world. The fitness of things, how it was right to do certain things and not others, was built into the way things were, our task was to conform our attitudes to those norms, to those statuses, how we practically acknowledge those statuses and act upon them, what attitudes we should adopt given what the fittingness, the appropriateness of things are. This has been covered by F. H. Bradley, (1846–1924), an idealist philosopher:

‘What is that wish to be better, and to make the world better, which is on the threshold of immorality? What is the ‘world’ in this sense? It is the morality already existing ready to hand in laws, institutions, social usages, moral opinions and feelings. This is the element in which the young are brought up. It has given moral content to themselves, and it is the only source of such content. It is not wrong, it is a duty, to take the best that there is, and to live up to the best. It is not wrong, it is a duty, standing on the basis of the existing, and in harmony with its general spirit, to try and make not only oneself but also the world better, or rather, and in preference, one’s own world better’.

- ‘My Station and its Duties’

We are to understand our status and what our duties are, how we acknowledge those statuses and practically act upon them; Normativity was status dependent. From the Enlightenment onwards it seems to have become attitude dependent. The great chain of being, see The Struggle for Recognition : On Animal Rights — part eight, was a chain of statuses of superiority and subordination, of authority and responsibility, of normative statuses, and the traditional understanding of our attitudes, what we take ourselves to be committed to and authoritative about, and what we attribute to others, should reflect that antecedent structure of statuses. Attitudes are responsible to the statuses, statuses are binding upon the attitudes authoritative over them, such is the traditional understanding. But now normative status is attitude dependent. Norms are the products of our practices and attitudes. Social contract theories for instance. See my article On Plato’s Crito: Truth in Action. What made the Queen (R.I.P.) authoritative is our acknowledgement of her as authoritative. A socially transformative insight summed up thus:

‘When Adam delved and eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, He would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty’.

- John Ball, (c. 1338–1381)

Who was then the gentleman? That is to say, where were the aristocrats in the Garden of Eden? Where did all that nonsense come from? Thomas Carlyle, (1795–1881), retold the story of Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology’ in ‘Sartor Resartus’ in terms of a philosophy of clothes. Social attitudes institute normative statuses. Rather than the costumes and uniforms of church and state and office reflecting antecedent statuses in Carlyle’s telling those statuses are conferred by the distinctions of clothes.

‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society’.

-Mark Twain, (1835–1910), in a review of Thomas Middleton’s, (1580–1627), ‘Roaring Girl’.

Fair point. Status is conferred upon us because we wear clothes. This is what Karl Marx, (1818–1883), referred to as fetishization, taking our own activities as something independent of ourselves and binding upon us. And so you can see where I am going here, denying normative status to non-clothes-wearing non-human animals is fetishization.

Anyway, to continue on self-consciousness and desire. Upon the subject moving to the level of focusing upon itself in the capacity of individual so that it ‘has itself as a pure I for object’, Hegel then embarks upon demonstrating that it is no more possible for the subject to discover satisfaction in its practical relation to the world if it tries to do so immediately than it was for it to find satisfaction in its theoretical relation to the world through the simplistic model of sense-certainty, and at its most fundamental such a practical relation takes the form of desire whereby the subject exerts itself as a kind of pure will in which any sense of estrangement from the world is countered by the destruction of the object, and so by a negation of its otherness in a literal sense:

‘The simple ‘I’ is this genus or the simple universal, for which the differences are not differences only by its being the negative essence of the shaped independent moments; and self-consciousness is thus certain of itself only by superseding this other that presents itself to self-consciousness as an independent life; self-consciousness is Desire. Certain of the nothingness of this other, it explicitly affirms that this nothingness is for it the truth of the other; it destroys the independent object and thereby gives itself the certainty of itself as a true certainty, a certainty which has become explicit for self-consciousness itself in an objective manner’

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit

Hence with desire the subject endeavours to preserve its individuality by negating the world around it, but the problem with desire is that it involves the destruction of the object yet once this object is destroyed the subject has nothing over which to exert its control and so demonstrate its individuality, and so the subject must discover for itself another object to destroy so that the process can begin again leading to a blatantly empty regress:

‘In this satisfaction, however, experience makes it aware that the object has its own independence. Desire and the self-certainty obtained in its gratification, are conditioned by the object, for self-certainty comes from superseding this other: in order that this supersession can take place, there must be this other. Thus self-consciousness, by its negative relation to the object, is unable to supersede it; it is really because of that relation that it produces the object again, and the desire as well. It is in fact something other than self-consciousness that is the essence of Desire; and through this experience self-consciousness has itself realized this truth. But at the same time it is no less absolutely for itself, and it is so only by superseding the object; and it must experience its satisfaction, for it is the truth’.

- ‘Philosophy of Spirit’

Hegel then presents a foreshadowing whereby he explains how ultimately the difficulty faced by desire will be resolved, it will occur when the single self-consciousness sees the world as containing other self-consciousnesses for in seeing that others are selves like it and in thereby recognizing itself in them the subject is no longer confronted by sheer otherness where only by negating the world can the subject find itself in it. Upon the self-conscious subject being able to ‘see itself in the other’ we will have reached a decisive turning-point in the journey of consciousness through the ‘Phenomenology’ after which consciousness will be capable of a much more balanced outlook than has been achieved hitherto:

‘A self-consciousness exists for a self-consciousness. Only so is it in fact self-consciousness; for only in this way does the unity of itself in its otherness become explicit for it. The ‘I’ which is the object of its Notion is in fact not ‘object’; the object of Desire, however, is only independent, for it is the universal indestructible substance, the fluid self-identical essence. A self-consciousness, in being an object, is just as much ‘I’ as ‘object’. With this, we already have before us the Notion of Spirit. What still lies ahead for consciousness is the experience of what Spirit is — this absolute substance which is the unity of the different independent self-consciousnesses which in their opposition, enjoy perfect freedom and independence: ‘I’ that is ‘We’ and’We’ that is ‘I’. It is in self-consciousness, in the Notion of Spirit, that consciousness first finds its turning-point, where it leaves behind it the colourful show of the sensuous here-and-now and the nightlike void of the super-sensible beyond, and steps out into the spiritual daylight of the present’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

And then we are led into the section ‘Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondsman’, see above for dependence and independence, wherein the foreshadowing continues as what mutual recognition involves is spelled out, in essence each self-consciousness has to acknowledge the other as an autonomous subject, ‘as something that has an independent existence of its own, which, therefore, it cannot utilize for its own purposes, if that object does not of its own accord do what the first does to it’. One recalls Immanuel Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative: ‘Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end’. Furthermore each self-consciousness must also realize and accept that its well-being and identity as a subject is bound up with how it is seen by the other self-consciousness which is where Hegelian recognition departs from Kantian respect, and if this recognition is reciprocal then neither side need fear that by acknowledging the other and feeling itself bound to it in a relationship like love for instance ‘it has lost itself’:

‘Now this movement of self-consciousness in relation to another self-consciousness has in this way been represented as the action of one self-consciousness, but this action of the one has itself the double significance of being both its own action and the action of the other as well. For the other is equally independent and self-contained, and there is nothing in it of which it is not itself the origin. The first does not have the object before it merely as it exists primarily for desire, but as something that has an independent existence of its own, which, therefore, it cannot utilize for its own purposes, if that object does not of its own accord do what the first does to it. Thus the movement is simply the double movement of the two self-consciousnesses. Each sees the other do the same as it does; each does itself what it demands of the other, and therefore also does what it does only in so far a.s the other does the same. Action by one-side only would be useless because what is to happen can only be brought about by both’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

‘Portrait of a Woman with Parrot’, 1529, Barthel Beham

And of course because we are not fetishists we can well see how the boundaries of recognition may be broadened whereby our ethical duties and obligations extend to animals albeit animals have long been the focus of particular forms of rights, a resolution regarding the extension of moral consideration to non-human animals with a firmer ethical foundation (because as I explained in the previous part and mentioned above we are dealing with ‘logical speculative philosophical concepts rather than empirical and practical determinate concepts’ and though I may have returned to ethics this is all grounded upon logic), for the extension of ethical obligation and laws protecting the welfare of non-human animals grounded within the approach to ethical life is presented by Hegel and in particular through his concept of recognition. Non-human animals possess particular traits and characteristics that bestow upon them recognitive status and as a consequence are also constitutive of our own ethical life and ethical self-understanding and permitting the injuring, mistreatment, or exploitation of non-human animals constitutes a distortion in our recognitive relations not only with non-human animals but with ourselves and with other human animals in addition. The consequence of this is a contaminated and ailing ethical life, a despoiling of our ethical sensibilities and concepts, for inflicting pain upon animals debases the ethical capacities and the ethical status of human animals themselves and hence the recognition of their protection from unnecessary (well such is the world we live in there has to be that qualifier) harm and suffering ought to be defended upon those very grounds, and furthermore is the issue of the legitimacy of extending our ethical obligation to animals, procuring that ethical duty, and producing a compelling pretext for the legal protection of animals from abuse. An ethics that is reflexive in nature can deliver a more compelling perspective that can justify the ethical treatment of animals but also be extended to other areas of moral philosophy.

In his ‘Philosophy of Right’ Hegel presents a thesis developing upon earlier writings and ideas regarding ethical life and rational agents whereby he contends that the very existence of unsound and unwholesome forms of social relations damages not only the subject being dominated or debased but the status of humanity itself, of individuals who dominate and who are dominated. Ethical subjects are constituted through the process of recognition, this is the Hegelian insight, a concept which may be expanded upon, and the Hegelian conception of morality is especially important in virtue of its getting to grips with what other moral theories, utilitarianism or Kantian deontology for instance, do not. The mechanisms of ethical constitution are relational in nature and not simply originating in subjective rationality and the existence of unsound and unwholesome forms of morality is detrimental to the moral status of humanity itself, harming and abusing non-human animals, wrongfully killing them, experimenting on them, is not merely unethical because non-human animals should be treated as moral subjects but because such acts debase the ethical capacities of human animals. Kant argues similarly though his view is severely restricted given the nature of subjective idealism whereas within the Hegelian perspective abusing non-human animals not only does non-human animals a great wrong but does harm to human animals in terms of the fabric of their ethical life, a fabric that possesses the power to constitute ethical subjects. Approaching the subject in this manner non-human animals evidently deserve ethical consideration and protection by the law in a state because of the profoundly unhealthy consequences non-human animal abuse has upon the nature of our shared ethical life, for non-human animals share with us to some degree the possession of particular human distinguishing characters and qualities hence they discover themselves in the realm of recognition which has implications for our own ethical development which can serve as the basis of a morally compelling argument for justifying the legal protection of non-human animals from mistreatment as well as extending our ethical obligations toward non-human animals.

Ethics can be rethought from a perspective whereby stress can be placed upon the manner by which individuals are constituted, that is, the manner by which the existence, toleration and sanctioning of certain practices by a community can debase the ethical substance defined as the collection of concepts, norms, values, and practices of any community or the ethical life of society as a whole. What is required is alternative forms of legal or institutional measures to protect non-human animals from abuse not because they intrinsically possess rights or some kind of ethical substance that ought to be respected in themselves but rather because the protection of non-human animals from abuse ought to be be grounded in the moral argument that demonstrates the potential for human unhealthiness and unwholesomeness emerging from the distorted recognitive structure in turn originating in the abuse and inhumane treatment of animals. And given that ethics is a social phenomenon it plays a pivotal role in the ways in which individuals are shaped and formed, a reflexive moment comes upon the scene through a type of ethical structure whereby subject, object, and their relations all mutually construct ethical substance and the array of ethical categories, practices, and awareness that constitutes society and individuals.

The nature of recognition occurs at two distinct levels, first it is supposed to occur between individuals on an inter-subjective basis whereby the self-development of the moral self-consciousness of an agent requires that first he or she is recognized by other agents as rational and second that he or she recognize others as rational agents, and it is further supposed that individuals should recognize themselves in the social institutions within which they live, whereby recognition is to be viewed as a vital means by which individuals are able to overcome narrower forms of subjectivity and attain a more universalizable conception of ethical life. Furthermore such a paradigm incorporates the presupposition that individual agents absorb through their participation in social life and practices the ethical sensibilities and categories that constitute the norms of the community. Hence legal protection against the abuse of non-human animals is required in virtue of the ways in which the nature of human ethical life is negatively shaped by allowing the abuse and a modern, rational ethical life should be a life in which we look to protect the welfare of animals because of the ways animal abuse can distort the ethical sensibilities of its members, a distortion that can lead to an unhealthiness and debasement of ethical life.

The endeavour to stretch the Kantian conception of duties to cover non-human animals has of course been beset by difficulties which does at least provide some insight into the manner by which a Hegelian conception of ethics can be constructed to deliver a more satisfying case for protecting animals from abuse and provide a rationale for extending legal protections to animals. The most readily available approach of Kantian ethics to the problem of animal abuse is the application of the categorical imperative, and Tom Regan, (1938–2017), constructed a moral argument along Kantian lines against meat-eating, whereby if we take heed of the awful conditions under which factory farming occurs then it should be viewed as a violation of a universalizable law. Regan explains:

‘Suppose I am considering whether to be a vegetarian, not out of considerations that relate to my health but because I think that the intensive rearing of farm animals is wrong and is wrong because of how the animals are treated. If I make use of the Formula of Universal Law, there is no reason why I cannot universalize the relevant subjective maxim: no one is to support the intensive rearing of farm animals by purchasing meat from these sources’.

- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’

And so it is that in this sense the categorical imperative has been perceived to be an adequate ground for defending ethical duties toward animals and as an ethical appeal to vegetarianism, and veganism.

‘Portrait of a Lady with a Cat’, Nikolai Yaroshenko, (1846–98)

However, it may appear reasonable enough to contend that Kant’s categorical imperative ought to be applicable in such a case and yet those who criticise such a position point out that there is an intrinsic limit to extending Kant’s concept of ethical duties to non-human animals, since his basic account of what requires us to have respect for rational nature is that it possess rational autonomy, only beings capable of self-legislation are worthy of our ethical obligations. According to the Kantian Allen W. Wood, (1942 — ):

‘… if it happened to be a quirk of human psychology that torturing animals would make us that much kinder toward humans (perhaps by venting our aggressive impulses on helpless victims) then Kant’s argument would apparently make it a duty to inflict gratuitous cruelty on puppies and kittens so as to make us that much kinder to people’.

- ‘Kant on Duties Regarding Non-rational Nature’

But let us suppose that there were something whose existence has in itself absolute worth, something which as an end in itself could be a ground of determinate laws,in it and in it alone would there be the ground of a possible categorical imperative. The categorical imperative does not stipulate that non-human animals be treated with the same ethical consideration as human animals because of the condition that they possess the capacity of self-legislation and autonomy, rather the restrictions to the Kantian approach can be outlined in brief, the ethical condition of autonomy as the grounding for ethical duties toward others does cannot properly apply to non-human animals and as a consequence those who critique the categorical imperative approach contend that Kant’s fundamental ethical theory cannot be extended to arguing that we possess duties toward non-human animals and yet Kant does present another argument when it comes to extending our moral duties to non-human animals whereby he contends that we do indeed possess indirect duties to non-human animals in the sense that the abusive treatment of them constitutes a moral harm to ourself. He explains:

‘If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, for the dog cannot judge, but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show toward mankind. If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals’.

- ‘Lectures on Ethics’

These indirect duties derive their validity from the fact that ‘animal nature has analogies with human nature’ which means that animals possess some elements of what we possess, the dog’s loyalty and obedience, for instance, is something we ourselves possess by our nature. In this sense, even though non-human animals are not worthy of intrinsic moral consideration their mistreatment has negative effects on the morality of human animals to whom we do in fact owe moral consideration as a duty. Furthermore, as Dan Egonsson, (1956 — ), has contended, this argument is universalizable in the form of the categorical imperative. As he explains:

‘The formulation of the categorical imperative in terms of an end in itself yields the same result concerning our attitude to animal factories as at least one interpretation of the formulation of the categorical imperative in terms of a universal law which concentrates on the undesired consequences of a universalized maxim. If a universalized acceptance of suffering in animal factories means that people get desensitized to suffering, or even brutalized, then that will be undesirable from your own point of view. We simply do not want to live in such a world. Furthermore, brutalization is also undesired if we have the ambition to treat humanity as an end, and therefore a moral case for vegetarianism will follow from both the formulations. Of course, this is not to say that they are equivalent, since two principles might support the same kind of behaviour whether or not they are logically implied by one another, but clearly it means that vegetarianism can be tested by and pass the formulation of the categorical imperative in terms of an end in itself, which is what Regan denies … ‘

- ‘Kant’s Vegetarianism’

Wood on the other hand has contended that it is more persuasive to ditch the argument of indirect duties and interpret Kant as making an argument for direct duties to animals. Wood’s basic thesis is that Kant can be read to argue that any duties we have toward non-human animals or non-rational nature in general:

‘… are really duties to promote our own moral perfection by behaving in ways that encourage a morally good disposition in ourselves…. Similarly, practicing kindness and gratitude toward animals cultivates attitudes of sympathy and love toward human beings, while callousness or cruelty toward animals promotes the contrary vices and makes worse people of us’.

- ‘Kant on Duties Regarding Non-rational Nature’

Wood’s contention is that we ought to expand Kant’s notion of duties toward respect for persons toward respect for rational nature in general, and on this view it is necessary to see non-human animals as deserving respect in and of themselves because they participate in rational nature. In this sense we have a direct duty to respect non-human animals in virtue of their being partially within the realm of rational nature, and when a person mistreats an animal elements of the animal’s rationality are also mistreated. An animal that has been loyal possesses elements of a rational nature and as such deserves moral consideration and the abuse or contempt of these traits are an abuse of contempt of the traits generally and this is something that Kant sees we have a duty to protect, we have duties to rational nature and animals, on Wood’s realist account, have such a status.

And according to Lara Denis, (1969 — ):

‘… certain analogies hold between human-human behavior and animal-animal behavior and human-animal behavior. Humans and animals both share ‘animality’. Kant defines ‘the predisposition to animality’ as encompassing drives ‘for self-preservation; . . . for the propagation of the species, through the sexual drive, and for the preservation of the offspring thereby begotten … ; [and] . . . for community with other human beings’. Our shared animal nature gives rise to recognizable similarities between how animals act based on instinct, and how we act as rational beings who still have natural impulses. These similarities are such that we sometimes perceive animals’ actions as following the same principles as our own, even though animals do not adopt those principles for themselves. Thus, when we see animals interacting among themselves, we can see analogies with how humans sometimes act among themselves. More over, we can often recognize analogies with our relations with other humans in our relations with animals. So … our treatment of animals both affects and reflects our morally relevant emotional predispositions. When we see animals act toward each other in ways that are analogous to morally good or amiable human behavior, we naturally feel love for them. This love is the sort of feeling that naturally encourages kindness and discourages cruelty. Many of our morally important sentiments do not discriminate between animals and humans. Just as our feelings of love and sympathy can be strengthened or weakened by our interaction with other persons, they can be fostered or diminished through our interactions with animals … ‘

- ‘Kant’s Conception of Duties regarding Animals: Reconstruction and Reconsideration’

‘La lecture’, Charles-Désiré, (1833–1879)

The indirect account of duties to animals rather intractable difficulties from a logical point of view because it cannot be employed to establish a causal connection between the abuse or mistreatment of animals and a similar set of actions against human beings, for a Kantian cannot point to a mechanism that would render such an ethical assertion valid. As Heather Fieldhouse explains:

‘… consider the mother who suspects that her son’s style of dress indicates that he is involved with the drug culture. This seems to be a good reason for her to be concerned about his character and lifestyle, and perhaps even to find his style of dress unpleasant. However, it does not mean that his clothes are inherently harmful, and if she responds by forbidding him to wear them, most would think her prohibition is misguided. If the clothes caused the lifestyle, then the prohibition would make sense. Hence an indirect duty view, to successfully establish that we ought to refrain from being cruel to animals, must establish that such cruelty itself causes the character flaw that leads to cruel treatment of animals, as Kant maintains … a Kantian has two options: either accept the counterintuitive result that we have no duties at all (indirect or direct) to animals, or try to find some other way to establish duties within Kant’s system. Since the connection between rationality and moral considerability is deeply rooted in Kant’s ethical theory, this is no small task’.

- ‘The Failure Of the Kantian Theory of Indirect Duties to Animals’

And James Skidmore:

‘We do not typically think that abusing baseballs leads to abusive treatment of people. Most of us are perfectly capable of grasping the fact that abusing people matters morally and abusing baseballs does not. Why, then, on Kant’s indirect account, can we not implement the similar distinction between animals and human beings in order to prevent our callous treatment of animals from leading to callous treatment of human beings? If there is a perfectly obvious moral distinction between non-human animals and human beings, why can we not see this and prevent our ill treatment of the non-human animals from leading to ill treatment of people?’

- ‘Duties to Animals: The Failure of Kant’s Moral Theory’

If we are able to imagine a person who can abuse or mistreat animals and not abuse or mistreat human beings then the basis of the indirect duties thesis falls apart, and likewise if we were to accept the direct duties approach we would need to be convinced of the fact that animals are a part of rational nature since only they are worthy of moral consideration from a Kantian perspective, and even were such a status held for a dog it might not hold for a maggot or a crab and we would be placed in a difficult situation of ethical subcategories based on the extent to which animals might or might not possess rational nature. Furthermore, as Emer O’Hagan has argued:

‘The real problem with Wood’s position is that his argument fails to show that respect for rational nature in the abstract is fundamental to Kant’s ethics; he doesn’t show that Kant’s own arguments concerning animals depend on the assumption that their mistreatment expresses dis respect for rational nature per se, and not for the humanity in persons. The moral damage that Wood takes as evidence of moral impropriety is plausibly the result of the contingent, nonmoral connection between hu mans and animals that nonetheless has, for psychological reasons, ad verse effects on the human character and so signals only the transgression of a moral duty to oneself. In such a case there is nothing wrong with the action as such, except that it predictably will have negative effects on the moral agent. Willfully damaging a valuable work of art might be morally bad in a similar way. Wood has not shown that the moral wrongness of the callous treatment of animals presupposes disrespect for rational nature per se. Contra Wood, moral damage does not assume moral impropriety but rather is quite plausibly understood as the impropriety of the violation of an indirect duty. Kant’s error theory of our obligations regarding animals is internally coherent even though it only weakly sup ports his normative claims about the appropriate treatment of animals. Without a stronger reason to abandon the personification principle, the view that we must respect rational nature in the abstract and animals as having a share in this value is not adequately defended’.

- ‘Animals, Agency, and Obligation in Kantian Ethics’

Rather the Kantian claim for both direct and indirect duties falls apart in virtue of the structure of Kantian ethical thought appearing to fall short in the realization of either thesis, and on the Kantian view it is necessary for animals to have some kind of analogue to our own rational selves, they need to be seen as having some kind of autonomy for only then can they be worthy of our own ethical consideration. Christine Korsgaard, (1952 — ), sought to make the argument that animals deserve moral consideration because they are in fact ends in themselves:

‘… in general, although not infallibly, an animal experiences the satisfaction of its needs and the things that will satisfy them as desirable or pleasant, and assaults on its being as undesirable or unpleasant. These experiences are the basis of its incentives, making its own good the end of its actions. In that sense, an animal is an organic system to whom its own good matters, an organic system that welcomes, desires, enjoys, and pursues its good. We could even say that an animal is an organic system that matters to itself, for it pursues its own good for its own sake. (Footnote: When I say that an animal ‘matters to itself’, or, as I sometimes put it, exhibits ‘self-concern’, I do not mean that an animal is self-interested in the familiar sense that is related to the idea of selfishness. Despite its familiarity, I don’t believe that that conception of self-interest can even be coherently formulated…. Roughly speaking, I don’t mean that it wants things for itself as opposed to caring for the good of its offspring or community, say. I mean rather that it experiences and pursues its own good, it takes its own good as its end, and that these facts change the nature of its good, or of what we mean when we say it has a good. Just as we show concern for another person by promoting that person’s ends (whether they are self-oriented ends or not), so we show concern for ourselves by promoting our own. To put it another way, I am trying to describe what is special about the form of an animal’s good, not something about its content)’.

- ‘Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and our Duties to Animals’

Despite this insight it cannot be demonstrated that animals are ethical beings that possess the capacity for rational autonomy, and furthermore Korsgaard has to attribute the characteristics to non-human animals in order for the Kantian ethical argument to work and the cogency of the ethical argument then rests upon the cogency of the biological argument that animals possesses a knowledge of their own good and willingly chase after it, and there does not appear to be a satisfying way to get around this in Kantian terms since Kantian ethical theory is so structurally determined by that condition. Kantians have struggled to show that ethical treatment of animals is consistent with Kantian moral theory but run into problems of inconsistency, for the fundamental thesis that Kant sets out, that the abuse of non-human animals is morally wrong since it constitutes either a violation of their rational nature or that such abuse or mistreatment will have negative consequences on the treatment of other human animals, has to be conceptualized and developed from within a different framework.

The argument can be strengthened and rendered more persuasive by modifying Hegel’s theory of recognition and ethical life for the purpose of making the argument that there exists a real ethical basis for the protection of animals from cruelty and abuse, and the basis of this argument lies in the way that Hegel is able to argue for recognition as a constitutive process of human ethical life, as a formative dimension of human ethical capacities and sensibilities. Upon such a view the argument that non-human animals ought to be given more consideration and protected from abuse becomes significant in view of the ways in which human ethical life once expanded beyond the realm of human animals alone is percieved as a mechanism for moulding and cultivating group and individual ethical substance, and the abuse or mistreatment of non-human animals constitutes a distortion or sickness of ethical life having consequences that deform the moral community as a whole, the abuse of animals debases us as human animals through a recognitive structure that constitutes human ethical life. Such an argument is not possible from within the context of subjective idealism and can disclose a new way of thinking about the ethical treatment of non-human animals.

And so to recognition and the manner by which it constitutes ethical personality The failure of Kantian attempts to ground a satisfactory account of our ethical conception of animals can be viewed as a limitation of the nature of subjective idealism itself, while rather than having ethical duties grounded in subjectivity a Hegelian account starts from the position of absolute idealism that the nature of ethics does not consist only in the subjective rational structure of agents but is interwoven into the relations individuals have with each other and the nature of their ideas and practices. Upon such a view it is critical to recognise that the ethical life within which individuals are moulded and live their lives is a central focus for questions of moral validity and the critical mechanism for this is recognition of the process of attaining self-consciousness through our interaction and recognition of our own self-consciousness through the self-consciousness of another being. At the heart of Hegel’s ethical theory is a process of ethical self-constitution and what that means is that essentially the manner by which ethical life is to be judged is based upon the manner by which it moulds or constitutes individuals. The ethical realm cannot be circumscribed by the subject alone, this is the limitation of Kantian subjective idealism for which there is difficulty in attaining a concrete form of universality.

In his ‘Lectures on Ethics’ Kant proposes that we have ethical duties to animals as a consequence of them sharing with us at least to some extent human traits and characteristics but in virtue of the limitations of this argument this thesis cannot be developed to its fullest potential within the framework of subjective idealism, rather the moral insight that our mistreatment of animals is a moral devaluation of ourselves can be made fruitful within the context that Hegelian ethical thought delivers, and yet his requires us to move beyond the basic argument that Hegel puts forth regarding his conception of recognition particularly in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’. Although Hegel’s notion of recognition cannot merely be applied to the issue of the ethical treatment of animals the argument can be extended to construct a persuasive claim for the inclusion of animals into the domain of recognition thereby affecting our ethical self-constitution given the Hegelian conception of recognition as happening between two self-conscious subjects for the purpose of achieving the inter-subjective mediation of self-consciousness.

This encounter between two self-conscious subjects effects a change in each of them deriving from the fact that each can no longer rest like solipsists within their own frame of reference but are forced to develop broader self-understanding through their intersubjectivity, and in this sense the simple immediate form of being-for-self develops into a socially mediated being-for-self, it makes the moves from an I-consciousness toward a we-consciousness, a person’s relation to other beings as well as to him or herself is transformed through this process because the self-relation is made possible only through his relation to another being and the other being becomes an objective condition for the development of the self as well as the mutual development of both selves. Hence recognition is a crucial process of ethical self-formation in virtue of it being entwined as is etymologically implied the mechanism of cognition itself and the depth, the progress of our knowledge, both ethical and otherwise, is dependent upon the expansion of the reach of our recognition of others.

As Robert R. Williams, (1939–2018), explains it:

‘There are three phases (Stufen) of recognition: immediacy, or abstract parochial universality; opposition between particulars; and emergent concrete, that is, mediated, universality. The first is the phase of initial confrontation with other under the conditions of abstract immediacy. It is well known that Hegel criticizes the identification of immediacy with truth. This criticism applies to self-knowledge as well. Immediate self-consciousness is for Hegel a false consciousness. It both discloses and conceals and thus systematically distorts its situation; it rejects the very thing it needs and on which it depends, namely, the other. It is essential, and the other inessential. Moreover, what it takes to be the truth turns out to be only a parochial part of the story and so is self-subverting. Since the parochial self, as self-repulsive negativity, is hidden from itself, it depends on the other for its own critical self-consciousness. That is why self-knowledge for Hegel takes the form of self-recognition in other. The road to interiority passes through the other. The self is for itself only by being for an other, and the self is for an other only by being for itself. The ‘for itself’ formulates not the beginning but the result and telos of the process of recognition’.

- ‘Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition’

‘Young herdress with a goat’, 1903, Pietro Pajetta

Such a process is critical for Hegel because it shapes the determinative mechanism of the shift from simple consciousness toward genuine self-consciousness and self-consciousness only acquires unity through the relation to another self-consciousness, it is only then that self-consciousness can develop and expand out from mere immediacy into the wider consciousness outside of its own internality or to express it differently it is the process through which any subject overcomes his or her immediate natural state of consciousness and is transformed into an inter-subjective partner capable of participating in the enlarged demain of duties and knowledge that are demanded by the community as a whole. As Robert Brandom, (1950 — ), has pointed out:

‘Self-consciousness is essentially, and not just accidentally, a social achievement. Second, recognition is a normative attitude. To recognize someone is to take her to be the subject of normative statuses, that is, of commitments and entitlements, as capable of undertaking responsibilities and exercising authority. This is what it means to say that as reciprocally recognized and recognizing, the creatures in question are geistig, spiritual, beings, and no longer merely natural ones’.

- ‘The Structure of Desire and Recognition: Self-Consciousness and Self-Constitution’

And as Williams stresses:

‘First, Hegel treats the concept of recognition in a series of brief imaginative variations. In this conceptual play, the determinations of self and other are to be distinguished and kept separate, yet, in this separation, they are nevertheless taken as not different, or as united. The analysis must focus on the difference of self and other and, within this difference, on their identity and union. It is easy to err by focusing on difference to the exclusion of identity (as do Kojeve and Sartre) and by focusing on identity to the exclusion of difference (as does Levinas in his criticism that Hegel reduces the other to the same). Both the difference of self and other as well as their identity within this differentiation must be faithfully attended to. But why is such attention to double meanings necessary? The reason is that not only subjectivity, but intersubjectivity is in play: recognition is a relation that plays out between two self-conscious beings; it is a joint act of double and opposing significations. In drawing on Fichte’s and especially Schelling’s thesis that freedom has a divided ground, Hegel expresses the point simply: self-consciousness is ‘doubled’.’

- ‘Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition’

And as Ludwig Siep, (1942 — ), expands upon this even further:

‘This doubling does not signify a totality laid out in various moments … such as occurred in the species process. Since both moments are here determined as self-consciousnesses, their relation to each other is layered in double-meanings. … Two self-consciousnesses do not relate to each other like mere things that have an effect on each other, or like forces that interact with each other. The reciprocal relation between two self-consciousnesses transcends these, because for each the other is a moment in its own self-relation. Both depend, not only on the relation of the one to the other, but on the self-relation and self-understanding of the other. Neither can alter itself without co-altering the other insofar as it stands in relation to it. A friend undergoes a change himself through a change in his friend. The relation is therefore not simply causal interaction (Wechselwirkung), but rather a double-signification. Recognition, as a double-signifying act of two self-consciousnesses, is a relation in which the relata relate to themselves through the relation to the other, and relate to the other through their own self-relation. Thus the self’s relation to itself is made possible by the corresponding relation to the other’.

- Recognition as a principle of practical philosophy: Investigations into Hegel Jena philosophy of mind’

Although Hegel’s theory of recognition is taken to be applicable to other human animals as rational agents it is possible to discern in the mechanism of recognition a pivotal argument in defense of the ethical treatment of animals, for recognition is a means by which we are able to cultivate our ethical personality by moving out of our naturalness that is to say our unmediated existence that provides us with a narrow set of interests and concerns, and the ethical life of human animals is indeed a product of the process of recognition since an ethical agent requires the existence of another being to provide some sort of determinate existence for him or her self as an ethical agent and a person becomes a rational ethical agent not by nature but by realizing him or herself within another person’s consciousness. As Hegel explains

‘Each self seeks to give itself objective determinate existence [sich Dasein geben] ‘not in a [mere] external object, but a present object that is also a consciousness. The other’s consciousness is the ground [Boden], the material, the space in which I realize myself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Subjective Spirit’

‘The two self-conscious subjects in relationship to each other, since they have an immediate reality, are natural, bodily, thus exist in the manner of a thing subjected to alien power, and they approach each other as such; yet at the same time they are quite free and may not be treated by each other as only immediate realities, as merely natural entities. To overcome this contradiction, it is necessary that the two selves opposing each other should, in their reality, in their being-for-another, posit themselves as and recognize themselves as what they are in themselves or by their concept, namely, not merely natural but free beings. Only in this does true freedom come about; for since this consists in the identity of myself with the other, I am only genuinely free when the other is also free and is recognized by me as free. This freedom of the one in the other unites men in an internal manner, whereas need and necessity bring them together only externally. Therefore, men must will to find themselves again in one another. But this cannot happen as long as they are caught up in their immediacy, in their naturalness; for it is just this that excludes them from one another and prevents them from being free for one another. Freedom demands, therefore, that the self-conscious subject neither let his own naturalness persist nor tolerate the naturalness of others; on the contrary, indifferent towards reality, he should in individual, immediate contest put his own and the other’s life at stake to win freedom. Only through combat, therefore, can freedom be won; the assurance of being free is not enough for that; at this standpoint man demonstrates his capacity for freedom only by exposing himself, and others, to the danger of death’.

- ‘Philosophy of Spirit’

The well known lord/bondsman dialectic that Hegel describes to demonstrate not merely an instance of an unhealthy and deformed pattern of recognition but also how the struggle for recognition is a struggle to attain a consciousness of a more universal set of needs and wants that all human animal share and the liberating of the bondsman constitutes am altered self-consciousness of the lord toward seeing the bondsman as human. And for this to occur the lord needs to see that the bondsman is like himself, he needs to see that the bondsman possesses the same humanity, that he is part of the same ethical universality, hence the lord breaks out of his own restricted and immediate form of consciousness and moves toward the inter-subjective realm of the sociality of reason whereby the lord no longer sees the bondsman as a mere thing but rather as an object who is needed to reach out of the lord’s immediacy toward the realm of what is ethical. Ethical life can only be rendered possible through this phenomenological opening into the ontological structure of recognition, and it is ontological in virtue of it having an existence outside of the mere subjectivity of individual consciousness. Recognition is the mechanism by which we deepen our self-conceptions, we become ethical beings endowed with the capacity to possess self-recognition within the other being, and the critical end point of recognition is that a subject comes to grasp some continuity between him or herself and the other being, a continuity that transforms and cultivates his or her ethical consciousness.

Hence recognition is the ontological mechanism that impels forward the formative process of ethical self-development and this ontological domain of recognition is integrated into a phenomenological strata that is the domain experiencing the other being and the significant act of distinguishing a self from another being is vital since it demonstrates that the other being is an objective reality who negates the subject’s own immediacy and desire and as a consequence demonstrates a connection to the other person, and this relation is vital since it opens the doorway to a profounder array of ethical reasons that an agent comes to apprehend as valid only once it has become possible to experience the other person as distinct from but also similar to him or herself, and it is distinct in the sense that it is not he or she but it introduces him or her to and consistently bolsters within him or her a continuity with others. The phenomenological or experiential act of recognition shows the rational subject that the other person possesses similar traits to him or herself and the other person possesses self-consciousness, agency, humanity, and within the phenomenological act, a person sees him or herself in a fuller way and is able to express a profounder conception of self through the act. And this leads to the domain of rational ethical life in the sense that the agent breaks down the distinction between subjective notions of ethical value and moves into the more generalizable space of universalizable ethical categories, and this is the foundation of rational ethical life with the notion that reason is not subjective but social.

The cultivation of ethical substance, of the ethical awareness of any person, is functionally dependent upon the recognition of another being and what is being recognized in the process is another self-consciousness, another human subject, and yet what is recognized in the other being is the humanity, aspects, or traits that the subject shares with the other being and only then would a rational ethical agent be able to apprehend some kind of universality and jump from out of immediate subjectivism or narrow inwardness and perhaps a Kantian hypothesis intersects here with Hegel’s thesis of recognition for Kant suggested that we should extend ethical treatment to animals because not doing so will prevent us from cultivating some of our ethical sensibilities toward other human animals. A non-human animal for Kant does not possess intrinsic value but is a mere foil for the practical life of an ethical agent but this disregards that which the Hegelian conception apprehends, namely that the ethical self-development of an individual is dependent upon the recognition by the other individual of a certain continuity with his or herself and Hegel may not mention non-human animals in this context it is reasonable enough to extend the act of recognition to non-human animals as well for they do indeed possess fundamental traits, capacities, and characteristics that we possess, for instance suffering, pain, loyalty, and relatedness.

‘Portrait with a young woman and a dog by the name of Puck’, Therese Schwartze (1851–1918)

As opposed to Kant the concern is not really about the concept of rational nature but rather with the phenomenological realization that a non-human animal as another being does participate in a continuity with the ethical agent as a self-conscious human being, for an animal feels pain, endures suffering, can experience any number of other states that we can, hence rationality is not a precondition for the non-human animal becoming an object of recognition. The domain of recognition can expanded upon recognising that any self-consciousness needs also to recognize in animals the same traits and the phenomenological strata of recognition picks up on such traits in animals continually, a person’s ethical self is a function of the recognition of animals as other beings as well as human animals as other beings and failing to afford recognition to non-human animals with their abuse and mistreatment constitutes a sickness or deformation in the self-constituting potential of recognition itself, for there is an underlying unity between people and animals in the sense that they share, as Kantians have endeavoured to demonstrate, to some extent in what we consider to be human qualities or traits, nonetheless and unlike Kantians it need not be perceived in terms of rationality for the phenomenological strata of recognition sees more in another being than its rationality.

That is to say such a strata is sensitized to broader elements of another being that can manifest affinities with the subject and the Kantian insight concerning duties to non-human animals can be deepened and more completely realized within a Hegelian framework of the ethics of recognition. A mechanism of recognition is apparent in the way that Hegel perceives the confrontation with another being as constitutive of the process of ethical self-formation for in the absence of the confrontation the self-consciousness as well as the ethical substance of the subject would be severely restricted because it would be bereft of the conditions required to apprehend the universal dimensions of ethical life hence what remains is a mechanism by which individuals are moulded and their ethical substance formed.

Given that it is a process with an objective existence it can be seen as a recognitive structure in which the set of relations and the mechanism by which the ethical substance of the individual is formed is dependent upon the nature of the relations within which he or she is embedded and the recognitive structure of ethical life is significant in order to deliver to us a more compelling conception of ethics, we are able to identify the practices, traditions, and acts that deform the recognitive structure and debase the ethical substance of individuals and the community as a whole which provides a persuasive foundation with which to argue for a valid claim that we have a duty to protect non-human animals from human harm, abuse, and cruelty, given that the moral value of protecting animals from this sort of harm and cruelty becomes an objective moment in the ethical self-realization of individuals within the context of modern ethical life. That is to say permitting the abuse of non-human animals is an offense our sense of what is good since it constitutes an unhealthiness of ethical life and it is a deformation of the mechanism that moulds and forms human moral categories, sensibilities and practices, it is not merely that the experiential moment of animal abuse has a debasing impact on ethical sensibilities which appears to be Kant’s view but in addition and more critically that a crack is produced in the ontological space of ethical rationality.

A person recognizes another being based on certain traits that they both share and he or she does not recognize a bush or a rock ethically since it is not possible to recognize otherness that is intrinsically worthy of any kind of ethical obligation within them, yet in animals this does not hold for animals do indeed share with the subject certain traits that must be recognized at a phenomenological level as similar to the traits he or she possesses and the recognitive structure constitutes an ontological washing line upon which ethical claims can find pegged but it is in addition an objective structure having certain reasons and processes that are outside of the subject, and in this sense institutions such as the state and the legal system should be oriented toward the protection of animal welfare.

Two principles are discernible in this complex notion of recognition that are of relevance with regard to expanding the domain of recognition to incorporate non-human animals and their welfare, the first being a principle of self-constitution whereby the problem of animal abuse has some kind of impact upon the moulding of ethical self-constitution, it is not in the recognition of an animal as a rational agent that there is a concern for the process of self-constitution, it is the abuse, misuse, and the causation of suffering of animals that has an unhealthy impact upon the formative process of ethical self-development, so this principle concerns the ways that the process of self-constitution is guided, that we can discern good from bad forms of self-development is a critical first step. Second is a principle of ethical self-understanding whereby the notion that recognition is reflexive in nature is emphasised for the actions a person is allowed to perform and are perceived as permissible by others to perform irrespective of the arbitrary inclinations of the person enter into the ethical fabric of the person and the rest of the community as well. Recognition connects us to others, it is a process that opens us up to the ways that relations between human animals and non-human animals are able to have effects upon our own sensibilities, and this means that moral harm is not regarded merely from a psychological reduction of behaviour that a person might merely perceive such acts as allowable and continue to perform and legitimate them.

And further it means that it constitutes a disruption in the ethical integrity of an individual either by moulding him or her in a way to perceive such acts as permissible and acceptable, or by exposing him or her to acts that might wear away the ethical-emotional dimension of that person and his or her duties to others. No individual can be perceived as insulated from this point of view because ethics is perceived as embedded in social acts and self-understanding at the same time. And with the two principles regarded as interrelated dimensions of the recognitive structure we discover that they reside at the foundation of ethical life or the ethical sensibilities and categories that are instilled in individuals, for individuals ingest ethical content from social relations and social relations are the network within which the process of recognition unfolds we can perceive a distinct connection between ethical life and the relations we have to other beings. Unhealthy relations give rise to a damaged ethical life by befuddling recognitive relations that in turn lead to the deformation of ethical substance within the community, and this leads to the basic character of this kind of approach to ethics. The actions, practices, sensibilities that any society attests to have a formative effect upon others and ourselves, they are reflexive in nature, and this recognitive structure can be enlarged to incorporate non-human animals and their welfare.

Given that they also attest to human capacities for feeling, relatedness, suffering, pain, and a sense of will we have to recognize in them similarities with ourselves and as a consequence a continuity between an ethical subject and an animal is thereby revealed, and when a person notices an animal suffering,it is not simply empathy as suggested by Arthur Schopenhauer, (1788–1860), that takes hold of him or her:

‘Boundless compassion for all living beings is the surest and most certain guarantee of pure moral conduct, and needs no casuistry. Whoever is filled with it will assuredly injure no one, do harm to no one, encroach on no man’s rights; he will rather have regard for every one, forgive every one, help every one as far as he can, and all his actions will bear the stamp of justice and loving-kindness. … In former times the English plays used to finish with a petition for the King. The old Indian dramas close with these words: ‘May all living beings be delivered from pain’ Tastes differ; but in my opinion there is no more beautiful prayer than this’.

- ‘On the Basis of Morality’

(Compassion is the basis of all morality is Schopenhauer’s moral theory in a nutshell, a totally shallow and useless ethical theory if ever there was one but I won’t go into that now. There is no telling who or what we might have compassion for).

It is also that the person participates in a recognitive relation to the suffering and as such it means that an expansion and deepening of rational ethical life would need to incorporate the animal as part of the universal set of relata toward which the ethical categories of an agent should be directed. The two two principles of ethical self-constitution and ethical self-understanding are deformed through recognitive ill-health in virtue of their wearing away such capacities within ethical subjects. Through purposively tolerating, enjoying, or being indifferent to the suffering of another creature, a creature that possesses some of the most basic similarities with us as human beings, we turn our backs upon the shared, universalizable qualities of basic ethical orientations, and such an act in the phenomenological domain of misrecognition filters into the ontological domain of our ethical categories the very means by which we attain ethical self-understanding, they are not reducible to feelings of sympathy but rather have normative force upon us once we recognize them as worthy of our ethical obligations.

And so the ethical status of animals rests in their mutual sharing in certain traits with us as human animals hence they must be incorporated within the recognitive structure responsible for the moulding of the substance of ethical life, and when a person abuses an animal or when someone is exposed to practices that abuse animals for any number of reasons space is opened up for an unhealthiness in the recognitive structure and a person’s ethical capacities are in the process disfigured to a greater or lesser degree by not recognizing the suffering as legitimate, as real, as having an effect upon another being. The agent’s potentiality to reach out of a narrower form of ethical self-consciousness is subdued and he or she is denied a fuller range of ethical capacities. There is still a recognition that a non-human animal cannot serve as a complete other being to make the recognitive relation totally sufficient since that requires the other being to possess rational self-consciousness and as a consequence free will (but then do we have free will?). Non-human animals may never reach this status and hence cannot serve as a sufficient other being for the realization of human freedom but the theory of recognition also provides a mechanism of ethical cognition that can be employed to justify the incorporation of animals and their welfare into the realm of ethical value and duty. And Kant has suggested, and this has been taken up by his adherents such as Wood, that animals possess an aspect of humanity, and given the mechanism of recognition as the phenomenological dimension of our ethical self-realization we have to accept that animals also can be circumscribed within the realm of recognizable relata necessary for rational ethical life.

‘Kitty Baronin Rothschild’, 1916, John Quincy Adams

And yet the notion of the rot seeing in to ethical life attains a higher level of complexity upon recognising that Hegel’s argument concerning rational ethical life is that the ultimate meaning of the ethical concepts we assume need to be generalizable, and in this sense, irrational forms of ethical life produce contradictions within our ethical culture as Axel Honneth, (1949 — ), explains:

‘… Hegel in no way believes that the decision to adopt the moral stance is wrong in every case; rather, he accepts without any reservation that it is advisable to rely on one’s conscience alone whenever there are sufficiently good reasons to question the rationality of institutionalized practices. Therefore he must be prepared for the possibility of a subject coming to a halt in his ‘ethical’ everyday life because the normative guidelines of his social environment no longer seem to offer any guarantee of being rational in the sense that their underlying principles can be generalized. At such a moment of crisis the only way that remains to realize one’s own freedom is to distance oneself from all existing norms and, as it were, to bracket them in their social validity..’

- The Pathologies of Individual Freedom: Hegel’s Social Theory, (Princeton, N.J.:

Hegel wrote:

‘In the shapes which it more commonly assumes in history … the tendency to look inwards into the self and to know and determine from within the self what is right and good appears in epochs when what is recognized as right and good in actuality and custom is unable to satisfy the better will. When the existing world of freedom has become unfaithful to the better will, this will no longer finds itself in the duties recognized in this world and must seek to recover in ideal inwardness alone that harmony which it has lost in actuality’.

- ‘Elements of the Philosophy of Right’

The recognitive structure makes us ethical because it compels us to take a normative standpoint toward others and the recognitive relation renders an agent ethical in virtue of his or her starting to conceive of him or herself as the subject of normative commitments to others but also that the normative commitments are universal in nature, they hold as general, universal values that mediate the sense of duty of the agent and when he or she stops being subject to such normative requirements his or her ethical substance is debased and he or she is less ethical than if he or she were to adopt such a stance. Animal abuse is acutely sickening in that it is both an expression of a diseased self and also the seed of the disruptions or deformations within the recognitive structure of human ethical life, we need to perceive the nature of human ethical substance as constituted by the relational structure of sociality and the Hegelian foundational concept of recognition between two self-conscious subjects not only promotes the accomplishment of a fuller, more complete self so also with the expanded realm of recognition incorporating animals, their inclusion into the ethical realm of humane and ethical treatment and consideration can enlarge and deepen the ethical substance of individual agents by giving them a broader horizon of ethical commitments.

Animals possess intrinsic qualities that qualify them as recognizable other beings and as such we must to some degree extend them ethical commitments, the intrinsic qualities include attributes such as pain, suffering, and relatedness that any rational ethical agent would recognize as a shared attribute between himself and an animal, and it is not that the shared attributes in and of themselves requires a moral duty toward an animal, recognition of an animal as possessing similar attributes to us means that animals move into the sphere of moral consideration, and a society that does not protect animals from abuse and other forms of suffering reflects inconsistencies in its ethical fabric and institutions in that members of the society do not truly generalize ethical commitments toward all beings in which we can find recognitive connections. Once the two principles of ethical self-constitution and ethical self-understanding are accepted we can start to perceive the basic mechanism of the recognitive structure of ethical life which can serve as the means by which we absorb the ethical categories, norms, and practices of our community and the self-regarding and other-regarding conceptions that constitute rational agency.

Two rational human animals are in confrontation, well, what does rational mean anyway? The mechanism of recognition is applies to human intersubjectivity but not only so, a mechanism of recognition can be enlarged in the sense that human ethical sensibilities and capacities are affected by other kinds of confrontations, with non-human animals in particular, and recall Kant’s moral hypothesis regarding our moral duties to animals whereby we ought to treat animals with moral consideration since doing otherwise wears away our ethical treatment of other human animals and hence is to be viewed as morally disallowed. But furthermore it only by ingesting a rational ethical life can we be a part of a moral community that is capable of thriving under truly rational ethical norms, and recognition is required for this end since that is how we are able to see that our humanity reaches out of our particularity toward a more shared, universal level. If we can recognize in non-human animals through their various traits and features some degree of what we too possess as human beings then we must incorporate them within the realm of recognition for to do aught else would be a blatant breach of the process of recognition upon which follows some deformation of an agent’s ethical substance and the ethical life of the community of which he or she is a part.

Like human animals non-human animals possess particular shared traits which means that they must be perceived as possessing a recognitive status and an agent must recognize some sense of commonness between him or herself and a non-human animal and this aspect of the argument is critical for take it away and the mechanism of recognition affects the ethical awareness of the subject, the idea that an ethical agent sees a trait or set of traits that he or she recognizes as similar to him or herself means that he or she perceives something analogous to his or her own self and what is recognized is a resemblance that informs ethical reasoning. Without the resemblance we would be back to trying to construct an abstract conception of personhood to give shape to our ethical duties, rather, the thesis of recognition rests on an analogy that is phenomenologically observed and the creation of ethical reasoning from the recognition of what is in common means that ethical ideas can acquire some degree of strength from the perception of a shared, analogous resemblance.

An account for this reasoning is delivered up to us by David Hume’s account of the force of analogy:

‘But beside these two species of probability, which are derived from an imperfect experience and from contrary causes, there is a third arising from ANALOGY, which differs from them in some material circumstances. According to the hypothesis above explained all kinds of reasoning from causes or effects are founded on two particulars, viz., the constant conjunction of any two objects in all past experience, and the resemblance of a present object to any one of them. The effect of these two particulars is, that the present object invigorates and inlivens the imagination; and the resemblance, along with the constant union, conveys this force and vivacity to the related idea; which we are therefore said to believe, or assent to. If you weaken either the union or resemblance, you weaken the principle of transition, and of consequence that belief, which arises from it’.

- ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’

The more forcibly we perceive the affinity the more forcible is the connection in our ethical reasoning and upon the analogous resemblance being present the recognitive structure can open up the ethical space of reasons revealing to us the universality of our ethical commitments and if not there is a chance that the premise of Hegelian ethical life will be violated and we become incapable of generalizing our ethical concepts and sentiments and we fail fully to realize a rationalist ethical life and so Hegel’s understanding of recognition places us under the obligation of extending ethical regard to animals. The recognitive structure of ethical life containing the principles of ethical self-constitution and ethical self-understanding further means that once any agent fails to recognize animals as worthy of recognition he or she debases his or her possession of the two principles and it means that the ethical principles that he or she ingests are non-universalizable in that they apply only to human animals and not to non-human animals.

If a person tolerates or even enjoys tauromachy, for instance, (like Ernest Hemingway, (1899–1961), who recall said: ‘So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after’, an account of morality as shallow and as useless as that of Schopenhauer but Hemingway had the excuse of not being a philosopher), then he or she tolerates or enjoys not only the suffering of the animal itself but also disregards or becomes insensitive to the suffering and fails to extend his or her most basic ethical capacities to a creature that shares with him or her some of the most basic features of what it means to be a conscious being. This should be recognised at a phenomenological level where the ethics of recognition start, an ethical life that permits such practices can hence create subjects with more restricted forms of ethical capacities than practices that enforce the protection of animal welfare. Since ethical life ought to be thought of as a set of attitudes, practices, and orientations that are accumulated by the community and which are passed on through education there is a quite evident legitimate argument for the institutional protection of animals through law in a state given that such institutions are rational objectifications of our shared ethical conceptions and commitments. This space of ethical life is related to the process of recognition in the sense that it forms a network of recognitive relations and any individual develops his or her ethical capacities within this network of recognition and individuals should see modern ethical life as reflected in the institutions that structure the developmental process of human life.

To conclude with the reflexive nature of ethical concepts. An unhealthy ethical life requires conceiving of as a deformation in the recognitive relations between ethical selves and it must also be perceived as those elements that cause a degradation of the optimum potentiality of ethical substance ingestible by ethical agents and because the notion of recognition opens up the insight that we recognize not only others but also ourselves as partaking in the ethical life of a community and that we are in fact constituted by the ethical fabric of a community within which we are interwoven we must consider the thesis that there is a reflexivity of ethical life, the thesis of reflexivity is hence a critical dimension of rational ethical life, a point also raised by Brandom when he argues:

‘In such an ideal community, each member is to be able to recognize himself as a member. To say that is to say that recognition is reflexive. Recognition is also to be symmetric, that is to say, reciprocal or mutual (Hegel’s ‘gegenseitig’). It is this aspect that is lacking in the defective forms of recognition that structure the defective forms of self-consciousness rehearsed in the Phenomenology, beginning with the discussion of Mastery. The view appears to be that insofar as recognition is de facto not symmetric, it cannot be reflexive. I cannot be properly self-conscious (recognize myself) except in the context of a recognition structure that is reciprocal: insofar as I am recognized by those I recognize. (This is the essence of Hegel’s Wittgensteinean view of self-consciousness, which by contrast to a Cartesian view sees it as a social achievement, which accordingly takes place in important respects outside the self-conscious individual. It is not a kind of inner glow.)’

- ‘The Structure of Desire and Recognition: Self-Consciousness and Self-Constitution,’

A person recognizes another being that recognizes him or her back and this is the phenomenological level of recognition but there is also a more profound ontological level of recognition that is the actual ethical self that is moulded and formed by the phenomenological level, the ethical sensibilities and categories used to determine actions and practices make up this ontological level of recognition. Deformations in the phenomenological domain create an unhealthy shape to the ontological realm of ethical consciousness and practice itself and if there is a reflexive dimension to ethics and we are to judge certain acts and practices from the perspective of their consequences on our ethical self-development as persons then we can perceive that such ethical insights are in need of an objective referent in terms of the law in a state, and now we are in the realm of objective spirit, our ethical life would be forever abstract were it not realized in the domain of the institutional arrangements of law in a state.

All of which implicates the notion of a reflexive ethics as a form of ethical argumentation that requires us to give central place to the process of ethical self-constitution for ethical argumentation whereby a reflexive moment enters to inquire as to what extent any particular action or set of actions, tradition or set of sanctioned behaviours and practices are capable of deepening the ethical self-constitution of rational agents and it concerns the problem of disease and sickness of this process alongside the Hegelian thesis that the formation of the ethical substance of any rational agent is determined by the kinds of relations and forms of recognition that the agent ingests. Hence reflexive ethics requires that we focus our attention upon the recognitive structure of ethical life within which individuals are formed and moulded.

Hence the reflexivity thesis revolves around the particular mechanism that creates and recreates ethical substance and ethical self-consciousness, and deficient forms of recognition in the phenomenological domain lead to deformations in ethical self-constitution and self-consciousness, the ontological domain of ethical substance itself. And this in turn can have various unhealthy consequences for human action and ethical practices and categories, animal abuse is a critical instance, in fact it cannot be stressed enough what a terrible thing it is, of a disruption in the recognitive structure having reflexive feedback effects upon the ethical self-constitution of subjects, and as a consequence the protection of animals from harm and mistreatment requires protection from law in a state, the acts we enact or are performed around us are constitutive of our own ethical self-formation.

All forms of animal exploitation, suffering, and unnecessary dependence and misuse severely damage the ethical life of human beings as rational ethical agents. The structure of reflexive ethics is substantive enough to compete with other traditions of argumentation for animal rights because it provides a deeper understanding for justifying our ethical obligations to animals and gives a rationale for legal and political action as well, and the notion that laws should be provided not simply for the protection of animals in and of themselves but that the prevention of acts of cruelty and inhumanity have a damaging and diseased effect upon the human beings by exposing them to degenerative forces upon their ethical self-development requires that state action protect animals and individuals from such acts.

And once we are able to apprehend the notion that human beings are formed by their recognitive experiences in the world we can perceive that their relation to other responding beings has an impact upon the ways in which their own ethical substance will be moulded and formed, and so the ethical life of a community places a requirement upon us to recognize that the abuse of animals and their protection from cruelty is an essential element in the realization of ethical beings. Animal abuse constitutes a gross deformation in the network of recognitive relations and this constitutes the element of reflexivity and the actions we enact have a formative impact upon the ethical sensibilities of an agent as well as the sensibilities of others. The protection of animals from harm and abuse at the hands of human animals is an issue of enriching and protecting a more highly evolved sense of ethical norms and practices.

And what of issues having to do with the environment and elements of nature that do not possess consciousness? If the thesis of recognition can demonstrate to us a new way to appreciate the ways our abuse of animals can introduce diseased and unhealthy ways of treating other beings then of course the realm of recognition can extend further than the non-animal realm as well. Upon seeing our destructive actions on other objects the reflexive element of ethical life given force by the recognitive structure can open up for us as ethical agents the diseased and sickened nature of such activities. Doubtless it is harder to discover immediate phenomenological matters in common with a bush or the celestial sky above but once an ethical agent perceives that his or her actions are destructive in some wanton sense the agent will perceive this only if we perceive ethical propositions as reflexive in nature. We need to perceive that our actions have to be judged not only upon their immediate effects but upon the ways that they have effects back upon our ethical development and the ethical development within the ethical community as a whole. This is opened up through perceiving the fundamental ways that the recognitive structure is essential to the formation of a truly rational ethical life, and the case for moving toward the recognition of animals as legitimate other beings for our ethical duties is hence a starting point for deepening other realms of our ethical thought.

Such an approach gives a richness and a depth to the ethical argument that animals ought to be protected from abuse and cruelty without the inconsistencies that beset the Kantian position as we are compelled to regard the proposition that ethical life is a shared, dynamic context within which we and others are formed and moulded and Hegel has provided for us a new region for the making of ethical claims… to the unknown region we go .. reflexive ethical arguments are constructed within the space of ethical life and the recognitive structure that maintains and reproduces it and the basic ethical premise of recognition gives us something wonderful, non-human animals are not self-conscious in the way that human animals are does not preclude them from the realm of recognition. Rather than perceiving recognition as exclusive to human agents animals can be incorporated into the realm of recognition since there are actual, shared continuities between human beings and most animals. If this is so then we are confronted with the notion that if our own ethical life is to be truly rational, then we must also extend ethical obligations to animals, and further from the Hegelian recognitive structure, as if we need a theory to establish this, we must also see animal abuse as a serious sickness of ethical life, well, as if one needs a theory to let us know that, but trust Hegel to provide us with the equipment to defend the notion that we have ethical obligations to non-human animals and non-rational nature.


by Karl Gottlieb Lappe (1773–1843)

I want to live in freedom,

Death decays in the coffin.

Just look there at the sunset

Weaving around the cheerful hills.

Life blossoms in freedom,

Danger lurks in confinement.

Hurry, so hurry to struggle out,

Before your heart risks coming to a stop!

There is a need for light and air and space.

I want to live in freedom.

Dearest birds, let us soar away,

Faithful to nature’s commandment.


In der Freie will ich leben.

In dem Sarge dumpft der Tod.

Sieh nur dort das Abendroth

Um die heitern Hügel weben.

In der Freie blüht das Leben,

In der Enge hockt die Noth.

Eilt, drum eilt hinaus zu streben,

Eh das Herz zu stocken droht!

Licht und Luft und Raum ist noth.

In der Freie will ich leben.

Traute Vögel, laßt uns schweben,

Folgsam der Natur Gebot.

‘Stretching swans’, 1915, Bruno Liljefors




David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.

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David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.