The animal in morality. Justifying duties to animals in Kantian moral philosophy

F.E. Kaldewaij

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


This dissertation investigates the issue of our moral duties to animals in the context of Kantian moral philosophy. Kantian arguments promise a fundamental and neutral justification of moral duties. Kantians traditionally hold that rational capacities that only humans seem to possess are necessary for moral status. This dissertation challenges this view. It is argued that if Kantian arguments justify duties to others at all, they also justify duties to animals. The first part of the dissertation argues that the Kantian view of the nature and justification of moral duty does not necessarily imply that we have duties to only those who can act morally (moral agents). Moral duties are regarded as categorical requirements, which the agent has to act on regardless of whether this fulfills her other desires or is in her overall interest. Such duties are justified with a transcendental argument, designed to show that moral agents cannot rationally deny having these duties. Moral agents are consequently regarded as capable of guiding their conduct on the basis of principles that they recognize to be rationally required. However, it does not follow that moral principles require us to respect only moral agents. Respect for moral principles may imply an indirect duty not to undermine the capacity to act on them, but not a direct duty to respect moral agents as a whole, including their ability to act for nonmoral purposes (such as alleviating pain, or caring for loved ones). The question is what moral principles moral agents have to accept. The second part of this dissertation deals with arguments for the claim that all agents rationally have to accept certain moral principles (by e.g. Korsgaard and Gewirth). The third part concerns arguments for moral principles from the perspective of agents who interact in specific ways (e.g. hold each other responsible) (by e.g. Apel and Darwall). It is shown that agents’ desires for nonmoral purposes play a more important role in both types of argument than has been traditionally recognized. They must be regarded as the basis of sufficient reasons and valid moral claims unless there are more important countervailing considerations (such as conflicting purposes of the same or other agents). Otherwise, there may be formal rational requirements (e.g. consistency), but no substantive moral principles: reason would not prescribe specific actions for their own sake. As we act, and make moral claims on one another, on a basis that we seem to share with certain animals (namely, desiring to attain purposes), we equally have direct duties to them. We do have different duties to moral agents and animals. We have to take moral agents’ own claims about their good and the right way to act seriously. In the case of animals, advocates have to represent their viewpoint in debates on how we should act. This should make us reconsider the ways in which we currently use animals, but also casts a different light on the nature and source of our own moral claims
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Duwell, M., Primary supervisor
  • Werner, M.H., Supervisor
Award date31 May 2013
Print ISBNs978-94-6103-033-7
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2013


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