Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



Jarbuch für Recht und Ethik (2005) 13: 299-311.


Copyright 2005, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Used by permission.


According to Kant we human beings are finite rational beings, who also have an animal nature. Kant occasionally speculates that perhaps on other planets there may be quite different sorts of finite rational animals. But of course we have no specific knowledge of any such. Given that fact, all of our duties are duties to other human beings. We can have no duties to God because he is not an object of possible experience. There are no human beings such that they have only duties and no rights--they would be slaves or serfs. And the apparent duties that we have to abstain from cruel treatment of (nonhuman) animals are, it turns out, not direct duties to such animals, but duties to ourselves, and merely indirect duties with regard to animals.

"Duties to animals" in the Kantian context is an issue about the scope of morality. Does our "moral community" include non-human animals or not? Kant's version of the moral community seems to be the kingdom of ends, and it is clear that this kingdom includes only finite rational beings like you or me, dear reader. There are arguably two versions of the issue of duties to animals: the legal and the ethical. Perhaps there were no laws in Kant's day against cruelty to animals, but such laws since Kant's day have been widespread at least among European and American societies for well over a century. The ethical question would ask whether we h.ave ethical duties to abstain from cruelty to animals (apart from any legal provisions) for which we should be moved to action by inner moral motivation. Such duties would be analogous to the ethical duties we have that underlie laws against assault or theft, or they could be analogous to the imperfect duties we have to promote the welfare of others and render assistance to others m need, duties which are not enforced by laws. But there would be no direct duties to animals, either legal or ethical, if animals were outside the scope of morality. We will return to these two elements of duties to animals at a later point.

The answers to such questions of the scope of morality must be a part of our understanding of Kant's practical philosophy, alongside other such Issues as imputatIon, freedom, and criminal punishment that have been of concern to Professor Hruschka in his many contributions to understanding that philosophy, and more particularly Kant's philosophy of law.