Christine Korsgaard

Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and Our Duties to Animals



2.      Wrong to use humans as mere means to an end

         a.      Key Kantian ethical idea

         b.      “You are using me”!

         c.      Person not just a tool to be used for the achievement of other people’s ends

         d.      In contrast this is exactly what animals are (says Kant)

                   i.       When [man] first said to the sheep, “the pelt which you wear was given to you by nature not for your own use, but for mine” and took it from the sheep to wear it himself, he became aware of a prerogative which . . .he enjoyed over all the animals; and he now no longer regarded them as fellow creatures, but as means and instruments to be used at will for the attainment of whatever ends he pleased.

3.      Permissible to use each other as means to ends

         a.      Do it all the time

         b.      Cab driver, doctor do things that help you to promote your own ends

4.      Not permissible to treat someone as mere means

         a.      This involves “using another person to promote your own ends in way which she could not possibly consent

         b.      “Victims of forceful, coercive, and deceptive acts can’t consent as these acts by their nature give their victims no opportunity to consent”

         c.      Interesting that point is not simply wrong to use a person w/o her consent

         d.      If someone consents to your use, this is not treating this person as a mere means

5.      Kantian objection to utilitarianism

         a.      In principle allows you to use a human being as a mere means to an end (w/o his consent, or against her will), if the interests of the many are sufficiently served.


6.      Treating a person as a mere means violates dignity of humans as an “end in itself”

         a.      Treat humanity (in your self and others) as an end and never merely as means


7.      Kant identifies our humanity with our unique rational nature

         a.      Rational nature is a distinctively human capacity

         b.      We have capacity to govern ourselves by autonomous rational choice

8.      Respect for humanity requires we avoid all use of force, coercion, deception–for they override our autonomous choices


9.      Respecting humanity requires respecting people’s choices

         a.      If we respect our own humanity, we regard our own chosen ends as good/worthy of pursuit

         b.      When respect other’s humanity, we must regard their chosen ends as good/worth of pursuit


10.    Moral community is a kingdom of ends

         a.      Rational beings respect each other’s humanity/autonomy

         b.      Within limits of that respect, goods chosen by each are pursued

         c.      Each citizen has legislative voice, together create moral laws



12.    Problem: What about non-rational beings?

         a.      If value of humanity comes from capacity for being governed by autonomous rational choice

         b.      What about those who have not such capacity?

                   i.       Infants not yet rational

                   ii.      Very old and demented no longer rational

                   iii.     Severely retarded and incurably insane?

                   iv.     Nonhuman animals

         c.      Not ends in themselves? Permissible to use them as mere means?

13.    Korsgaard’s response to marginal cases (p. 82)

14.    On Kant’s view of rationality, most of above (all humans?) are rational beings

         a.      Some are unable to reason well

         b.      Some at stages of life when reason undeveloped, inert or non-functional

         c.      These conditions don’t affect their standing as rational beings (under Kant’s conception)

         d.      “These claims require defense and won’t be giving it in this essay”

         e.      Questions:

                   i.       Human infants have the potential to have that capacity (as yet not realized)

                   ii.      Old demented humans, no longer have the capacity (they once did) or the potential for that capacity

                   iii.     Humans born severely retarded never had that capacity and never will and do not have the potential either

                   iv.     All of these are “rational beings” even if they lack that capacity? Even if some animals (say chimps) have the capacity for rational autonomous choice to a much greater extent that these marginal humans do?



16.    Korsgaard: non-human animals are not rational beings

         a.      Empirical claim

         b.      *Admits she could be wrong and some of them are rational beings as she outlines this concept

17.    *Korsgaard will show–despite Kant’s own thinking on matter–that Kant’s arguments reveal ground for our obligations to animals


18.    Animals a kind of living entity

19.    Entity = matter arranged functionally, so it can do something

         a.      Cars, plants, animals, humans

         b.      Not rocks? But rivers (function to transport sediment)

20.    Living thing, entity whose matter arranged to maintain itself and reproduce itself

         a.      Via nutrition and reproduction

         b.      Living things carry on as if had a purpose

         c.      Purpose simply to be and keep being what they are

         d.      Self-maintaining entities


21.    Nature of animals

22.    Animal a special kind of living thing

23.    Animals capable of perception and voluntary motion

24.    Animals maintain themselves by forming representations/conceptions/beliefs of their environment

         a.      Animals have concepts and beliefs

25.    Animals guide themselves around in environment (=action) in accordance with those representations


26.    Two ways to guide your movement in environment via belief

         a.      “Instinctive”

         b.      Rational


27.    Kant on action: Involves incentive and principle (work together)

28.    Incentive:

         a.      What makes us think about acting

         b.      Motivational loaded representation or an object produced by perception of thought

         c.      Object seen as desirable or aversive (edible, dangerous, interesting)

29.    Principle

         a.      Determines what agent does/tries when confronted with that kind of incentive

         b.      Examples

         c.      Agent sees the thing as “to be eaten” “to be fled from or fought” “to be inspected”

         d.      Agent’s principles determine which incentives subject to as well as what to do about them

30.    Examples

         a.      Human whose principle is to help those in need, then when perceive neediness in another, that presents you with a incentive to help

         b.      If a cat whose principle is to chase small scurrying creatures, the movement of mouse/bug are an incentive to give chase


31.    Nonhuman animals principles are its instincts

         a.      Note: Korsgaard uses instinct in a way that they need not be simply like salivating in response to smell of pie, but can involve intelligence and can be learned

32.    To say animals act on instincts is to say

         a.      Acts on basis of established connection between a representation (the incentive)

         b.      And a “primitively normative response”: Automatic sense that act called for/made appropriate by the representation



34.    Animals act not just react–thought it is instinctive action

         a.       Humans act for reasons (rationally)

         b.      Animals act non-rationally, but not just caused to react, but have a non-rational grasp of a response being appropriate


35.    Pie example

36.    To say (some?) animals act means

         a.      Their beliefs/representations/incentives don’t just cause them to move

                   i.       Smell of baking pie can cause you to salivate (not an action)

                   ii.      Smell of baking pie cause you to go to kitchen (action)

37.    To act, agent must grasp that response (movement) is appropriate

         a.      For humans, agent goes to kitchen because he takes his interest in the pie to be a reason for going there

         b.      Does not salivate because thinks has a reason for so doing

         c.      Animals too can grasp that a response is appropriate (rather than just reacting automatically like salivating), but this is not based on rationality/reason, but on (primitive) normative ability “to take one thing to count in favor of another”



39.    Animals instinctive action can be learned (need not necessarily born with)

40.    Intelligent animals can learn from experience

         a.      Can forge new connections, increase repertoire of principles, appropriate responses (principles/incentives?)

         b.      Example

                   i.       After puppy’s encounter with bee/beehive it gets added to the category of the “to-be-avoided”

         c.      Does she think animals can create/learn new categories/principles



         a.      Distinction rationality and intelligence

42.    Rationality requires type of self-consciousness involving the ability to perceive, think about, the grounds of our beliefs/actions as grounds

43.    Intelligent animal who acts from instinct is

         a.      Conscious of object of fear

         b.      Conscious of it as fearful

         c.      Conscious of it as to be avoided

         d.      These are grounds for its action

                   i.       Then it has “reasons” for its actions? But can’t think about these reasons (and assess them)? Has reasons but doesn’t consider them as reasons?

44.    Rational animal in addition is conscious that she fears the object and that she is inclined to act in certain way as a result

         a.      Conscious of the ground as a ground

45.    Rational animals conscious of the principles on which we are inclined to act

         a.      Have ability to ask whether we should act in the way we are instinctively inclined to

                   i.       “I’m afraid of X, inclined to run, but should I”

         b.      Ability to question whether responses our incentives present are really appropriate

         c.      Ask if we have reason for acting in ways they suggest

         d.      Involves self-consciousness as must identify oneself as subject of certain beliefs

46.    Dog counter example?

         a.      Make scary face, growl at your dog, and begin to advance with arms up

         b.      Dog sees you as fearful and to be avoided but can ask should I really be afraid of that dude who feeds me all the time and hugs me?

47.    Intelligent (non-rational) animal

         a.      Moved to believe/expect one thing when perceives another

         b.      Learned to make connections from past experience

48.    Rational animals are aware that we are inclined to take one thing as evidence for another

         a.      Can ask whether we should

49.    Non-rational animals can follow principles, but those principles are not the objects of its attention

50.    Rational animals think about and assess the principles that govern their beliefs and acts.

         a.      “Self-conscious assessment”



52.    Rational beings can form hypotheses, merely intelligent beings cannot

         a.      Example

         b.      An animal can learn that bees sting, and avoid them

                   i.       Can also “from association” avoid other things that look like bees

         c.      A rational being can think about the connection bees and stinging and wonder whether all stripped or buzzing insects sting

                   i.       Form a hypothesis and investigate

53.    Seem like key difference she stresses: Humans can think about their thoughts, animals cannot; they have thoughts but don’t think about then



55.    Both humans and animals can desire an end and become inclined to act to achieve that end

         a.      But only humans can ask if there are good reasons to do the act for the sake of the end (they can question the whole act-end motivation, including the end itself)

56.    Ability to set aside our inclinations when acts motivated by them are wrong is essential to human freedom

         a.      Animals don’t have this kind of freedom

         b.      Animals can inhibit inclination when another inclination is stronger

         c.      Humans can inhibit inclinations altogether because of normative judgment (e.g., it would be wrong to do it)


57.    Rationality = normative self-government–distinctive of humans

         a.      Assessing/judging principles that govern our beliefs and acts and regulating them by those judgments

         b.      Rationality makes it necessary assess these principles

                   i.       As long as they are before our minds must accept or reject them



59.    Humans only moral animals

         a.      Only animals whose conduct subject to moral guidance and evaluation

         b.      We can’t expect other animals to regulate their conduct in accordance with an assessment of their principles

         c.      For they are not conscious of their principles

         d.      So have no moral obligations

                   i.       (This does not entail we have no moral obligations to them)


60.    On Humean, emotion based moral theories could praise or blame animals for sympathetic or cruel behavior

         a.      Animals have “natural virtues”–admirable qualities do not depend on capacity for moral thought

         b.      But no one would blame an animal for being “unprincipled or thoughtless”

         c.      Some moral qualities essentially tied to capacity for rational reflection.

         d.      And on Kant’s view of morality, it requires exercising this capacity



62.    Animals mere means

         a.      Beings. . .without reason, have only a relative worth, as means, and are therefore called things, whereas rational beings are called persons because their nature. . .marks them out as an end in itself . . .

         b.      Above quote

63.    Kant does care about our treatment of animals

         a.      Do have right to kill them, but must be quickly and w/o pain and not for sport

         b.      Don’t painfully experiment on them for mere speculation when could get the info some way else

         c.      Can make them work, but not in way strains their capacities

         d.      Should be grateful when they work for us

         e.      Harsh words for those who shoot horses/dogs when no longer useful; should treat them as members of the household

64.    These moral duties not owed to animals but to ourselves

         a.      Any action whereby we may torment animals, or let them suffer distress, or otherwise treat them without love, is demeaning to ourselves.

         b.      Duty to cultivate feelings that are conducive to morality

         c.      Violent and cruel treatment of animals is. . .intimately opposed to a human being’s duty to himself. . . ; for it dulls his shared feeling of their suffering and so weakens and gradually uproots a natural disposition that is very serviceable to morality in one’s relations with other people.

65.    Because animals can’t place us under obligations, we have no obligations to them

         a.      We can only have duties to a being who can morally constrain/obligate us by his will

         b.      Animals don’t have legislative wills like that

         c.      They can’t participate in the moral legislation to which as rational begins we are subject

66.    Kant’s reason for obligations being owed to humans and not animals is not because humans have a special type of value that animals lack

         a.      Rather it is because only humans have morally legislating wills