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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Paste your essay in here...In today's society, as well as throughout history, an issue of constant disagreement and controversy is the rights of animals. Many believe animals never deserve to be abused and should be treated similarly to humans. In this course, we have read and analyzed several ethical viewpoints, some of which hold relevancy to this very topic. We can apply these sources and perspectives to today's modern discussion of animals. On of the first accounts we looked at is Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of The Metaphysics of Morals. Many of Kant's views are centered around his categorical imperative as well as the notion of the will and duty. While we can make inferences to Kant's ethical perspective on animal rights based on these aforementioned ideas, we can also utilize some of Kant's other work. In one of Kant's lectures, he states that man has no direct duties to serve animals' ends. However, he believes man still has the indirect duty of respecting them since this can be reflected in the treatment of humans. We have also studied the ethical works of John Stuart Mill, the father of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the ethical doctrine that states that the right course of action is the one that produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. This can also be translated as doing that which minimizes suffering and pain. According to Mill, animals should be included in this doctrine. While each philosopher presents different ethical perspectives and ideas, both can help provide valuable insight into why animals deserve rights similar to those of human beings.

In the second section of Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of The Metaphysics of Morals, he notes the difference between rational and irrational beings:

“Beings who existence depends not on our will but on nature's, have nevertheless, if they are irrational beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things; rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves, that is something which must not be used merely as means, and so far therefore restricts freedom of action” (Kant 223)

Based on this statement, it would seem that Kant is implying that animals are irrational beings due to the fact that they are not self-conscious. They are therefore a means to an end. Since they are only a means, we as humans have no direct duty or obligation to animals. However, applying Kant's idea of the categorical imperative may shed more light on the role of animals and their rights. The Categorical Imperative states that “an action as necessary of itself without reference to another end, i.e. as objectively necessary” (Kant 210). A common example of this is the golden rule: To treat others the way that you yourself would like to be treated by others. While this doctrine does not apply to animals, it can apply to human treatment of animals. If we should be treating others the way we want to be treated, why should we not treat animals in the same light? They may not hold the same rationality as humans, but they are still beings. Furthermore, Kant even explored this idea in one of his own lectures, saying:

“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 towards 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 toward animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also on his dealing with men” (Kant Lectures on Ethics 1)

While it may seem that Kant changes his beliefs regarding our obligation to animals, it is more so in the sense of an indirect obligation. While he still believes animals are not to be treated as humans due to their irrationality, he thinks they can be used as a means of judgement in how humans treat other humans. In other words, he did not believe that we could just dispose of animals however we want. For example, if a man is cruel towards his dog, he will likely behave similarly to other humans. This can give incentive to treat animals with respect and care, but I do not believe it can do justice to the rights that animals truly deserve such as the freedom to live and to avoid suffering. They deserve more than just to be used as means for humans.

A major part of Kant's ethical perspective is the idea of acting with respect for and in accordance with the law:

“Duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law… Now an action done from duty must wholly exclude the influence of inclination, and with it every object of the will, so that nothing remains which can determine the will except objectively the law, and subjectively pure respect for this practical law, and consequently the maxim that I should follow this law even to the thwarting of all my inclinations” (Kant 198)

If Kant says we should act based on the law, then that would include the Animal Abuse laws found in the United States and around the world. In Pennsylvania, it is a felony to kill, mistreat, abuse or hinder the well being of a pet or animal.  According to Kant's theory, it is people's duty to act in light of these laws and therefore treat animals with respect and care, which they rightly deserve.

The other major ethical perspective we have covered is that of Utilitarianism, thanks to philosopher John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism is based on the idea that “we ought to do that which promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people” (Mill 225). Based on the previous statement, one would probably think that Utilitarianism would be on the side of pro-animal rights, due to the fact that it would promote the greatest good for all parties. However, soon after in his writing, Mill claims that “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied” (Mill 232). While this merely implying that it is preferable to be a more rational being, it seems that there may be a hint of disparage in Mill's words. While it is clear that humans are rationally superior to animals, Mill did not have to shame animals in such a way. Perhaps this is how he truly feels, which should be taken into account. Looking further into his writings, we find his idea of the standard of morality: “The standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of thing admits, to the whole sentient creation” (Mill 234). Mill is saying that the way humans strive to conduct themselves with other humans should also be applied to how they conduct themselves with nature. Considering his previous comments, it seems Mill almost has a change of heart and actually believes in affording rights to things in nature, such as animals, in a similar fashion as humans. Since Mill never directly addresses the topic of animals rights, it is tough to determine what his stance would be. However, we can make the assumption that he believes animals are deserving of rights, but maybe not quite to the extent of humans.

With all of this being said, one cannot help but wonder what Kant and Mill would think of each other's perspectives and ideas. It is evident that there is a bit of a rivalry between the two, which can be seen in the latter half of Mill's writing: “But to speak only of actions done from the motive of duty, and in direct obedience to principle: it is a misapprehension of the utilitarian mode of thought to conceive it as implying that people should fix their minds upon so wide a generality as the world, or society at large” (Mill 241). Mill is clearly being critical of Kant's notion of duty, as he believes that we should be allowed to act upon our inclinations as well. Based on this, Mill might not agree with Kant's belief that humans have no direct duty to animals. On the other side, Immanuel Kant likely would not be accepting of Utilitarianism. According to Kant, beings should never be harmed for the happiness of others, regardless of the scenario. But according to Utilitarianism, the right action is the one which maximizes happiness, which could technically involve the harming of others. For example, harming an animal could bring happiness to someone, which Mill would say would be the correct course of action for that person. This would never be the case for Kant, regardless of his opinion of the rationality of animals. Despite the differing views of the philosophers, the ethical perspectives of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill can be used to show us why animals deserve to be afforded rights similar to humans and to be treated correctly.

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