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Does Beast Suffering Count for Kant: A Contextual Examination of §17 in The Doctrine of Virtue

1 June 2004


Ever since Schopenhauer ́s accusation, it has been disputed whether Kant ́s few remarks concerning the ethical human-animal-relationship in the Lectures and in the Doctrine of Virtue fail to support ethical arguments on behalf of animals. One critique that plays a central role is whether Kant would have forbidden cruelty to brutes for educational purposes. In addition to these old objections, Kant ́s ethics is charged to be speciesistic by animal ethicists and animal rights philosophers at present.

The following article examines especially §17 of the Doctrine of Virtue, which is the only animal ethical text authorized by Kant himself. The interpretation starts by taking the context of §17 into account, particularly the “Episodic Section on an Amphiboly in Moral Concepts”. The systematic output of the cruelty-account and of the duty classes is then analyzed. Central for the understanding of Kant ́s argumentation relating to animals are the perfect duties to oneself, which are linked to Kant ́s foundation of human dignity. Finally the roles of the physical and emotional needs of brutes and humans in Kant ́s ethics are compared with each other. Some conclusions are then drawn concerning human and animal rights in relation to a duty-based argumentation. The article therefore appreciates Kant ́s integration of animal suffering into the very core of his virtue ethics, an integration that may be able to open the door for an enlightened animal ethics based on human responsibility.


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