Monday, May 06, 2019

Reviews of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals

Reviews of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals at 850 words, 2050 words and 2800 words. I will also paste them below.

Two of the three versions are forthcoming.

Here is the first page of one of them, in The Philosophers' Magazine:







































Reviews of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals at 850 words, 2050 words and 2800 words. Two of the three versions are forthcoming. 

800 word review:

2050 word review:

2800 word review:




800 word review:


Review of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals (Oxford University Press, 2018)


Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is one of history’s greatest philosophers. His moral philosophy is especially influential: many contemporary ethicists and theorists of justice take their inspiration from Kant’s “Categorical Imperatives,” the moral rules (or imperatives) that everyone must (that is, categorically) follow. 


Kant had three such imperatives, but one rule is usually taken to be the core of his ethical thinking:


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 as an end.


This principle can be seen as a foundation of the modern idea of “human rights.” To respect someone’s rights is to treat someone as an “end” in themselves, as a rational being. When someone’s rights are violated, that victim is regrettably used as a “mere means” towards someone else’s ends: they are treated in ways that they do not rationally agree to. 


The common understanding of Kant’s ethics is that ethics is a consequence of our rationality. Rationality, which Kant equates with our “humanity, is what makes us “ends in ourselves,” or gives us rights. 


It is not surprising then that Kant made these infamous and often-quoted remarks about the moral status of animals:


. . 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. . . Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity. 


Self-consciousness” seems to require a kind of rationality that animals lack: it’s doubtful that animals think any “I think, therefore I am”-type thoughts or the like. 


Kant’s remarks, therefore, seem to suggest an argument like this:


Animals aren’t rational; therefore, they lack rights. 


Heard that one before? Everyone has! Some of the most prominent critics of animal rights argue like this, even to this day!


End of backstory. 


Christine Korsgaard is a professor of philosophy, and former department chair, at Harvard University. She is one of the world’s most esteemed scholars of Kant’s ethics. And in her recent book, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals, she argues that Kant’s ethics actually supports animal rights! She argues that, despite what Kant himself said about the matter, many animals are, like us, “ends in themselves” and due respect: they are not mere means to our ends. 


The core argument is that the typical interpretation of Kant on animals, like that above, is mistaken: despite appearances, we shouldn’t see Kant as obsessed with rationality in a way that excludes animals, since we don’t understand why Kant was so concerned about our rationality. (Is this argument from incomprehension sound? I’m not sure, and I’m especially unsure how Kant would have responded: that he has “negative” views about animals seem pretty clear).


Korsgaard argues that, despite what is often thought about the role of rationality in Kant’s philosophy, he didn’t think that our rationality is what ultimately gives us rights, so to speak. What gives us rights is that we have a good – roughly, that things can go good and bad for us, from our own point of view. Since we are, in essence, rational beings, to respect our good requires respecting our rationality: that is why rationality is important, for us. But for beings with different goods, they too are ends in themselves, and we must respect them in whatever way their good dictates. Since many animals, as conscious and feeling beings, have a good, they too are ends in themselves: pace Kant, they are not mere means to our ends. She summarizes:


“empathy . . enables us to grasp that other creatures are important to themselves in just the way that we are important to ourselves, and the reason that enables us to draw the conclusion that follows: that every animal must be regarded as an end in herself, whose fate matters, and matters absolutely, if anything matters at all” (169). 


Most of the book develops and defends this interpretive development of Kant’s ethics. 


The final three chapters address practical issues. Korsgaard argues that factory farming and mistakenly-called “humane” farming are morally wrong: eating meat involves treating animals as mere means to our ends. She argues that animal research doesn’t “save” human livesat best, it extends them and that, as a practice, it is wrong; she highlights the epistemic difficulties in arguing that humans benefit more than animals are harmed in experimentation. She observes that eliminating predation, as some have urged, would radically change the nature of animals, insofar as much of their daily activities involve eating and being eaten. She argues it can be fine to keep pets, provided they have good lives. She addresses other practical issues, with clever insight and wisdom. Everyone should read these chapters


In the book’s first paragraph, Korsgaard writes that how other animals are treated is a “moral atrocity of enormous proportions.” Why this is, she states, seems almost simple and obvious: we need a good reason to harm animals, and we often don’t have that. This book, again, shows that these important moral claims are reasonable and, surprisingly, defensible from a foundation that is often mistakenly appealed to in denying them. So the headline is this: 


Harvard Kant scholar argues that Kant’s ethics – often used to argue ‘against’ animal rights – better supports animal rights.


This is news! Good news!

2050 word review:


Review of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals (Oxford University Press, 2018), for Society & Animals


Nathan Nobis, Associate Professor of Philosophy, 830 Westview Dr. SW, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA USA. nathan.nobis@morehouse.edu 


Abstract: Review of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals (Oxford University Press, 2018), for Society & Animals


Keywords: animals, ethics, philosophy, moral philosophy, Kant, Korsgaard


  1. Kant’s Ethics and Animals: The Standard Interpretation


The arguably most influential ways to approaching ethical questions, at least in Western societies, are based on two rival ethical perspectives: utilitarianism (developed by British philosophers Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick and others in the 1700’s and 1800’s) and the ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). 

Utilitarianism requires us to increase overall happiness and decrease pain and misery, as much as we can. Bentham offered the famous lines that, in determining how to do decide who counts in our moral deliberations, “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Utilitarians are, fundamentally, “friends” of nonhuman animals, insofar as they are concerned with anyone who can suffer and don’t accept discrimination on the basis of species to sway them from that insight. 

Kant, on the other hand, is a different story. Kant had three “Categorical Imperatives,” or moral rules (imperatives) that everyone must follow, irrespective of what they want. This imperative is usually taken to be the core of his ethical thinking:


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 as an end.


This principle can be seen as a foundation of the modern idea of “human rights.” When someone’s rights are violated, that victim is regrettably used as a “mere means” towards someone else’s ends or goals: they are treated in ways that they do not rationally agree to. On the other hand, to respect people’s rights is to treat them as an “end in themselves.” This, for Kant, means treating them as rational beings who are able to make their own rational choices and so much be provided with the information and opportunity to do just that. 

Our moral goal, from Kant’s perspective, is to ensure that we treat nobody as a mere means and everyone as an end in themself: it’s not to increase happiness and decrease misery. But who should be treated this way? Who deserves this respect? Rational beings, Kant argues. Rationality, which Kant equates with our “humanity, is what makes us “ends in ourselves,” or gives us rights. 

It is not surprising then that Kant made these infamous and often-quoted remarks about the moral status of animals:


. . 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. . . Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity. 


Self-consciousness” seems to require a kind of rationality that animals lack: many animals have conscious existences, but they are not existentialists, reflecting on their own existence. Kant’s remarks, therefore, seem to suggest an argument like this:


Animals aren’t rational; therefore, they lack rights: they exist for us and are means toward our ends.  


Both ordinary people and many of the most prominent critics of animal rights argue like this, even to this day. Kant’s ethics, unfortunately, have been a major inspiration and justification for beliefs, attitudes, practices, and policies that are very bad for animals. 


  1. Kantian Ethics and Animals: A New Interpretation


This all is the standard interpretation of Kant on animals. This interpretation is about to change, however, thanks to Christine Korsgaard, professor of philosophy at Harvard University. 

Korsgaard is one of the world’s most esteemed and accomplished scholars of Kant’s ethics. While many criticize Kant’s ethics, Korsgaard writes to generally support his overall perspectives on ethics, subject to refinements and improvements that are generally in the major “spirit” that Kant intended. And in her recent book, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals, she argues that Kant’s ethics actually supports animal rights. She rigorously argues that, despite what Kant himself said about the matter, many animals are, like us, “ends in themselves” and due respect: they are not mere means to our ends. 

That this book exists is a triumph. Despite all the progress made in recent decades, animal rights is still often mistakenly seen as a fringe or eccentric concern, even among people who consider themselves advocates of equality, justice, fairness, and otherwise progressive causes. That someone in a very high place, perhaps the highest scholarly place, again meticulously argues in defense of animals should contribute to overcoming prejudices and inertia against serious discussions of animals, in academia, in the supermarket, in classrooms and everywhere else. Second, critics of animal rights often appeal to Kant. According to Korsgaard, these folks have got Kant wrong on animals: indeed their whole understanding of the basis of human rights might be off. And she’s probably right. 

The core argument is that the typical understanding of Kant’s ethics when applied to animals, like that above, is mistaken: despite appearances, we shouldn’t see Kant as obsessed with rationality in a way that excludes animals from being ends in themselves. This is because we don’t correctly understand why Kant was so concerned about our rationality. Korsgaard argues that, despite what is often thought about the role of rationality in Kant’s philosophy, Kant didn’t think that our rationality is what ultimately gives us rights, so to speak. What gives us rights is that we have a good – roughly, that things can go good and bad for us, from our own point of view. 

She argues that Kant thought, or should have thought, that any being with a subjective, conscious good is an end in itself. We are, in essence, rational beings, so to respect our good requires respecting our rationality: that is why rationality is important, for us, and so this is why Kant made such an emphasis on rationality. But for beings with different goods, they too are ends in themselves, and we must respect them in whatever way their goods require. Since many animals, as conscious and feeling beings, have a good (a good that we share, as fellow creatures), they too are ends in themselves: pace Kant, they are not mere means to our ends. She summarizes:


“empathy . . enables us to grasp that other creatures are important to themselves in just the way that we are important to ourselves, and the reason that enables us to draw the conclusion that follows: that every animal must be regarded as an end in herself, whose fate matters, and matters absolutely, if anything matters at all” (169, emphasis added). 


Most of the book develops and defends this interpretive development of Kant’s ethics. I think a lot of this would be a very challenging read for people without very strong backgrounds in philosophy, especially Kant’s ethics. 

There are many more theoretical details that could be reviewed, but I will discuss how the book relates to Tom Regan’s case for animal rights, which Society & Animals readers might especially benefit from. Like Korsgaard, Regan firmly rejects utilitarianism. He embraces the Kantian idea that we should not use anyone as a “mere means,” and the ideas of moral rights developed from that insight. 

Regan, however, like many others, judges that Kant’s ethics has troubling implications for non-rational human beings, such as babies and mentally-challenged human beings. To address this, Regan proposes that being a “subject of a life,” roughly, a conscious, sentient, feeling being who exists over time is what makes someone an end in themself. Babies and mentally-challenged human beings are like that, as are we, and so are many animals. Since this is what makes us have rights, many animals have rights also: this is the basic case for animal rights.  

Korsgaard’s basic reply to this would be (since she doesn’t specifically discuss this) that Regan misunderstands Kant. She thinks that Kant should have thought that any being with a good is an end in itself and so non-rational beings who have goods, like many animals, can also be ends in themselves. So her response would be that it’s not that Regan has identified a fault with Kant’s ethics, and she can agree the “subject of a life” criteria augments Kant’s criteria for being an end on oneself, but need not replace it. 

How Kant would have reacted to Korsgaard’s re-interpretation of his ethics is unknown: although I may have missed it, I don’t believe she speculates on how Kant would have responded to her arguments or explains why Kant failed to understand his own ethics as she argues it is best understood. 

A second, related, issue is this: Regan sees babies and permanently non-rational human beings as non-rational beings. Since he thinks they have rights nevertheless, he thinks Kant’s ethics must be modified, since it seems to falsely imply that they don’t have rights. This type of reasoning is now often understood as the “Argument from Species Overlap”: a wide range of human beings have basic rights and the characteristics that make them have rights, such as being a “subject of a life,” overlap with other many members of other species, resulting in their having rights also. 

Korsgaard’s response to this type of reasoning is to argue that babies and permanently non-rational human beings actually are rational beings (79-85). She argues that what something is isn’t determined by just a stage of life, but what they are over their whole life (or potential life?) over time. She observes that if you were to “subtract” rationality from a human being, you don’t get anything like a dog or any other animal: this is because of the “kind” of being human beings are. 

Something interesting about her discussion is that her proposal seems very similar to an argument against abortion that claims that human embryos and fetuses are a certain “kind” of being, rational beings, and so are ends in themselves, with rights. Korsgaard argues that things are not quite that simple and, at least, introduces a number of subtle considerations that are worth reviewing (86, 91-93).


3. Korsgaard’s Kantian Animal Ethics in Practice

Most of the book is theoretical; the final three chapters address practical issues. These chapters are much more accessible to general readers and can be profitably understood with only a general understanding of the theoretical position developed earlier in the book. 

She argues that factory farming and mistakenly-called “humane” farming are morally wrong: eating meat involves treating animals as mere means to our ends. 

She argues that animal research doesn’t “save” human livesshe observes that, at best, it extends them and she argues that, as a practice, it is wrong. While some say they know that humans benefit more than animals are harmed, and so think it is justified by utilitarianism, Korsgaard highlights the epistemic difficulties in supporting such a claim. 

She observes that eliminating predation – animals eating other animals as some philosophers have argued for, would radically change the nature of animals, insofar as much of their daily activities involve eating and being eaten: if we were able to change predators into vegetarians, and restrict the reproduction of “prey” animals, these would be radically different sorts of beings, so we can’t really say that it would be better for current animals if predation ended. 

Further issues she discusses include the value of species, apart from their individual members; she argues it can be fine to keep what she calls “pets” provided they have good lives, and she addresses many other practical issues, with clever and fresh insight and wisdom. My only criticism is that she generally does not discuss what other philosophers have had to say about practical issues, beyond a few “elite” thinkers. Lots of excellent work has been written by contemporary philosophers, beyond the select few she discusses, and those thinkers too should be engaged. 


4. Conclusion


In the book’s first paragraph, Korsgaard writes that how other animals are treated is a “moral atrocity of enormous proportions.” Why this is, she states, seems almost simple and obvious: we need a good reason to harm animals, and we often don’t have that. This book, again, shows that these important moral claims are reasonable and, surprisingly, defensible from a foundation that is often mistakenly appealed to in denying them. Let us hope that this book contributes to a new era for animals, based on yet another firm moral foundation.


2800 word review:


Review of Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals (Oxford University Press, 2018)


  1. Kant’s Ethics and Animals: The Standard Interpretation


What if there were a journal Society & Rocks? Or Society & Plants? Rocks and plants are important to our society, and we wouldn’t have societies without them. But such journals, whatever their contents, would probably be of little to no interest to most people. This isn’t because rocks and plants aren’t importantthey arebut because we cannot be in genuine relationship with rocks or plants. 

Animals, however, are different: we interact with them, they interact with us; they impact us in good and bad ways, we impact them, sometimes in good ways, but often in very bad ways. The journal Society & Animals thereby makes sense: animals are part, and can be part, of society in ways that other non-human entities cannot.

Whenever there are interactions of this kind, there are ethical or moral questions: what should we do concerning the beings we are relating with? How ought we think and feel about them? The arguably most influential foundations of ways to answer these questions, at least in Western societies, are based on two rival ethical perspectives: utilitarianism (developed by British philosophers Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick and others in the 1700’s and 1800’s) and the ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). 

Utilitarianism requires us to increase overall happiness and decrease pain and misery, as much as we can (which is typically a lot more than what we are actually doing). Bentham offered the famous lines that, in determining how to do decide who counts in our moral deliberations, “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Early utilitarians used this insight to oppose slavery and racism, and advocate for women’s rights, as well as argue even more progressively “in defense of animals,” so to speak. In a profound way, utilitarians are friends of animals, insofar as they are concerned with anyone who can suffer and don’t accept any arbitrary discrimination, including that on the basis of species, to sway them from that insight. 

(This does not, however, prevent some utilitarians from arguing that there could be more overall happiness from harming animals than treating them well; moreover, utilitarians sometimes also argue that more overall happiness could result from, say, secretly killing an old, very rich relative, making their death look like “natural causes” and then donating that money to an effective charity. Would that be wrong? If so, utilitarianism might have a weakness, despite its strengths). 

Kant, on the other hand, is a different story. Kant had three “Categorical Imperatives,” or moral rules (imperatives) that everyone must follow, irrespective of what they want: this makes these categorical rules, instead of hypothetical imperatives that only have to be followed if you want to get something (e.g., you must pass the tests if you want to pass the class, but you don’t have to study if, say, you aren’t in the class or don’t care about passing). One of these imperatives is usually taken to be the core of his ethical thinking:


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 as an end.


This principle can be seen as a foundation of the modern idea of “human rights.” When someone’s rights are violated, that victim is regrettably used as a “mere means” towards someone else’s ends or goals: they are treated in ways that they do not rationally agree to. This insight can be confirmed by reflecting on some clear rights-violations: we can explain why these are rights violations by appealing to the fact that, rationally, the victim would not agree to be treated that way: the victim had ample reason to oppose what was done to him or her. On the other hand, to respect people’s rights is to treat them as an “end in themselves.” This, for Kant, means treating them as rational beings who are able to make their own rational choices and so much be provided with the information and opportunity to do just that. 

Our moral goal, from Kant’s perspective, is to ensure that we treat nobody as a mere means and everyone as an end in themself: it’s not to increase happiness and decrease misery, since doing so could involve treating individuals or groups as mere means and fail to respect them as ends in themselves. But who should be treated this way? Who deserves this respect? Rational beings, Kant argues: he even discussed how, if there were rational extraterrestrial beings, they too would be ends in themselves. The common understanding of Kant’s ethics then is that ethics is a consequence of our rationality. Rationality, which Kant equates with our “humanity, is what makes us “ends in ourselves,” or gives us rights. 

It is not surprising then that Kant made these infamous and often-quoted remarks about the moral status of animals:


. . 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. . . Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity. 


Self-consciousness” seems to require a kind of rationality that animals lack: many animals have conscious existences, but they are not existentialists, reflecting on their own existence. Kant’s remarks, therefore, seem to suggest an argument like this:


Animals aren’t rational; therefore, they lack rights: they exist for us and are means toward our ends.  


Both ordinary people and many of the most prominent critics of animal rights argue like this, even to this day. Kant’s ethics, unfortunately, have been a major inspiration and justification for beliefs, attitudes, practices, and policies that are very bad for animals. 


  1. Kantian Ethics and Animals: A New Interpretation


This all is the standard interpretation of Kant’s ethics applied to animals. This standard interpretation is about to change, however, thanks to Christine Korsgaard, professor of philosophy, and former department chair, at Harvard University. 

Korsgaard is one of the world’s most esteemed and accomplished scholars of Kant’s ethics. While many people write about Kant to criticize him, Korsgaard writes to generally support Kant’s overall perspectives on ethics, subject to refinements and improvements, but improvements that are generally in the major “spirit” that Kant intended. And in her recent book, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals, she argues that Kant’s ethics actually supports animal rights. She rigorously argues that, despite what Kant himself said about the matter, many animals are, like us, “ends in themselves” and due respect: they are not mere means to our ends. 

That this book exists is a triumph. Despite all the progress made in recent decades, animal rights is still often mistakenly seen as a fringe or eccentric concern, even among people who consider themselves advocates of equality, justice, fairness, and otherwise progressive causes. That someone in a very high place, perhaps the highest scholarly place, again meticulously argues in defense of animals should contribute to overcoming prejudices and inertia against serious discussions of animals, in academia, in the supermarket, in classrooms and everywhere else. Second, both critics of animal rights and self-proclaimed advocates of human rights often appeal to Kant: “Sorry, I’m a Kantian ethicist and so I just reject the whole idea of animals having moral rights, since animals just aren’t rational beings like us and so have no rights.” According to Korsgaard, these folks have got Kant wrong: indeed their whole understanding of the basis of human rights might be off. And, given her accomplishments in interpreting Kant’s ethics, she’s probably right. 

The core argument is that the typical understanding of Kant’s ethics when applied to animals, like that above, is mistaken: despite appearances, we shouldn’t see Kant as obsessed with rationality in a way that excludes animals from being ends in themselves. This is because we don’t correctly understand why Kant was so concerned about our rationality. Korsgaard argues that, despite what is often thought about the role of rationality in Kant’s philosophy, Kant didn’t think that our rationality is what ultimately gives us rights, so to speak. What gives us rights is that we have a good – roughly, that things can go good and bad for us, from our own point of view. She argues that Kant thought, or should have thought, that any being with a subjective, conscious good is an end in itself. We are, in essence, rational beings, so to respect our good requires respecting our rationality: that is why rationality is important, for us, and so this is why Kant made such an emphasis on rationality. 

But for beings with different goods, they too are ends in themselves, and we must respect them in whatever way their goods require. Since many animals, as conscious and feeling beings, have a good (a good that we share, as fellow creatures), they too are ends in themselves: pace Kant, they are not mere means to our ends. She summarizes:


“empathy . . enables us to grasp that other creatures are important to themselves in just the way that we are important to ourselves, and the reason that enables us to draw the conclusion that follows: that every animal must be regarded as an end in herself, whose fate matters, and matters absolutely, if anything matters at all” (169, emphasis added). 


Most of the book develops and defends this interpretive development of Kant’s ethics. These eight or nine of twelve chapters, the first two of three parts of the book, I think would be a very challenging read for people without very strong backgrounds in philosophy, especially Kant’s ethics. The book is described as accessible to students and to non-professional-philosophers, but I think they would often have a very hard time following and comprehending: it’s just simply presented at a rather advanced level. There could have been chapter summaries and introductory overviews to help these readers, but these weren’t included, unfortunately. 

There are, of course, many more theoretical details that could be reviewed, and should be reviewed, but I will only discuss how the book relates to Tom Regan’s philosophy and how the book addresses an argument formerly known as the “Argument from Marginal Cases.”

First, Society & Animals readers might profit from by seeing how Korsgaard’s position differs from Tom Regan’s, as developed in The Case for Animal Rights (University of California Press, 1983) and many other works. Like Korsgaard, Regan firmly rejects utilitarianism (he created the “kill your rich relative to get money to give to charity” example from above). Regan sees his ethics as in the Kantian tradition: he embraces the idea that we should not use anyone as a “mere means,” and the ideas of moral rights that are supported by that Kantian insight. 

Regan, however, like many others, judges that Kant’s ethics has troubling implications for non-rational human beings, such as babies and mentally-challenged human beings. To address these implications, Regan argues that “rational being” shouldn’t be the relevant category for who is is an end in themself. Rather, he proposes that being a “subject of a life,” roughly, a conscious, sentient, feeling being who exists over time is what makes someone an end in themself. Non-rational babies and mentally-challenged human beings are like that, as are we, and so are many animals. So, if this is what makes us have rights, many animals have rights also: this is the basic case for animal rights.  

Korsgaard’s basic reply to this would be (since she doesn’t specifically discuss this) that Regan misunderstands Kant. Again, she thinks that Kant thought, or should have thought, that any being with a good is an end in itself. So for rational beings, respecting their rationality can be the way we treat them as ends in themselves. But non-rational beings can also have goods and so can also be ends in themselves. 

So Korsgaard’s response would be that it’s not that Regan has identified a fault with Kant’s ethics, but that Regan doesn’t realize that Kant could, and would, allow for non-rational subjects of lives, like many animals, to be ends in themselves, so the “subject of a life” criteria might augment Kant’s criteria for being an end on oneself, but need not replace it. How Kant would have reacted to Korsgaard’s re-interpretation of his ethics is unclear and unknown: although I may have missed it, I don’t believe she speculates on how Kant would have responded to her book or explains why Kant failed to come to understand his own ethics in the way she argues it is best understood. 

A second, related, issue is this: Regan sees babies and permanently non-rational human beings as non-rational beings. Since he thinks they have rights nevertheless, he thinks Kant’s ethics must be modified, since it seems to falsely imply that they don’t have rights. This type of reasoning is now often understood as “The Argument from Species Overlap”: a wide range of human beings have basic rights and the characteristics that make them have rights, such as on Regan’s view being a “subject of a life,” overlap with other many members of other species, resulting in their having rights also. 

Korsgaard’s response to this type of reasoning is to argue that babies and permanently non-rational human beings actually are rational beings (79-85). She argues that what something is isn’t determined by just a stage of life, but what they are over their whole life (or potential life?) over time. She observes that if you were to “subtract” rationality from a human being, you don’t get anything like a dog or any other animal: this is because of the “kind” of being human beings are. Something interesting about her discussion is that her proposal seems very similar to a certain type of “conservative” argument against abortion that claims that human embryos and fetuses are a certain “kind” of being, rational beings, and so are ends in themselves, with rights. Korsgaard argues that things are not quite that simple and, at least, introduces a number of subtle considerations that are worth reviewing as they bear on debates both about abortion and the general status of reasoning that is related to the “argument from species overlap” (86, 91-93).


3. Korsgaard’s Kantian Animal Ethics in Practice

Most of the book is theoretical; the final three chapters address practical issues. These chapters are much more accessible to general readers and can be profitably understood with only a general understanding of the theoretical position developed earlier in the book. 

She argues that factory farming and mistakenly-called “humane” farming are morally wrong: eating meat involves treating animals as mere means to our ends. 

She argues that animal research doesn’t “save” human livesshe observes that, at best, it extends them and she argues that, as a practice, it is wrong. While some say they know that humans benefit more than animals are harmed, and so think it is justified by utilitarianism (a moral theory that probably most people think is false anyway), Korsgaard highlights the epistemic difficulties in supporting such a claim. 

She observes that eliminating predation – animals eating other animals as some philosophers have argued for, would radically change the nature of animals, insofar as much of their daily activities involve eating and being eaten: if were able to change predators into vegetarians, and restrict the reproduction of “prey” animals, these would be radically different sorts of beings, so different that we can’t really say that it would be better for current animals if predation ended. She suggests this is comparable to gentrification: earlier residents are supplanted by new residents, so there is no sense that the neighborhood is better for its residents

Further issues she discusses include  the value of species, apart from their individual members; she argues it can be fine to keep pets provided they have good lives, and she addresses many other practical issues, with clever and fresh insight and wisdom. Again, everyone should read these chapters. My only criticism is that she generally does not discuss what other philosophers have had to say about practical issues, beyond a few “elite” thinkers. Lots of excellent work has been written by contemporary philosophers, beyond the select few she discusses, and those thinkers too should be engaged. 


4. Conclusion


In the book’s first paragraph, Korsgaard writes that how other animals are treated is a “moral atrocity of enormous proportions.” Why this is, she states, seems almost simple and obvious: we need a good reason to harm animals, and we often don’t have that. This book, again, shows that these important moral claims are reasonable and, surprisingly, defensible from a foundation that is often mistakenly appealed to in denying them. Let us hope that this book contributes to a new era for animals, based on yet another firm moral foundation.


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