The Struggle for Recognition : On Animal Rights — part three

David Proud
50 min readAug 20, 2022

‘With this appeal to universal experience we may be permitted to anticipate how the case stands in the practical sphere. In this respect we can tell those who assert the truth and certainty of the reality of sense-objects that they should go hack to the most elementary school of wisdom, viz. the ancient EIeusinian Mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus, and that they have still to learn the secret meaning of the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. For he who is initiated into these Mysteries not only comes to doubt the being of sensuous things, but to despair of it; in part he brings about the nothingness of such things himself in his dealings with them, and in part he sees them reduce themselves to nothingness. Even the animals are not shut out from this wisdom but, on the contrary, show themselves to be most profoundly initiated into it; for they do not just stand idly in front of sensuous things as if these possessed intrinsic being, but, despairing of their reality, and completely assured of their nothingness, they fall to without ceremony and eat them up. And all Nature, like the animals, celebrates these open Mysteries which teach the truth about sensuous things’.

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

Do we have any duties towards animals other than our own species?

Immanuel Kant, (1724–18040, thought so, albeit only indirect duties, our direct duties reserved for humankind:

‘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 towards 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’.

- ‘Lectures on Ethics’

But why do we have a duty towards our own species? What is meant by duty anyhow? What a cold word it is.

‘One word more against Kant as a moralist. A virtue must be our invention, our most personal defence and need: in every other sense it is merely a danger. That which does not constitute a condition of our life, is merely harmful to it: to possess a virtue merely because one happens to respect the concept ‘virtue’, as Kant would have us do, is pernicious. ‘Virtue’, ‘Duty’, Goodness in itself’, goodness stamped with the character of impersonality and universal validity — these things are mere mental hallucinations, in which decline the final devitalisation of life and Königsbergian Chinadom find expression. The most fundamental laws of preservation and growth, demand precisely the reverse, namely:- that each should discover his own virtue, his own Categorical Imperative. A nation goes to the dogs when it confounds its concept of duty with the general concept of duty. Nothing is more profoundly, more thoroughly pernicious, than every impersonal feeling of duty, than every sacrifice to the Moloch of abstraction.- Fancy no one’s having thought Kant’s Categorical Imperative dangerous to life! …’

- Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), ‘The Antichrist’

‘Un combat de taureau’, 1855, Jacques Raymond Brascassat

For Kant duty consists in observing the categorical imperative: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. See my article On Kant’s ‘Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals’ — Good will hunting — part one. This is the formula of universal law. And of course Kant did not think that respect for animals was a necessary consequence of the categorical imperative given that animals are not autonomous or self-conscious in the Kantian sense and therefore cannot be regarded as moral agents and moral obligations and moral rights apply to agents alone, and in virtue of their status as moral patients they are afforded no respect but merely amassed together into a collective of mere things insofar as the theory of moral standing is concerned.

But wait a moment. Has not Hegel demonstrated that the formula of universal law dooms morality into being an empty formalism whereby from the moral standpoint there is no criterion at all of moral right and wrong? The test proposed by the formula of universal law draws no real distinction between maxims so that from one point of view all maxims pass it whereas from another point of view any maxim fails it. The emptiness charge is indeed a more general indictment against the moral standpoint as a whole for the accusation is that no immanent doctrine of duties can be formulated from the moral standpoint at all in virtue of this standpoint providing nothing but an empty principle of subjectivity as Hegel explains:

‘The ethical theory of duties [Pflichtenlehre] — i.e. in its objective sense, not as supposedly comprehended in the empty principle of moral subjectivity, which in fact determines nothing — therefore consists in that systematic development of the circle of ethical necessity … The difference between its presentation here and the form of a theory of duties lies solely in the fact that the following account merely shows that ethical determinations are necessary relations, and does not proceed to add in every case ‘this determination is therefore a duty for human beings’. — A theory of duties, unless it forms part of philosophical science, will take its material from existing relations and show its connection with one’s own ideas [Vorstellungen] and with commonly encountered principles and thoughts, ends, drives, feelings [Empfindungen], etc.; and as reasons in favour of each duty, it may also adduce the further consequences which this duty may have with reference to other ethical relations and to welfare and opinion. But an immanent and consistent theory of duties can be nothing other than the development of those relations which are necessitated by the Idea of freedom, and are therefore actual in their entirety, within the state’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

Morality is the standpoint of the individual moral subject who judges actions by a standard of the good whose content is drawn from both right and well-being taking into account not only the agent’s well-being but also the well-being of others. Is there no principle that may be formulated in terms of human rights and welfare that could ever draw any distinction at all between good and evil or rule out any action whatever as immoral? Well, it depends how we read Hegel’s accusation of formulaic vacuity, to say that the formula of universal law or Kantian moral philosophy or the moral standpoint in general cannot deliver a completely satisfactory account of our duties is evidently a somewhat diluted reading of the claim that they can make no distinction between good and evil and are unable to exclude any action whatever as morally wrong. Even if the formula of universal law demonstrates some actions or maxims to be wrong it may still fall short of providing a fully adequate account of duties if there are some cases that it fails to cover or in which it yields the wrong results. Such is indeed true of any principle adopted from the moral standpoint if this standpoint abstracts from important factors in human life that any adequate theory of duties must take into account.

Be that as it may the categorical imperative and hence the moral law as presented in the ‘Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals’ is certainly open to misinterpretation even by Kant himself for if he takes from it a denial of the status of moral patients for animals it could be objected that he thereby renders his moral theory incoherent whether or not the categorical imperative provides a solid foundation for rational morality. It may be suggested that the Kantian notion of moral law can be a very forceful argument for the rights of all sentient beings, which is something we need to look at seriously, yes really, that is to say, in its principle formulations the categorical imperative has coherence but only if all sentient beings as moral patients are included.

One manner by which we can derive a particular categorical imperative is to universalize some maxim of policy that a moral agent proposes to adopt, this is the first form of the categorical imperative, and any underlying difficulties with it can be uncovered upon considering the scope of the legitimate and relevant maxims to be put to the test by this method. For Kant a legitimate maxim has to be one that can be properly universalized whereby it is out of the question in stating a maxim that arbitrary limitations can be imposed upon its scope. Let us taking lying for instance, which always comes up in discussions of the formula of universal law, for we all do it, lovers most especially, lying that is, it is all part of the mating game:

‘Sonnet 138’

by William Shakespeare, (1564–1616)

When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her, though I know she lies,

That she might think me some untutored youth,

Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties.

Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,

Although she knows my days are past the best,

Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:

On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.

But wherefore says she not she is unjust?

And wherefore say not I that I am old?

Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,

And age in love loves not to have years told.

Therefore I lie with her and she with me,

And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

If she were to formulate her stance into a maxim: ‘I am made of truth when it suits my interests to keep my lover happy’ can this be universalized? She would be presenting a maxim that can be properly tested and the conclusion that it leads her to is that were such a maxim universalized and lovers everywhere practiced it as a policy then its very point would be destroyed, for all lovers would tell lies and none of us would believe them, and therefore a rule against such lying follows as a matter of logic (unless as lovers we accept it as all part of the deal so to speak of being a lover, trying to universalize a maxim is never a straightforward matter, indeed considering the messiness of human life and how messed up we ourselves are as opposed to the rest of the animal kingdom perhaps it is impossible and there is no universalizable maxim). And for a maxim to have a universal or morally fundamental meaning it cannot be qualified albeit not every policy having the form of a maxim can be properly generalized. The lover cannot qualify the maxim to suit his or her special situation, for instance he or she cannot lie whenever it advantages his or her family (perhaps his or her lover is well off and while making him or her happy with his or her lies marriage would certainly benefit his or her family), or if it advantages him or her in his or her profession (sleeping with the boss, well I am not sure if a man has ever advanced his career that way, but who knows?), or for the sake of personal kudos (being seen in public with a nice bit of decoration hanging on your arm, male or female, it works both ways). All such statements of policy could evidently withstand universalization and would not generate the sort of contradiction or absurdity that indicates a categorical imperative such as one must not lie but they are without universal or morally fundamental meaning.

Kant in addition presented a formula of humanity: ‘So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means’. Thomas Pogge, (1953 -), commenting on this formula asserts: ‘The sharpening of the categorical imperative through Formula II [FH] is important in yet another context, namely for the assessment of maxims that contain a reference to a subset of all persons, e.g. to women, parents, Muslims, Canadians, or the poor. When the question is merely what the agent can will by way of maxims available to all persons, then some outrageous maxims might seem to pass’. A instance of such an illicit maxim that Pogge gives (ho hum here we go) is : ‘As Europeans we can reasonably will that all Europeans may colonize’. And then the case may be advanced that such a way of misusing the formula of universal law applies to the status of animals as well, in that maxims that exclude respect for animal, for example, I will consume meat of any sort of animal that delights my taste buds, appear at first thought to be universalizable in that the maxim’s adoption by everyone does not threaten my freedom to pursue my policy or my possible success in doing so, I can consume as much meat as I like while others are free to do so or not to do so as they wish, and yet this consequence follows only because the above maxim is implicitly restricted to non-humans. That is to say that the meat that we may consume at our pleasure is tacitly assumed to be the flesh of animals and upon the basis of that assumption, the maxim can be universalized without absurdity.

But once the tacit restriction to animals is acknowledged and eliminated the carnivore is moved into the maxim’s compass and it now says that I will consume the flesh of any sentient being as I please hence the result of universalization is now something of a quandary. The policy, universalized, leads to the possibility and legitimacy of cannibalism. There would now be a universal law permitting me to eat all others, yet allowing all others, including humans, to eat me. The same considerations also apply to Thomas Pogge’s variant formulation of the formula of universal law which is based upon an atypical construction of the principle. According to the standard view of the formula of universal law the maxim of a will when universalized is to be evaluated as if it were a rule that everybody will follow and according to Pogge’s reconstruction the universalization of a maxim should be taken only as granting permission. It merely makes that maxim available to everybody, who may then use it if they want to: ‘Strictly speaking, it is then not his maxim that the agent must be able to will as a universal law, but the availability of this maxim. Other things being unchanged, can he will our world to be such that everyone feels (morally) free to — and those so inclined (‘by nature’) actually do — adopt his maxim? This differs from what the categorical imperative is usually taken to demand, namely that the agent must be able to will that everyone actually adopt his maxim’.

‘Hounds attacking a bear’, 1656, Abraham Hondius

Pogge in the light of his revised interpretation asserts that the formula of universal law will filter out maxims not upon the grounds that they would lead to contradiction which is the traditional interpretation but rather because making them available to real people (as opposed to hypothetical people) under given or expected empirical conditions would render them pointless and of no use and an instance to shed light upon what he is thinking of is the maxim that: if I am in need I can through deceit borrow money to ameliorate my situation:

‘In the world to be imagined, everyone would be free to adopt the maxim ‘when in need, to make deceitful promises so as to alleviate my difficulties’. Thus people in need would (be known to) have no reason not to make deceitful promises; potential promisees would (be known to) have good reason to reject promises made by persons in need; and most people in evident need thus might not even bother to offer promises — deceitfully or otherwise. But this shows at most that if the maxim were universally permitted, it would fall into disuse as it were. It does not show that the world we are imagining is impossible’.

- ‘The Categorical Imperative’

Hence one can argue that permission to eat meat even if it applied in principle to humans would not be used that way, for people just are not anthropophagous or at least they do not hunger for the flesh of fellow humans all that frequently.

In case you are thinking why I am saying anthropophagous rather than cannibalistic well Shakespeare continually haunts my thoughts:

… From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,

That I have passed.

I ran it through, even from my boyish days,

To the very moment that he bade me tell it;

Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,

Of moving accidents by flood and field

Of hair-breadth scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,

Of being taken by the insolent foe

And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence

And portance in my travels’ history:

Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,

Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven

It was my hint to speak, — such was the process;

And of the Cannibals that each other eat,

The Anthropophagi and men whose heads

Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear

Would Desdemona seriously incline …

- ‘Othello’, Act 1, Scene 3

The anthropophagi, a mythical race of cannibals described first by Herodotus, (c. 484 — c. 425 BC) in his ‘Histories’ as androphagi, man-eaters. One really doesn’t need to go into elaborate argumentation to demonstrate the force behind Hegel’s charge against the categorical imperative as being an empty formalism. Non too fanciful imagined scenarios will do the trick. Cannibals have certainly existed and we have documented cases such as that of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972 and it was cannibalism that made it possible for some of them to survive two months in harsh conditions. They may have been rugby players but would you not have done the same had your life depended upon it? Shakespeare is confusing the anthropophagi and the Blemmyes, another mythical race who were said to have had no head and had their facial features on the chest. Perhaps they never existed but suppose they did? You know how when a man and a woman are engaged in conversation and the woman might say ‘excuse me but my eyes are up here’, well, living among the Blemmyes it would not only be accepted for the male Blemmy to gaze at the chest of the female Blemmy but even expected for the sake of polite conversation. If anything she would come out with the reprimand ‘excuse me but my eyes are down here’, after all eye contact displays respect while also reflecting sincerity and honesty.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Pogge is making the point that permission to eat human flesh would hence be available but hardly used and this explains why for Pogge Kant’s exclusion of animals is not a critical issue. It may be objected that such a reformulation of Kant’s principle fails to attain its objective given that the universal rule in many cases would not lead to universal disuse, for instance a person in need may well be able to conceal the usual indications of their condition and hence be able to borrow deceitfully and the rule against lying would not thereby fall into general disuse, given that it would still be useful to some and would not be discarded universally. And furthermore Pogge’s re-formulation runs into particularly serious difficulties with regard to the maxim: I will murder my rivals or opponents whenever I can do so safely and effectively. The simple availability of such a policy universally would not destroy society, most people dislike killing by nature.

Do they though? And how do we know that? What if there is a war going on and you are put into a uniform and asked to kill anyone with a certain different uniform. You are allowed to kill, and what if you discover you enjoy it? How little we know about what we are really like because of not being put into such situations but we are all aware of the terrible atrocities committed by soldiers in times of war, think of the Vietnam war when a company of American soldiers brutally killed most of the people, women, children and old men, in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. Murder is a crime punishable by very severe penalties of course and no society would survive without outlawing murder but it is always worth reminding ourselves that the law and morality are not the same thing .. the law is not the legalization of moral values! Or it shouldn’t be albeit of course it sometimes is and then we get bad laws .. laws against obscenity for instance, or if you think there should be laws against what some people regard as obscene, well, what about adultery or homosexuality being criminal offences as they are in some parts of the world, as is atheism for that matter?

Anyway to continue, (I am finding getting through this dismal philosophy so tiresome I can’t wait to getting round to presenting the Hegelian case for animal rights) the suggestion is that only very bold and aggressive types would take the risk of being caught by the police (oh really? Just try visiting London as it is today or certain American cities where looting and shoplifting is a regular occurrence and the authorities do nothing .. you don’t need any boldness or aggressiveness to be breaking the law these days … have you noticed how much moral theorising takes a rather rosy view of human nature?) hence the outcome of Pogge’s version it is argued would be at odds with that of the standard interpretation. An anti-social maxim such as the one on murder (but murder is against the law it is not an anti-social maxim!) would not be fully ruled out by the formula of universal law and furthermore Pogge’s variation would in addition appear to be ruled out by anticipating the second form of the categorical imperative which states that humans may not be treated merely as means. If I am successful in getting a loan that I do not intend to pay back by hiding my poverty or if I am successful in murdering a rival by acting with great secrecy and prudence I am using some other person as a means to my own advantage and thus violating my obligation not to treat humanity only as a means but also at the same time as an end.

Hence the basic rule of the formula of universal law does not admit exceptions and does not escape the difficulty thereby raised and if we reformulate the maxim about eating meat to make it truly universal in its scope, that is to say, if we apply it to humans as well as animals,we come to recognize a basic right in animals and the relevant imperative now is that sentient creatures must not be eaten, and extending the notion in more or less evident ways we can conclude that the moral universe of the first and central form of the categorical imperative includes sentient as well as rational beings, which is not to say that non-human animals are no less bound than humans to be vegetarians for rational beings alone are moral agents and they alone are subjects of the moral law which is imposed upon them alone by the force of reason, yet animals are now included as moral patients in the universe to which the law must apply. Suppose that as Pogge suggests the formula of universal law is read in the light of formula of humanity, the notion of humanity as an end in itself. Would our extension of the scope of the formula of universal law to animals still be justified? Is not even with the second formulation the scope too narrow and should the reference to humanity be replaced by sentience?

The revised version of the categorical imperative would be read in such a way that you always treat sentience whether in your self or the self of any other sentient being never simply as a means but at the same time as an end and this result is evidently at odds with Kant’s dismissal of animals having moral standing for he refers to them not only as ‘things’ but as ‘instruments’ for human use. Kant at times speaks of teleology as an assist to understanding nature and a philosophical position he could have employed to justify his view of animals as instruments would have been some sort of natural teleology in the style of Aristotle, (384–322 BC), albeit Aristotle’s teleology had fallen out of fashion and Kant would not have endorsed it as for him teleology was but a heuristic tool and not a metaphysical or scientific principle:

‘Thus when, for example, we say that the crystalline lens in the eye has the purpose of accomplishing by a second refraction of the light rays the focusing of those emanating from a point on the retina, all that is said is that the representation of a purpose in nature’s causal action in creating an eye is to be thought because such an idea functions as a principle for conducting research concerning the lens of the eye, and likewise to help find the means which one might devise to expedite the result. In so doing there is not attributed to nature a causality by the representation of ends — i.e. intentional action — which would be a determining teleological judgement, and as such a transcendent one since it instances a causality lying beyond the bounds of nature’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

‘Eagles’, Jan Fijt, (1609–1661)

Hence teleology cannot be invoked to justify the denial of moral status to animals, in light of what was said about the first form of the categorical imperative we have a direct obligation to acknowledge that animals have rights and we cannot therefore go along with Kant in endeavoring to circumvent the issue of true rights in animals by talk of duties that are indirect, for indirect duties to animals, as Kant and others understand it, is not a duty to them at all it is simply an indirect duty to other humans:

‘But so far as animals are concerned we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious and are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man. We can ask, ‘Why do animals exist?’ But to ask, ‘Why does man exist?’ is a meaningless question. Our duties toward animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity. Thus, if a dog has served his master long and faithfully, his service, on the analogy of human service, deserves reward and when the dog has grown too old to serve, his master ought to keep him until he dies. Such action helps to support us in our duties towards human beings, where they are bounden duties. If then any acts of animals are analogous to human acts and spring from the same principles, we have duties toward the animals because thus we cultivate the corresponding duties toward human beings. 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 towards 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’.

- ‘Duties to Animals and Spirits’

The notion of indirect duty goes back a long way, we find it in St. Thomas Aquinas’, (1225–1274), ‘Summa contra Gentiles’, we find it in the Greeks, but it has been subjected to much criticism and furthermore if the infliction of pain and death on animals without legitimating cause is not cruel in itself then why should it harden us toward our fellow humans? And if it does in fact harden us toward our fellow humans it must be because we have become insensitive to the wrongful harming of animals. As Alexander Broadie and Elizabeth M. Pybus, (1944–2012), put it:

‘Whatever is not an end in itself cannot be an object of direct moral concern. But Kant holds that animals are not ends in themselves. If, therefore, we are to speak, as Kant wishes, of maltreating an animal, we are to speak of something which is not an object of direct moral concern. Now maltreatment is a moral concept, in so far as it refers to a mode of dealing with objects which is unfitting to their nature. But if animals are not objects of direct moral concern, then in what can maltreatment of them consist?’

- ‘Kant and the Maltreatment of Animals’

Hence the idea of indirect duty is no more able than teleology to mitigate the weakness of the categorical imperative with respect to animals and the notion of indirect duty to animals was subjected to a critique by Robert Nozick, (1938–2002):

‘Some say people should not do so [kill animals wantonly] because such acts brutalize them and make them more likely to take the lives of persons, solely for pleasure. These acts that are morally unobjectionable in themselves, they say, have an undesirable moral spillover. (Things then would be different if there were no possibility of such a spillover — for example, for the person who knows himself to be the last person on earth.) But why should there be such a spillover? If it is, in itself, perfectly all right to do anything at all to animals for any reason whatsoever, then provided a person realizes the clear line between animals and persons and keeps it in mind as he acts, why should killing animals tend to brutalize him and make him more likely to harm or kill persons? Do butchers commit more murders? (Than other persons who have knives around?) If I enjoy hitting a baseball squarely with a bat, does this significantly increase the danger of my doing the same to someone’s head? Am I not capable of understanding that people differ from baseballs, and doesn’t this understanding stop the spillover? Why should things be different in the case of animals? To be sure, it is an empirical question whether spillover does take place or not; but there is a puzzle as to why it should, at least among readers of this essay, sophisticated people who are capable of drawing distinctions and differentially acting upon them’.

- ‘Anarchy, State, and Utopia’

The exclusion of animals from direct moral consideration cannot be justified by any argument of the sort used by Kant and there is thus no alternative to acknowledging a fundamental weakness in Kant’s initial formulation of the moral law. The formula of universal law lays a moral obligation upon moral agents only yet the wording of the rule illicitly expands its scope to cover rights as well. The first form of the categorical imperative, that is the formula of universal law strongly suggests and was clearly meant to imply that duties exist only toward other humans who alone have moral standing. And this it transpires is misleading and yet there is nothing that can be added to the first form of the categorical imperative that would easily clarify the scope of the moral universe to which we now see it ought to apply, we merely have to be aware that it is phrased in terms of obligations only. If the scope of rights seems to be confined to rational beings it is only because of Kant’s and perhaps our implicit speciesism (see the first part of this series for my thoughts on speciesism). And what of the formula of humanity as an end in itself? If Kant’s limitation on the scope of rights is to be redeemed it will have to follow from the independent validity of the second form of the categorical imperative, the formula of humanity, and the wording in Kant’s formulation is as follows:

‘Act in such a way that you always treat humanity whether in your own person or the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end’.

- ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’.

Good luck with that.

‘In Memoriam A. H. H.’ (excerpt)

by Alfred Lord Tennyson, (1809–1892)

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.

From scarped cliff and quarried stone

She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:

I care for nothing, all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:

I bring to life, I bring to death:

The spirit does but mean the breath:

I know no more’. And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,

Such splendid purpose in his eyes,

Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,

Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed

And love Creation’s final law–

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravine, shriek’d against his creed –

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,

Who battled for the True, the Just,

Be blown about the desert dust,

Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,

A discord. Dragons of the prime,

That tare each other in their slime,

Were mellow music match’d with him.

O life as futile, then, as frail!

O for thy voice to soothe and bless!

What hope of answer, or redress?

Behind the veil, behind the veil.

‘Lion and Tiger Fighting’, 1797, James Ward

Animals as a whole are rather busy keeping themselves alive looking for something to eat or avoiding being eaten (other animals certainly seen as means rather than ends). Our situation was not much better at one time, is not moral theorising something of a luxury such as only primates in suits and working in an office can afford?

I give a trigger warning here against my usual practice but this warrants it, very disturbing viewing:

Commentators disagree as to the scope of this principle but it appears to be simply another way of stating the formula of universal law which states the categorical imperative in terms of the legitimacy of maxims whereas the formula of humanity states it in terms of the legitimacy of ends or goals. In the formula of humanity Kant is referring to subjective grounds of the will’s determination which is what he means by an end and his first form of the categorical imperative deals only with the formal principles of the will which are abstracted from all ends whatever. The second form deals with the ends of the will, that is to say, with its subjective goals, and these ends or goals are most often the consequences of impulses emerging from material needs that are only relative to passing inclinations, they can provide no universal principles, but the goal of humanity, asserts Kant, is radically different from a relative end, it is an objective end of absolute value and thus an end in itself:

‘Suppose, however, there were something whose existence has in itself absolute value, something which as an end in itself could be a ground of determinate laws; then in it, and in it alone, would there be a ground of a possible categorical imperative — that is, of a practical law. Now I say that man, and in general every rational being, exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

What force does the phrase ‘whose existence in itself has absolute value’ carry? It refers simply to something that must never be taken as a means but always treated as an end. Read thus, there is no good reason, in this statement of the formula of humanity nor in Kant’s illustrations of the principle to explain why animals should not also be included, indeed upon this point Kant appears to be making simple assertions:

‘The value of all objects that can be produced by our action is always conditioned [on our inclinations]. Beings whose existence depends, not on our will, but on nature, have none the less, if they are non-rational beings only a relative value as means and are consequently called things. Rational beings, on the other hand, are called persons, because their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves — that is, as something not to be used merely as a means — and consequently imposes to that extent a limit on all arbitrary treatment of them (and is an object of reverence)’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

Kant presents four illustrations as to how the formula of humanity can be applied. First, suicide is ruled out as a means of escape from a painful situation (his Lutheran roots are showing) for such an act would mean construing one’s person only as a means to a tolerable existence. Might Kant have made the point in terms of sentient existence or just sentience? Sentient existence implies hope in the future and to give that up is to use one’s person as a means. The root of the formula of humanity is an appeal to our basic intuition that the most precious thing in our existence should not be sacrificed for anything less but nothing is more precious than hope and even a fly desperately buzzing to get through a window must have hope of some sort if it is conscious at all (if my laptop stops functioning in some way as it often does and the troubleshooter begins its work to look for the problem is that indicative of my laptop having hope?)

In Kant’s second illustration of making a false promise to another that is using that person as a mere means and therefore it too is verboten but this is not to say that another person can never be used as a means, the very fact of social interaction makes that inevitable, but upon the principle of the formula of humanity the person used must participate in the end and one must not ‘make use of another man merely as a means to an end he does not share’ (we always can ask why not? to these claims). Domesticated animals on the other hand can assuredly share in the end for which they are employed if they are adequately compensated for their efforts and in this respect they differ from human workers in that their participation is involuntary yet workers may share in the benefits of the end without necessarily endorsing it as long as the compensation is adequate, hence animals should not be used simply as means and kept or discarded as mere thing like instruments, the dog retired for old age and the horse put out to pasture after long service are not beneficiaries of mere kindness as Kant insists but rather they are entitled to share in the benefits they helped to produce.

In his third illustration Kant requires us to develop our ‘capacities for greater perfection’ and neglect of these capacities may be ‘compatible with the maintenance of humanity as an end in itself, but not with the promotion of this end’. Greater perfection? Is not perfection absolute? There is no more or less insofar as perfection is concerned. Perhaps he has in mind skills such as the ability to play bridge, (which I don’t have, I am a working class gammon), solve mathematical problems, and so on, yet these are means only to material goals and are therefore only relative though it may be that the discipline acquired in playing bridge, solving mathematical problems, or mopping floors efficiently (I used to work as a cleaner in a supermarket … oh how they would let me know if I missed a bit, mopping floors is not the easy skill you may suppose) might assist us in overcoming inclinations that obstruct the way to moral rationality but any such connection would be indirect or accidental, and Kant is not thinking of that. The meaning of the third depiction becomes evident upon seeing it in the light of the fourth and final depiction whereby the theme now is ‘happiness’ regarded as being ‘the natural end which all men seek’. Kant remarks that it is not enough simply to refrain from interfering with humanity’s pursuit of happiness:

‘This is … merely negatively and not positively to agree with humanity as an end in itself unless every one endeavours also, so far as in him lies, to further the ends of others, for the ends of a subject who is an end in himself must, if this conception is to have its full effect in me, be also, as far as possible, my ends’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

In this depiction of the formula for humanity the ends considered are evidently empirical and relative ends and if others for instance are in need of of a roof over their head I must help to build a house. Hence all of humanity’s happiness taken as my end would only be an aggregate of the empirical ends of all individuals but with this understanding of promoting happiness the formula of humanity ought to be extended to include not only humans but all sentient beings. If it is intuitively wrong not to help another human being in trouble where that is feasible then it is also wrong not to help an animal where that is feasible and we may not be strictly obliged to get food to a starving faun somewhere in the forest yet we may be strictly obliged to rescue a gnat that is drowning in a puddle at our feet.

But by the third depiction of the formula of humanity it is evident that we are obliged to perfect the skills that may make us more useful to other humans, and in the light of the fourth depiction we are in addition obliged to develop skills that may be helpful to other sentients as well and the second form of the categorical imperative must accordingly be rephrased as formula of sentience rather than formula of humanity: Act in such a way that you always treat sentience in your own existence or in the existence of any other, never simply as a means, but also as an end. Hence it follows that the second formulation of the categorical imperative cannot be interpreted as a determination of the scope of the first formulation and Pogge’s concession that the scope of formula of universal law if taken singly may provide protection to non-rational beings considers this possibility to have been put out of the picture through Kant’s language in the formula of humanity which expressly refers to humans only:

‘The fact that all and only rational beings can apply, and are bound by, the universalization requirement [in FUL] does not entail that all and only rational beings are protected by it. Formulas I [FUL] and Ia [the law of nature], though providing the form of the supreme principle of morality, offer no suggestion for how the scope of the required universalization is to be determined. My alternative interpretation views Formula II [FH] as contributing precisely this determination, in two steps: B1. As rational beings, we recognize as ends in themselves exactly those beings who have a telos that is of absolute value. However, only a good will has absolute value. Therefore, exactly those beings who have the potential for a good will qualify for the status of ends in themselves. This argument provides what Kant needs: a way of showing just whom moral reasoning must take into account, and on what grounds. The argument singles out human beings — or rather persons, i.e. beings who are rational, and thus capable of acting from duty’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

The second part of Pogge’s alternative interpretation is in effect a reversal of the apparent relation of the formula of universal law and the formula of humanity as it is presented in Kant and he arrives at the conclusion that the formula of humanity is not to be read in the light of the formula of universal law but that formula of universal law is to be read in the light of the formula of humanity:

‘Rational beings must treat one another as ends in themselves, i.e. each must choose maxims so that all can contain or endorse them (even while the maxim’s end remains attainable for him) [the rule of FH]. However, I may assume that all persons can endorse my adopting M if (and only if) they can endorse M’s adoption by any other person as well. In order to test M, I must therefore ask: Can all persons endorse that M should be available to any person (even while M‘s end remains attainable)? I cannot will M if it fails this test’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

Such a predilection to interpret the formula of universal law in the light of the formula of humanity and hence to narrow the scope of the formula of universal law is widespread in modern Kant commentaries. Allen Wood, (1942 — ), for instance when speaking of Kant’s distinction between persons and things may sympathise with those who refuse to accept a distinction which treats non-rational beings as mere means and yet he appears to believe that a correct analysis of the formula of humanity necessarily leads to that conclusion: ‘Once again, Kant’s exclusionary claim [with respect to animals] can be made out only as a corollary of his positive argument that rational beings alone are to be regarded as ends in themselves’. This appears to be the same contention of Pogge’s in that Wood is assuming that the status of end in itself rules out the possibility of treating non-rational sentients as objective ends in any sense at all. And yet in the light of the proper scope of Kant’s second formulation such a restriction of the formula of universal law to humans cannot be justified, animals are ends in themselves as much as humans, (but watch again the chimpanzees above if you can stand it) this is a necessary implication of either of the first two forms of the categorical imperative.

‘Stillleben mit kämpfenden Katzen’, Frans Snyders, (1579–1657)

Kant’s exclusionary claim with respect to animals can hence again be made out only as a corollary of his positive argument that rational beings alone are to be regarded as ends in themselves and this appears to be the same contention of Pogge, while Wood is presupposing that the status of end in itself rules out the possibility of treating non-rational sentients as objective ends in any sense at all, yet in the light of the proper scope of Kant’s second formulation this restriction of the formula of universal law to humans is unjustifiable as animals are ends in themselves as much as humans and this is a necessary implication of either of the first two forms of the categorical imperative.

Pogge, (he keeps making me think of a pogo stick jumping up and down all over the place) says of the formula of humanity in his interpretation would rule out maxims that appear to defeat Kant’s intention in the formula of universal law by referring to a particular subset of persons. The formula of humanity would require that we adopt no maxim that puts other humans at a disadvantage for our benefit and therefore a maxim discriminating against a particular subset of persons would have to be rejected because the members of that subset would be treated as a means. Pogge sees no other way to sidestep a problem that is apparently inherent in the formula of universal law but nonetheless Kant is assuming that any maxim presented to the test of the formula of universal law must already be universal in its form and he has no need of anything in the formula of humanity to filter out maxims presented for testing by the formula of universal law which discriminate against a particular subset of subjects. Hence there is no reason not to regard the formula of humanity as Kant would formulate it as another way of looking at the formula of universal law, and by equivalent reasoning there is nothing lost if the formula of humanity is reformulated in terms of sentience, the formula of sentience.

But wait! A possible reductio ad absurdum looms over this basic position (well actually it is worse than that but I continue the debate at the level it is so far conducted). Take the maxim: ‘I eat the flesh of any animal I wish’ and we categorically ruled that out because it points to cannibalism. Suppose we now adopt an even broader maxim: ‘I eat anything I like’. If we universalize this maxim, it too will point to cannibalism. If we rule it out categorically, we will rule out vegetables as well, and so doom ourselves to death by starvation. Either we must include humans in a possible diet or we must abstain from food altogether. How, then, can we pursue the line of reasoning we have taken without going all the way from excluding animals as legitimate food to ruling out all possible nutrients, including vegetables, as things we can consume in good conscience? Well, the response requires a distinction between the kinds of entities encompassed in the two maxims thus far considered, animals as well as humans can suffer pain, deprivation, and unwished for death and vegetables cannot, therefore there is a very fundamental and relevant sense in which we cannot harm a vegetable.

It reminds me of a passage from Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ where he is discussing the terror that followed in the wake of the French revolution:

‘But the supreme reality and the reality which stands in the greatest antithesis to universal freedom, or rather the sole object that will still exist for that freedom, is the freedom and individuality of actual self-consciousness itself. … All that remains of the object by which it can be laid hold of is solely its abstract existence as such. The relation, then, of these two, since each exists indivisibly and absolutely for itself, and thus cannot dispose of middle term which would link them together, is one of wholly unmediated pure negation, a negation, moreover, of the individual as a being existing in the universal. The sole work and deed of universal freedom is therefore death, a death too — which has no inner significance or filling, for what is negated is the empty point of the absolutely free self. It is thus the coldest and meanest of all deaths, with no more significance than cutting off a head of cabbage or swallowing a mouthful of water’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Anything I do to a head of lettuce, or cabbage or the bloom of a flower can be harmful or beneficial to one or more sentient beings who feed on these or otherwise enjoy them but the head of lettuce and the flower feel nothing and regret nothing and while having sex with an animal other than of one’s own species is beyond the pale, (unless you are Peter Singer, (1946 — )), having sex with an apple pie (as happens in the movie ‘American Pie’, 1999), is not. An exception for vegetables is consistent with the categorical imperative, an exception for humans with respect to eating animals is not, so the argument goes. Therefore, the second form of the categorical imperative remains a formula of sentience which is a reference to sentience with no requirement to treat vegetables as ends in themselves.

Tom Regan, (1938–2017), would extend the idea of rights to cover not only vegetables but even inanimate objects, for he contends a goodness in a good car is independent of its utility or aesthetic interest for us. Is it though? What does that mean? Suppose I whip out of my pocket my pen and I ask you: is that good? Well, you would want to ask, good for what? Good for whom? But then, if you have read the previous part in this serious you will know that I am very critical of Regan and his principle of respect as an approach to the issue of animal rights especially as he barely defines respect other than in terms of an equally woolly notion of justice as that of giving everyone their due. However, as it happens, and I doubt if he has read Hegel, there is in some things that Regan says that indicate a groping in the dark for an Hegelian understanding of the issues here. Respect, in Hegel that will be explicated in terms of recognition, a much better way of approaching the issue of animal rights for it is without any implications of duty or any moralizing, it is just a part of the animal condition.

Every animal is conscious. Every animal is a subject making choices. Everyone of us is a point in the cosmos where things take place. There are things that specifically characterise us as individual subjects. I like doom metal music and Romantic poetry and vodka especially all at the same time, trivial details about me but they all add up to make me who I am. And as subjects we have all sorts of relations to objects in the world, a back and forth relation, I contribute to it, how I view a situation is not a matter of information simply hitting me, I filter it, I extend myself out into the world, I grasp the fact there are objects out there in the world because I am not a total narcissist about whom the world revolves and is merely there for the subject, me, on the contrary I am aware that there are objects different from me, that resist my desires, and I have to adapt myself to them. And anything could be considered as such an object, if I want my laptop to work I have to use it in a certain way, I cannot simply command my laptop to work. You cannot command this article to read itself to you. Thought thinking about itself we find in René Descartes, (1596–1650), of course but in Hegel we are not disembodied souls occupying a spiritual realm, we have our individual histories, and the objects of most value to us are other sentient life forms, human beings or other animals, because they are subjects that I can relate to in a way I cannot with my laptop.

Regan’s argument is then taken to be less plausible in citing such intrinsic goodness to establish the possibility that mere things and plants can have rights and the problem here arises from an ambiguity as to the meaning of rights. If the basis of having a right is being good a la Plato, (c. 429–347 B.C.), Regan’s point may stand up and yet that route would require him to abandon his critique of perfectionism and he would need to concede that some goods can have more good in them than others and hence can be better than others. Regan would then be bound to admit that, where need be, the lower good must be sacrificed to the higher, a well-formed cow (which may attract the eye of Peter Singer) is good and has a right to exist by virtue of that goodness and yet if the aromatic smoke from a cow on the grill (notice how we use words like beef and ham when talking of animal meat that we eat, and together with meat processed to look like it never was part of an animal perhaps I could make something of that with regard to our real attitude towards the eating of animals), serves to inspire me to discourse brilliantly upon the subject of animal rights (which it wouldn’t by the way) then serve it up in all its juiciness.

On the other hand if having a right has something to do with equality the right of that cow to have its life and to enjoy it is valid against any human agent, a sacred (see the previous part in this series) right belongs to the cow as an entity that has sentience, hence that right belongs to the cow as a subject and not as an object in which some sort of goodness is present. The goodness of cars and vegetables as a claim to rights is thus diametrically opposed to Regan’s own principle doctrine of inherent value whereby he insists upon the inherent value of the receptacle and not on the contents as the criterion of moral value and for him as for Kant the ground of right is subjectivity which is not to deny that things and plants can have immense value to human beings and to other animals as well, we may all agree that wanton destruction of a beautiful flower or a classic sculpture is a crime but it is a crime against other human beings who love the objects and not a crime against the rose or the statue.

Oh I don’t know though. When I am seeing climate activists who are so certain that they are right and we have to pay attention to them (none of that nonsense about acting in accordance with maxims that they would will to be a general law for them), gluing themselves to great works of art I am thinking this is crossing a boundary, time to get the chainsaws out .. do they even know who Laocoön was?

With both his hands he labors at the knots;

His holy fillets the blue venom blots;

His roaring fills the flitting air around.

Thus, when an ox receives a glancing wound,

He breaks his bands, the fatal altar flies,

And with loud bellowings breaks the yielding skies.

- Virgil, (70–19 BC), ‘The Aeneid’

Anyway, to continue. Apparently, so the argument goes, there is nothing in Kant to justify his exclusion of animals from the scope of the categorical imperative and animals cannot be excluded from the first formula except by an unjustified narrowing of its scope, they cannot be excluded from the second formula since the restriction to humanity cannot be rationally grounded, only in this perspective can the categorical imperative apply to human infants and those with mental deficiencies. There are two additional formulations of the categorical imperative that need to be considered, the formula of the kingdom of ends is to act so that ‘the will can regard itself as at the same time making universal law by means of its maxim’, and the formula of autonomy is the idea ‘of the will of every rational being as a will which makes universal law’. The point of the formula of autonomy is that we may regard ourselves as the very authors of the moral laws by which we are bound, and further according to the formula of the kingdom of ends we participate with all other rational beings in creating a system of legislation. Both formulations of the categorical imperative thereby refer to humans only, humans and humans not only make and execute the moral law but they alone are also bound by it, but the issue as considered here does not turn upon the source of law but upon the scope of its protection therefore neither of these further formulations affects the argument that the categorical imperative necessarily entails the duty of humans to respect the integrity of animals.

‘Fighting Stallions’, 1791, George Stubbs

Animals cannot be members of the possible commonwealth envisaged by such rules as these for they cannot have a right to vote and so on but the meaning of the commonwealth as properly interpreted is not merely a bond among its members, the commonwealth, as the first two forms of the categorical imperative indicate, expresses the collective duty of humanity not only to create an order of harmony among themselves but also to do so between themselves on the one side and all sentient existences on the other as far as possible, they may even be required to promote harmony among nonhuman animals by mediating between them, but here too only so far as that is possible. But it may be possible to rescue the exclusion of animals not by appeal to the idea of rational agency as in Kant but by a direct intuition that only humans can have moral standing. But then, the intuition of a principle must withstand critical reflection in order to be validated and the imagined intuition by which animals would be denied moral standing does not survive this test for our pre-reflective judgement as human beings is that we ought not to inflict unnecessary or avoidable pain on animals. Animal rights theorists may not accept what is normally meant by necessary or unavoidable but variations as to meaning notwithstanding an intuition that humans can indeed inflict unjustifiable harm on animals means that there is at least a sense in which they have moral standing. If wrong can be done to animals then they must have rights and the restriction of moral standing to the human species would thereby turn out to be a prejudice rather than a valid intuition.

Disputes over interpretation will inevitably emerge as to what is meant by saying that animals have rights, where do we draw the line between sentient and non-sentient? In what sense can domesticated animals be said to share in our ends? Are there any conceivable situations in which the right of the human species might have priority? Animals cannot be eaten, made to serve for entertainment, used for biomedical experiments, and so on, such has been defended in Kantian terms, but the Kantian doctrine must needs be rejected or else its scope more broadly interpreted, and the obligation of the categorical imperative, albeit it is imposed upon humans and other rational beings only, must apply to all sentients. Hence upon such an interpretation Kant could deliver the conceptual foundation so far lacking for the concept of inherent value. Regan himself anticipates hopefully developments of this sort:

‘It might be thought — and it is thought by some, most notably Kant … that the notion of inherent value or some related idea (e.g. conceiving moral agents as ‘ends in themselves’) applies to all moral agents and only to moral agents is arbitrary’

- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’

This cannot be founded conceptually however without the categorical imperative being reinterpreted and revised. Evelyn Pluhar presents a possible alternative to the Kantian idea of reason by founding the rights of animals on the rationalist moral theory of Alan Gewirth, (1912–2004), whereby the starting point is to demonstrate that every rational being who proposes to act must claim a right to freedom, but any human individual who (unavoidably) makes this claim in order to act must acknowledge that all other persons have this right as well:

‘Now whatever the description under which or the sufficient reason for which it is claimed that a person has some right, the claimant must admit, on pain of contradiction, that this right also belongs to any other person to whom that description or sufficient reason applies. This necessity is an exemplification of the formal principle of universalizibility, which says that whatever is right for one person must be right for any similar person in similar circumstances’.

- ‘Reason and Morality’

Gewirth designates this the principle of generic consistency (principles again, see the previous part for what Hegel says about principles): Act in accord with the generic rights of your recipients as well as of yourself. And this distinguishes Gewirth’s idea of rationalist universalism from Kant’s, the categorical imperative works by imposing my maxim on all others as a universal law and this for Gewirth is why one can manipulate the statement of his aims to justify a selfish end, the form of universalization notwithstanding. But the principle of generic consistency looks to the recipient of my prospective act, it requires that I acknowledge that any other person may claim the same right to freedom that I claim for myself, my maxim is not imposed upon any other as though it were a law. Rather, the recipient of my intended action is now morally free and it is within his or her right to consent to what I propose to do or not. Gewirth excludes animals, children, and the mentally deficient from all the benefits of his principle since ‘they lack for the most part the ability to control their behavior by unforced choice, to have knowledge of relevant circumstances beyond what is present to immediate awareness’. Animals must be given some consideration in proportion to their capacities, but not as much as what normal human beings can claim. Pluhar disagrees, seeing no reason why this imperative should not work in favour of the very young, the mentally deficient, mammals, birds, and fish, as long as the entity is capable of conation, that is, is consciously purposive, it should qualify under the principle of generic consistency. Indeed even machines made by humans would qualify if they were consciously purposive and had desires and initiative (as my laptop does, it purposively annoys me I am sure of it). Pluhar ththereby comes to much the same conclusions through Gewirth that some come to through Kant and she accepts all of Gewirth’s rationalist universalism except for one correction, that is to say, there is an apparent equivocation in his use of the word ‘claim’.

‘Fighting Horses’, 1808, James Ward

The objection is that from the requirement that we acknowledge the right of others to claim a right of freedom by the rule of the principle of generic consistency we move to the conclusion that they have freedom but there is no inherent guarantee that any claim to freedom will be recognized. Therefore those who claim the right may not as Gewirth believes possess it, though Pluhar points out that what the prospective agent is actually saying and what he or she should have been more clearly represented as saying by Gewirth, is not: ‘I claim rights’ but rather ‘I have rights’, for this is what the individual actually has in mind. In order to think of him or herself as a prospective agent he or she must believe he or she has the freedom and well-being to undertake it, therefore when this belief is generalized it leads to a universal and categorical recognition of the right for all humans and also for the other sentient beings that Pluhar has in mind:

‘Since the agent must hold that she has rights, by Gewirth’s argument, not that she claims rights, the judgment to be universalized is ‘I [on the grounds that I am a prospective purposive agent] have the rights to freedom and well-being’. The rest follows just as Gewirth has said. He is not guilty of equivocating ‘having a right’ with ‘claiming a right’.

- ‘Beyond Prejudice’

However. Another problem with Gerwith’s argument. When Gewirth insists that the prospective agent has to claim a right to freedom he does not specify the scope of the freedom thus asserted, and without that particular specification or else a general specification as to what is meant by the right to freedom the argument collapses, for if freedom or the right to freedom is a freedom to do everything one may wish or a right to take anything one can without limit and if we are bound to recognize that right in all others as well and here we are back with Thomas Hobbes’, (1588–1679), state of nature. In Hobbes individuals in a state of nature have a right to everything and they too are bound to acknowledge that all others have that right as well but these rights are inherently conflicting and the binding morality that Gewirth is searching for is a chimeraBut perhaps we can say that freedom or the right to freedom is limited by respect for the rights of others, yet that would bring us back to a law of nature which we and all others have a prior obligation to respect and the very point of Gewirth’s doctrine to avoid such antecedent obligation, for the law of nature is either the command of God as known to reason as in John Locke, (1632–1704), or a synthetic a priori of practical reason(as in Kant. If appeal to the revealed or evident command of God is ruled out then Kant alone is left and let us inquire: is Kant’s categorical imperative in the revised form a proper foundation for the theory of animal rights? Kant’s idea of a purely rational will is rather abstract and it is not so easy to see how pure practical reason can determine our will without more in the way of motive or incentive, and the usual motives, happiness, hope in God and an afterlife, are dismissed for that is acting in accordance with one’s desires rather than reason or moral duty (heteronymy) whereas the only proper ground for Kant is reverence for law and satisfaction in performance of our duty, therefore his moral theory apparently depends upon a variation of his critical idealism.

How can such strict rationalism ever hope to resolve the issue of animal rights anyhow when it does a dismal job on the issue of human rights? One approach has been to retain Kantian ethics without its apparent difficulties, so in place of the categorical imperative a fundamental contract on justice among humans is imagined, or else a dialogue among them that is fully open and productive. Theories like those of John Rawls, (1921–2002) and Jürgen Habermas, (1929 — ), pass over the interests of animals but such theories are founded neither upon a transcendental idea of reason nor the necessities of a rational nature and are rather constructed from the most generalized interests of a human community from which animals are excluded.

They thereby close off a significant consideration that implied in Kant, for upon Kant’s idea of universal law being carried to its logical conclusion it can be made to cover the moral interests of other species as well as of humanity, but the theories of the post-Kantians such as Rawls are limited to human interests by the very way in which they are derived. Can this be rationally justified? Kant’s strictly rationalist idea of universalization can be shown to require respect for animals, notwithstanding his own intention to exclude them, and yet for reasons that are beyond me a number of philosophers are seduced by the force and charm (?) of Kant’s moral thought and have endeavoured to extract similar results from the logic of agreement among individuals seeking to reform the moral basis of their community thereby bypassing (supposedly) the problems in Kant, albeit new and one wonders even more insoluble problems arise from an apparently inevitable denial in such theorists of moral standing to animals.

‘Fight between a Javanese rhinoceros and two tigers’, 1840, Raden Saleh Sjarif Boestaman

Well, approaching the animal rights issue from a moral standpoint is wrong-headed anyway as I will eventually get around to explaining when I present my Hegelian defence of animal rights. The realization of the Kantian Good demands that the particularity of the will come into play and hence that the individual conscience take on the role of specifying which realizations of the Kantian Good are justified, and where do we go from there? Perhaps beginning with the slenderest theoretical form of a required self-relation, the mere sentiment of self that a living being has in keeping itself alive where keeping itself alive reflects this minimal reflective attentiveness to self. Such a minimal form of self-relatedness is demonstrated not to establish the sort of self-relatedness or normative self-determination needed, so what changes when the object of the desires relevant to maintaining life turns out not to be just another object or obstacle but another subject? Everything changes when our desires are not just thwarted or impeded but challenged and refused, the presence of such an other subject in altering what could be a possible self-relation really re-writes the agenda for for problems of self-knowledge and agency. If there is one thing to unravel the whole of Kantian moral theory it is the fact that the Other is so unreliable.

Keeping ourselves alive, that is what it is all about. Anybody who follows me will know I am an Hegelian and anyone who knows Hegel may wonder why I hardly ever if at all discuss that for which he is most famous. The Lord/Bondsman or Master/Slave dialectic, the trial by death:

‘The presentation of itself, however, as the pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself as the pure negation of its objective mode, or in showing that it is not attached to any specific existence, not to the individuality common to existence as such, that it is not attached to life. This presentation is a twofold action; action on the part of the other, and action on its own part. In so far as it is the action of the other, each seeks the death of the other. But in doing so, the second kind of action, action on its own part; is also involved; for the former involves the staking of its own life. Thus the relation of the two self-conscious individuals is such that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must engage in this struggle, for they must raise their certainty of being for themselves to truth, both in the case of the other and in their own case. And it is only through staking one’s life that freedom is won; only thus is it proved that for self-consciousness, its essential being is not [just] being, not the immediate form in which it appears, not its submergence in the expanse of life, but rather that there is nothing present in it which could not be regarded as a vanishing moment, that it is only pure being-for-self. The individual who has not risked his life may well be recognized as a person, but he has not attained to the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. Similarly, just as each stakes his own life, so each must seek the other’s death, for it values the other no more than itself; its essential being is present to it in the form of an ‘other’, it is outside of itself and must rid itself of its self-externality. The other is an immediate consciousness entangled in a variety of relations hips, and it must regard its otherness as a pure being-for- self or as an absolute negation’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Human relations in general reflect this dialectic. Human beings are put into relations with each other whereby some are subordinate and some are superior, not always to do with merit but rather with with chance occurrences, and the person in the superior position calls the shots. They are the ones who gain recognition. They are treated like they matter. As for the plebs, the proletariat in Marxian terms, see my articles The Visible Divinity — parts one to three, as opposed to everyone else, and it has been seen in terms of gender relations, or in education whereby we are trained to think like the educators do, or think of your work environment, in childhood we are always being told what to do and it continues on into adulthood, in your career however high you get there is still someone telling you what to do, and in the Lord/Bondsman dialectic the Lord decides what happens, they get to make other people do what they want, while the other person exists for them, they are not seen as having independent existence on their own (just as animals exist for us, you see how ridiculous it sounds?)

Universalizabity of maxims indeed. With so called categorical imperatives or any claims to universalization or absolutes in moral philosophy.. as well as moral theorizing generally .. ask yourself .. who is calling the shots? Is your boss a jerk? It is the very worst thing of all to be made to feel less than we really are (which happened to me in my days as a cleaner despite it being such an important job). Being made to absorb somebody else’s take on things including their take on me whereby I am just here to give them recognition while not myself being given recognition. Some relations are like that, having to listen to the other person while they do not listen to us, well, as we will see, this Hegelian notion of recognition will play its vital part in resolving the issue of animal rights. A struggle to the death …

‘De raaf wordt beroofd van de veren waarmee hij zich had getooid’, (‘The Raven Robbed of the Feathers He Wore to Adorn Himself’), 1671, Melchior d’Hondecoeter

To be continued …

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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.