The formal ethical theory of Kantianism—as devised by philosopher Immanuel Kant—is detrimental to the rights and livelihood of animals. Kantianism is a deontological theory that purposes that ethical decisions should not be made based on the consequences of one’s actions, but should be established by fulfilling one’s sense of duty within his or her society. Kant’s theory includes a moral universal law based on his categorical imperative. This categorical imperative dismisses animals as non-rational beings that do not deserve one’s direct duty; this is outlined in his categorical imperative’s “Kingdom of Ends.
” Kant’s moral theory is thought to be the ethical philosophy embraced by Nazis in Germany during the Holocaust.
This event in history resulted in the mass genocide of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and many others considered to be subhuman in German society—or ‘nonhuman’ according to Kant. In hindsight, it is not at all surprising that Kantianism also has devastating effects when applied to the moral ethics of animal rights.
According to Kant, for a law to be morally valid, “Everyone must carry it absolute necessity.” Kant believes that morality rests on “pure reason,” and that nothing is good in itself except “goodwill” A “goodwill,” according to Kant, is “good not because what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing—in accordance with moral universal law. Kant’s moral universal law is based on the categorical imperative that is detrimental to animal rights.
His ‘Golden Rule’ states: “I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law”. This maxim does not apply to those that fall out of the realm of rational beings under Kant’s part of the categorical imperative, known as the “Kingdom of Ends.” The “Kingdom of Ends” dictates the “domain of moral patients who are worthy of being considered to be treated with humanity”. This dogma created by Kant does not apply to non-rational beings—including non-human specimens [animals]. Therefore, since animals cannot legislate law—we as a society have no direct duties to them. Kant states that our duties to nonhuman animals are to be only indirect stating, “Our duties towards animals [non-human animals], then, are indirect duties towards all mankind”. This kind of philosophical thinking is an endangerment to the welfare and rights of animals through its strong disregard for nonhuman species.
In Richard Taylor’s essay, Richard Taylor: A Critique of Kantianism, the philosopher states that the moral philosophy according to Kant directs the eyes of the moralist away from the world, is only intellectually satisfying, and is highly dangerous. Moreover, Taylor believes Kant’s categorical imperative is commanding with no commander, has no definitive content, and is inconsiderate of others [including animals] for its own sake. Taylor states this formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative requires us to carry out duties according to those maxims that should become a universal law of mortality: This imperative does not, in fact, bid us to do anything at all, nor, indeed, even to have any generous or sympathetic motive, but only to honor some maxim or rational principle of conduct.
We are, whatever we do, act in such a manner that we could consistently with reason, will this maxim to be a universal Law, even a Law of Nature, binding on all rational beings. Kant does not ask us to consider how other rational beings, thus bound, might feel about our maxims, for again, how anyone happens to feel about anything has no bearing on morality anyway. It is Reason that counts. It is not the living and suffering. Kantianism was the moral theory embraced by Nazis in Germany during the Holocaust.
Kant, according to Sommers, viewed sentiment as “impure”, which created a categorical imperative that justified cruelty to those that are considered nonrational, and resulted in what he refers to as “opening a hole in the moral ozone with consequences that would horrify Kant”. Moreover, he added that the century after Kant published Critique of Practical Reason, German society offered their own ideas on which beings possessed the “dignity” that confers on them the moral status of “end in themselves”. If Kantianism can cause such atrocious acts to be performed on human subjects, it is not surprising that it would be deeply negligent and barbaric in the moral ethics involving animal rights.
Utilitarian Peter Singer describes the deplorable conditions of factory farming that is justified through Kant’s deontological ethical theory in his essay, Down on the Factory Farm. According to Singer, “Over 100 million cows, pigs, and sheep are raised and slaughtered in the United States alone each year” for human consumption. He says that ethical farming that was prevalent on family farms prior to the Industrial Revolution is lone gone. According to Singer, the industrialization of American society has caused the disintegration of animal welfare and rights through the machinery of factory farming. He describes the unethical and painful practice of debeaking chickens, so they do not attack other nearby chickens due to the social and emotional distress they endure under unethical factory farming housing conditions.
Moreover, he relates the inhumane caging practices that restrain animals from any dignified movement; and the torturous method of dimming lights to substantial darkness in the animal’s atmosphere if it produces more commercial profit. Kant’s moral theory would condone this travesty in animal rights, since the American mass production of meat is seen as sense of duty to feed society’s overindulgent hunger for these non-rational creatures. In philosopher Michael Pollan’s essay, An Animal’s Place, he ponders the ethics behind animal rights after reading Singer’s book, Animal Liberation. His emphasis on the philosophical AMC—or “argument of marginal cases—is of extreme value in advocating for animal rights. Pollan feels consuming animals raised “to fully express its physiological distinctiveness” is unethical.
Pollan advocates reform by means of forcing factory farms to become transparent to the public about how they raise and slaughter animals—a progressive step that Kantianism surely would reject. Pollan brings up the “argument from marginal cases,” or AMC in philosophy that states, “there are humans—infants, the severely retarded, the demented—whose mental function cannot reciprocate our moral attention”. He believes such “marginal cases” of the AMC should not exclude animals because they can feel pain, but do not have the ability to communicate just like the human AMC. Pollan believes speciesism is a form of prejudice and should be ethically renounced. The AMC is heavily disregarded through Kant’s categorical imperative. Pollan’s argument shows that Kantianism creates a form of ‘speciesism’—as he calls it—that denies animals any dignity and rights.
Kantianism’s lack of regard for animal welfare and rights is obvious in philosopher Roger Scruton’s illogical and morally negligent defense of excluding the need for animal rights in his essay, The Case Against Animal Rights. Scruton embraces Kant’s categorical imperative by stating animals are non-moral beings and not worthy of rights. In the opening lines: “I shall use the term ‘animal’ to mean those animals that lack the distinguishing features of the moral being—rationality, self-consciousness, personality, and so on”. Nevertheless, he believes that even though animals do not have rights, we do have some obligations to treat them humanely. Humane treatment, according to Scruton, falls “under the broader principle of charity”. He feels the difficulties deciding over “marginal differences” between humans and animals confirms it is not applicable to animals.
This to me, clearly shows that one’s embracement of Kantianism disallows he or she to fathom or contribute any comprehensive ethical decisions in animal rights as a result of the theory’s deeply imbedded prejudice of the non-human species. Massachusetts voters rejected the ethical theory of Kantianism by voting to end segments of animal cruelty—abolishing greyhound racing for-profit and the sale of dairy and meat products from animals confined to inhumane conditions of living. In 2008, voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed to enact the Massachusetts Greyhound Protection Act. This law forced the closing of two greyhound race tracks in the state.
Prior to the law being enacted, greyhound dogs were subjected to living in small cages, brutality, and injury for gambling and commercial profit. It is estimated according to state records, that more than 800 dogs were injured while racing in Massachusetts. Moreover, nearly eighty percent of these injuries involved broken legs; other reported injuries include paralysis and death. Eight years later in 2016, the voters of the Commonwealth again voted in favor of animal rights to enact the Massachusetts Minimum Size Requirements for Farm Animal Containment law.
This law outlaws the sale of eggs, pork, and veal of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from being able to lie down, extend its limbs, or turn around—similarly to the types of factory-farming conditions Singer and Pollan both consider unethical in their essays. Kantianism lacks sentiment through its morality based on duty and its categorical imperative to be a positive force and light for animal rights. I strongly believe Kant’s theory still plays a pivotal role in the dismissive nature of animal welfare and rights in America. The voters of Massachusetts voted in favor of animal rights through sentiment and integrity—not by reason and an inhumane categorical imperative—which allows progressive ethical decisions in animal rights. Hopefully, the rest of the country can follow suit by disavowing Kantianism wholeheartedly.