by Paul York

Thanks to Michael and Jayme for recording the audio and video

Readings: Julian Franklin on Kant and animals in Animal Rights and Moral Philosophy, pp.32-50 ; selections from Immanuel Kant. Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason pertaining to the role and formation of the ethical community.






a) A quick note on the 2nd Kant reading (pp. 10-17) for Jan. 24th to bring it into focus:

The book this is taken from (Kant, Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason) is often misunderstood as a theological tract because it uses words like “God” and “church.” In fact, as I will argue, it has significance for animal rights because it can be interpreted as a description of any kind of social movement that advances a moral position for the betterment of society — which the animal rights movement does, or certainly tries to do.The confusion can arise from Kant’s appropriation of religious language to describe movements that can in fact be secular in orientation. “God” in Kantian language is not in reference to the traditional monotheistic God of Abraham; rather, it is a symbol (or “postulate”) of “pure practical reason.” God is a symbol for “the highest good” which is our capacity to be persons who always act in a morally good manner, in consideration of others. This refers to the potential of human beings to act in accordance with “the moral law within” (or conscience), which means respecting all others, including (we could argue) other animals we share this planet with.Ethically minded communities and the use of some kind of symbols or shared ideals are necessary for this purpose, because morality is very often a subjective experience, so we require symbols to share moral perspective. In the animal rights movement, for example, we refer to “abolition” or “liberation” or “rights” as ideals.Kant uses the phrase “the true church” to represent such communities. If one reads the text carefully, this is not a Christian church, necessarily, or even a religious group (though it could be), but any social movement that advances “the moral law within” that we all have access to by virtue of being rational beings. Think of Toronto Pig Save, for instance, which is certainly an ethically minded and inclusive movement trying to help both human society and animals.I would argue that rational beings, in this understanding, are the same as “moral agents” — beings who have the ability to make moral decisions. Franklin’s argument is vital for the expansion of this moral philosophy to nonuman animals because he includes all sentient beings, including “moral patients” (moral subjects who do not have moral decision making ability but nonetheless are deserving of moral consideration, such as young children, for example).Complicating this discussion is Marc Bekoff’s work, and the work of other ethologists, who shows that in fact some nonhuman animals can be moral agents as well as patients. Does that mean that nonhuman animals can also form ethical communities? One thinks of the groups of dolphins working together to try to save other dolphins from harm, for example. The ethologists have many examples of animal altruism.Moreover, nonhuman animals may work together to help one another, cooperatively, without requiring any kind of shared representation systems, such as religious language to do so. The fact is that we do not know if they have symbolic language and shared representations of ideals. Humans, on the other hand, seem to require symbols to communicate their ideals, and this propensity carries with it a great risk for our species, since we so often misunderstand each other (and religious texts) and use religion to dehumanize (and de-animalize) others, to advance individual and collective self-interest, rather than helping others.This wrong understanding comes from mistaking “supersensible” ideals and metaphysical concepts with empirical reality. This is how we might account for religious arguments used to justify speciesism, for example: saying that “God made animals for us to use” misrepresents the idea of God, from the perspective of Franklin’s interpretation of Kant, because it wrongly appeals to authority in a supersensible representation (“God”) when in fact we should be using reason to discern the truth for ourselves (to “think for ourselves” in other words, which is a dictum Kant uses in another essay).As noted above “God” is the symbol of the highest good, the moral law, not an external agent whom we can appeal to violate the moral law. “God” is a useful concept when it helps us act in consideration of all others, to suggest that our society should live in accordance with principles and ideals that approximate the highest good, but it is a worse than useless concept when it is used to justify violence against others — as so often is the case in human history.This argument is important for animal rights, because 85% of our species has some sort of religious affiliation, very often used to exploit animals. If we can help shift an all too common understanding of the meaning of religious faith from blind obedience to an external authority figure, to social justice, moral responsibility, and consideration of the basic rights of others (including non-humans), that is a valuable service.The discussion is also valuable for grounding the animal rights movement in a kind of ethics that does not rely on literal belief in religious ideas, but is nonetheless guided by what theologian Paul Tillich calls “ultimate concern” through “moral faith” in the possibility of a just, inclusive society.I would argue that this vision necessarily requires a commitment to nonviolence in order to be truly inclusive and just. It is nonviolent to include all others, even meat-eaters and animal oppressors, within your scope of one’s moral concern (as hard as that may be for some), and to seek to transform society in an inclusive manner. So misanthropic or violent language would, from this perspective, be expunged. Thus a Kantian worldview is very similar to a Gandhian worldview, if understood in this manner.

This train of thought is based on a few of the pages in Kant’s book. This text also discusses “the propensity to evil” and time permitting I will discuss that as well, because it really gives us great insight into the dynamics and psychology of discrimination and hierarchical thinking, which informs speciesist thinking.

This is the sort of discussion I hope we can have on Jan. 24th, time-permitting.


Readings for Jan. 24th class (for those who have course readers):

1) Peter Singer reading from Julian Franklin’s Moral Philosophy and Animal Rights, handed out first week.

2) Tom Regan and Peter Singer readings from Environmental Ethics, handed out this week (Jan. 17) pp. 1 to 9 of bottom right hand corner.

3) Review Regan’s Empty Cages (handed out first week).

4) Kant reading from Julian Franklin’s book Moral Philosophy and Animal Rights, handed out first week.

5) From 2nd week handouts: pp. 10-17 (lower right hand corner numbers) from Kant’s Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason, only the check-marked portions. The discussion above relates to this particular reading.

I do not expect you to read all of this, but do your best over the next week. The more you read the clearer the lectures will be. Email me with questions or comments if you have any. – Paul York

b) by Paul York, for Jan. 24th class

Historical context

• Eighteenth century Enlightenment thought, in response to centuries of traditional Christian theology and metaphysics, occurring during the rise of modern science and technology, and western liberal individualism.

• Emphasis on reason, rather than emotion. For example: “enthusiasm” as a pejorative term. It refers to the emotional outburst of charismatic preachers. Enlightenment philosophers thought poorly of this type of religion. Philosophically, rationalism and empiricism were in vogue.

• Emphasis on liberty, egalitarianism, freedom, democracy, humanism, a rejection of traditional theocratic ancien regime – ideas that were influenced French and American Revolutions (e.g. Jefferson, Paine) incidentally. (Note that Kant rejected outright revolution; see essay online An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?).

Introductory remarks on the foundation for Kantian ethics

• Kant thought that the foundation of ethics is “pure practical reason a priori.” “Pure practical reason” means the ability of reason, which we all have, to make moral decision. “a priori” means prior to experience; that is, we are born with it. See his main works on ethics: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals; Critique of Practical Reason.

He was at pains to locate the origin of morality (our capacity to make moral decisions) in free will, free from any empirical, social, historical, or otherwise causal influences.

• These influences can shape the endless expressions of moral decision-making to be sure (e.g. religious expression, secular expressions, culturally diverse expressions), but the origin or root of morality cannot be subject to the vicissitudes of history, he thought, because if it were, they would be influenced by various expressions of self-interest, either individually or collectively, which would corrupt it. Indeed it is corrupted — and we see that every day around us in endless forms — but the root of morality is itself incorruptible, he thought.

One way to think of this is to understand that everyone at a deep level knows right from wrong: that is wrong to harm others — including animals. However, we are socially conditioned to believe it is necessary or justifiable. “Autonomy of the will” is the ideal state where we have divested ourselves of the illusions imposed on us and see things clearly for ourselves.

• This gives us a certain hope that we can aspire to be better human beings, because if we thought that we could not aspire to the highest ideal of moral goodness, we certainly would lose hope in the possibility of a better society. Those who feel that human society is beyond hope often succumb to feelings of nihilism and despair. Kant’s ethics are an exercise in hope, but not a false hope; he was well aware of the evil that men do, and watned to articulate how we may overcome it.

• All rational beings, on a basic level, can distinguish between good and evil, i.e. distinction between harming others vs. helping others. We can use judgement to discern which is which. We (meaning all rational beings) are moral decision-makers – though not all of us use this ability.

• For the purposes here, I am equating “rational beings” with moral agents (not moral patients). But humans are morally lazy so we frequently defer to external authorities or ideologies or unquestioned cultural norms. This is called “heteronomy of the will.” The ideal for Kant was its opposite, the “autonomy of the will.” This refers to the highest ideal of human behaviour, the possibility of being a perfectly good person. Kant knew that was not actually going to happen, but he was concerned with the ideal as a guiding force us, to help us apsire to it.

Jesus, for example, was not the son of God, in his view; he was the personification of an ethical ideal that humanity can emulate. The same could be said of other semincal figures in history: Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Gautama Buddha, et al.They occupy a space in our culture as ethical examples, personifications of the moral law which we all have the capacity to realize within ourselves, and to help reinforce on social and political levels (through activism for example).

• This view, that ethics can have a universal foundation, is challenged by a postmodern emphasis on cultural / moral relativism, which maintains that good and evil are not universal; they are historically particular, determined by social and historical forces. A Kantian might respond by saying that the forms that moral judgements take are of course historically determined a posteriori (i.e. through experience), but the “subjective determining ground” of morality exists a priori, meaning prior to experience, or any causal determinants.

• These ideals are universal and ahistorical (the same in all times and places for all persons): every rational being has the ability to realize them for him or herself at any time, although many need moral guidance in this, but this guidance must not become heteronomous — meaning that we must determine right and wrong for ourselves, not in deference to an external authority or a cultural norm that is non-universalizable.

• As noted in an earlier lecture by David, Kant came up with a theory for describing his ethical perspective, called “the categorical imperative” which contained the principle of “universalizability.”

“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.”(Third formulation of the Categorical Imperative (CI)).

• The well-being of all persons is important. If the well-being of some persons is gained at the expense of the well-being of others , the maxim of the actions that allow this are not universalizable — which is to say that it cannot be feasibly applied to all. A good example is stealing: it would cause harm to others so it, cannot be a universalizable maxim for our actions. This is why Kantian ethics can be juxtaposed to utilitarianism, which permits individual rights to be violated in some cases.

• Kant emphasized “thinking for yourself” – i.e. using your own reason. Most people let others think for them, he said. Example: animal exploitation industries tell us that they raise and treat animals “humanely.” Or corporations and ad agencies tell us we need certain products to make us happy. Social conditioning contributes to heteronomous thinking; standing back from that is exercising autonomy of the will, especially in morally ambiguous situations.

• Kant intended his ethics, in large part, to respond to the abuses of religion, but the application of the philosophy is far larger than this: it can apply to any cultural form, any manifestation of heteronomy of the will in human culture. Thus it is applicable in a modern context to advertising (what David Loy calls “the religion of the market”) and certainly to the socially conditioned worldview that animals are inferior or the myth that we need massive amounts of animal protein and calcium to be healthy.

Enlightenment is defined as liberation from “self-incurred minority” (meaning self-imposed subservience to the will of authority figures and unquestioned cultural norms). We need a foundation for moral decision-making that is free from parochial interests. It is an ideal, never fully realizable and requires moral striving and constant effort.

• Autonomy of the will (freedom from heteronomy) is an ideal, for the individual and society. It is often interpreted as a stress on liberal individualism, associated with capitalism and g`lobalizing imperialism (Asad, Adorno, McIntyre, et al), but this interpretation misses the potential of this ethic to argue for liberation from the barrage of external influences on us that reinforce globalization, or (we could add) a hierarchical slave-owning society.

The postmodern view maintains that Kant’s ethics are historical and cultural formations, which certainly they are, but they also refer to something ahistorical and universal: the moral law. Talal Asad says there is nothing outside the historical, but moral judgement of colonialism and racism are evidence an arguably universal moral position: that these things are wrong because they harm others.

Apologetics; a response to criticisms

• There are problems with Kant from an animal rights perspective. He was not for animal rights. He was for “indirect rights” for animals (explained further down in the notes). So from the perspective of someone committed to practical / applied ethics and animal rights, the study of the application of Kant is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, for the purpose of understanding some fundamental issues that bear on animal rights.

• In other words, it is important to grasp the kernel of truth and discard the rest (e.g. anachronisms, prejudices against Judaism, women, and animals; endless meta-ethical and epistemological debates – these are only relevant insofar as they shed light on the practical issues that the philosophy is intended to address).

• Another way of putting it: pluralism v. exclusivism. The former is an ideal for discourse that acknowledges multiple perspectives. The latter maintains that there is only one valid perspective and discards the rest.

A philosopher can be wrong on many points and yet still provide valuable insights. We do not have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Kant’s philosophy transcends his personal views on certain subjects, including animal rights.

• We can cite three hundred years of objections to Kant over many different issues, some valid, some not. The most vocal objection today is against the postmodern objection against the universal ethics, but this is not a good reason to not study him.

• Kant realized this formula applied to all persons regardless of race or class, and thus was against colonialism and slavery, which was fairly enlightened for the 18th century. He simply did not see that slavery can include nonhumans too. It was not lack of a good heart, in his case, but rather that he was (as so many of us are) perpetual “muddlers” (Regan’s term for people, usually men, who are undecided on the animal issue). Evidence of his muddling was his theory of indirect rights, which is a bit like welfarism.

On supersensible ideas and ideals

• “Supersensible” concepts (both ideas and ideals) have meaning beyond sense experience. They are products of our imaginations. They have no objective correlative in empirical reality, in other words, yet they are important, in Kant’s view, for “practical” (i.e. ethical) reasons.

• Kant accepts and agrees with Hume’s rejection of Christian doctrines, but unlike Hume sees that there may be some practical value in historical religions for advancing the ideal of an ethical society.

• Supersensible concepts can be used for good or evil. Humans are imaginative creatures. We often mistake the products of our imagination for reality, with tragic consequences. The key is not abandoning imagination (which cannot be done anyway) but to harness this power, to use it practically, for a good end: for the creation of an ethical, radically inclusive society.

• Example: American nationalism. A regulative (i.e. ethical) interpretation of the moral imperative to protect the nation is protecting the ideals that it stands for (freedom, democracy) for all persons in all nations at all times. The nation state is merely the vehicle for the advance of the ideals, but if, through constitutive interpretation, it becomes the end and not the means (or vehicle) that is problematic. Our duty is not to preserve the vehicle or symbol or institution, but the ideals they stand for. Violating human rights to protect the state (e.g. torture, drone attacks, wars of aggression, predatory economic policies, etc) may strengthen the state, but it undermines the ideals it purportedly stands for. The same is true also of religious institutions (e.g. child-sex scandal covered up to protect the institution).

• We see this heteronomous interpretation of supersenible ideals in the example of torture of alleged enemies of the state, and also (we could add) in the exploitation of animals. There are countless examples of evil being done for the sake of making reality conform to an ideal (e.g. communism, capitalism, fascism). Individuals can be de-humanized or de-animalized, used as a means to an end (the end being some ideal or objective such as a theocratic state, for example, or a society that is ideal for humans but still enslaves nonhumans); they are not regarded as ends in themselves, worthy of respect.

Kant’s point, to use rights language, is that individual rights can never be violated or compromised for the some social or political ideal, because the highest ideal is the protection of the basic rights of all. Example: a statesman says that his ideal is to provide milk for all children; in so saying he is not extending his concern to dairy cows or calves. His ideal, while seemingly laudable, is non-universalizable.

• Kantian ideals can also be used to help humanity and nonhumanity in productive ways by helping us envision the highest possible ideal (the utopian society, or Berry’s “communion of subjects”) and striving for that ideal, even if we can never fully achieve it. What other choice does humanity have, after all, but to strive for the highest ideals, such as abolitionism or democracy or sustainability? The alternatives — continuing factory farms, wars, dictatorship, climate change — are unthinkable.

Thus humanity needs to strive for higher ideals than merely reforming them, but the path to do this cannot be violent, because that would compromise the moral law, which is at its core nonviolent. Recall that we can never use others as means to an end, even if the end is the good society, because ultimately the highest end of all is the well-being, the protection of the basic rights of all.

Julian Franklin on Kant

• Franklin says that Kant’s Formula of Humanity (or FH, a form of the Categorical Imperative) is the “the most powerful argument” for animal rights, despite the fact that Kant did not recognize it.

• Kant was for indirect rights for animals. He wrote that “he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.” We may think of serial killers torturing animals. What are some major arguments for “indirect rights” for animals? The environment and human health comes to mind (e.g. Regan’s “environmental fascism” which describes violating individual rights for the sake of a perceived greater good).

• FH is powerful because of the principle of universalizability, which is radically inclusive for all persons, including non-human persons (in Franklin’s version of it).

• Again, this ethic can be distinguished from utilitarianism: the highest good is what brings the greatest good (i.e. most happiness) to the greatest number (Singer, see ch. 1 of Franklin). Basic problem with utilitarianism: not inclusive of all beings in all circumstances, and can be used to justify victimization of the individual or minority for the sake of the majority (e.g. animal testing, or utilitarian calculus of cost-benefit analysis, frequently used to justify environmentally destructive development projects). However, when applied to animals (e.g. Singer), utilitarianism is a powerful argument for their liberation, based on their numbers, and their capacity to suffer – “in suffering they are our equals” (Bentham). So we must give this philosophy its due, as well.

• FH says “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity whether in your own person or the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” i.e. Treat others as “ends”, not as “means to an end.”

• Franklin answers the objection “what about jobs?” In other words, isn’t a job using someone as a means to an end? One can distinguish between labour agreements in a normal society (e.g. waiter) and slavery: slavery is involuntary, and there in “inadequate compensation.” Example: child labour or slave labour, where the work is coerced or involuntary vs. work that is freely chosen.

• Complicating the discussion is “economic slavery” and prostitution that is freely chosen: economic drivers force people to choose lives they might not otherwise choose. But with outright slavery it is unambiguous: animal slavery treats animals as a means to an end, not as ends in themselves, and violates FH (or FS). (Note: The Dreaded Comparison, by Marjorie Speigel, which compares human and animal slavery).

• Franklin changes FH’s criterion from rationality to sentience (FS). Sentience is self-awareness, being in the world and aware of it and one’s place in the world. Thus he includes moral patients as well as moral agents in the formula. Kant seems to have neglected moral patients when he spoke of only rational beings having moral considerability.

• To be morally consistent we would have to either go in the direction of cannibalism or veganism. The dividing line between species is arbitrary, irrational (recall Hume’s “naturalistic fallacy” from the earlier lecture).

• Thus FS: “Act in such a way that you always treat sentience in your own existence or in the existence of any other, never simply as a means, but also as an end.” (Franklin, 42)

• Animals are sentient, but plants are not, in this view. Plants do not “suffer pain, deprivation, and unwanted death” as animals do, Franklin claims. Sentience also implies that the individual values his or her life absolutely, without limitation: the individual has “absolute value” (unlimited intrinsic value). Similar to “subject of a life” (Regan).

Moral agents and patients

• As noted before Kant’s does not seem to recognize moral patients. Franklin corrects this, designating animals as moral patients. This is very important for our understanding of what Franklin achieves with this essay — why it is a key essay for animal rights philosophy.

• The designation of ‘moral patients’ would apply to all future generations as well, all persons in different classes, and in different nations, all differently abled persons who do not have moral agency. We are all moral patients all the time, but not all of us are moral agents.

• Complicating this discussion is the fact that some non-human animals are also moral agents. Some animals have “potential for good will” as the science of cognitive behavioural ethology suggests. The “good will” is the freedom of choice to will good for others.

• Perhaps we could also add the capacity to love (Patton)? Certainly mother pigs love their children. Many animals are quite capable of love (see the work of animal ethologists Marc Bekoff and others).

• Altruism is not understood by biologists (Mayr). Altruism cannot be reduced to “kin selection” or even “biological cooperation” or “the selfish gene” – all ideas reductively imply instinctual / deterministic, rather than moral decision-making on the part of individuals. But we know that some non-human animals are moral decision-makers and unique individuals. They are moral agents, as well as patients.

In summary, The essential point is that Kant provides us with something called The Formula of Humanity, which says that we should never treat other persons instrumentally, as “means to an end”, and that we should always treat them as “ends in themselves” — with respect and dignity, in other words.

The problem with Kant’s theory is not the form of it, which Franklin thinks is a very powerful ethical argument for respecting others, but who it applies to. It is supposed to apply to all persons, all of humanity, but Franklin thinks it ought to apply to all nonhuman persons as well and that Kant was in error in making it anthropocentric / human-centered. Kant’s reasoning for doing so is that we are moral subjects (we matter morally) because we are rational beings. However, this is a very limited criterion, because it excludes moral patients who are non-rational beings.

So to be truly universal in scope — to conform to the ideal of universalizability that is central to the Categorical Imperative and Formula of Humanity (which are two expressions of the same “moral law”) — we need to say that it is sentience that is the criterion, not reason, for who counts morally. If we do that, then the Formula of Humanity tells us that nonhuman persons also matter morally and should not be used as means to an end (e.g. used for food, entertainment, clothing, science, etc.).

The crucial move Franklin makes is replacing reason with sentience as the criterion for moral considerability.

The Realm of Ends and Communion of Subjects

• Realm (Kingdom) of Ends (usually referred to as RE) represents the social ideal, the utopian vision of a perfect society where everyone acts without need of the law to restrain them because they have perfect autonomy of the will.

• If RE includes non-humans – which it should if we accept Franklin’s argument — then this is very close to Thomas Berry’s idea of “a communion of subjects.” It is a utopian ideal — a product of supersensible imagination — that we can use to guide us ethically towards the creation of a better (i.e. more just, more inclusive, more sustainable) society. It is an ideal that has practical value.

• For human society RE, in the modern context, would prescribe a just, sustainable, egalitarian society – also a no-growth economy (arguably). It would also mean an inclusive society, one that recognizes animal rights. Practically speaking we cannot achieve a better world unless we eliminate animal slavery, just as America could not move ahead socially until it eliminated human slavery.

• Animal liberation is also critical vis-a-vis ending factory farming, which is a major contributor to climate change, which suggests that in order to save humanity we must stop enslaving nonhumanity. RE, in this modern context, argues for animal liberation.

• Subjects are not objects; objects are means to an end. Idea of “ethical commonwealth”(ideal society) should include non-human sentient beings.

• In this commonwealth, domesticated animals that have been so selectively bred that they cannot exist without human help should be well cared for and not exploited and wild animals should be respected / treated better, and/or left alone / not infringed on (Bekoff, Animal Manifesto, ch. 1).

A note on individual freedoms and rights

• First, let us note that the United Nations recognizes three types of human rights: negative rights – right not to be harmed. This is a basic right. Secondly, positive rights (e.g. Declaration of Human Rights: education, water, etc.) For all animals this would mean (according to Rob Laidlaw, in his definition of the ‘good sanctuary’) (i) freedom, (ii) space, (iii) things to do, (iv) family. Third, community rights, recognizing groups, e.g. shark or dolphin community’s right to a clean environment, which is consistent with conservationism.

• Here is the problem we wish to answer. The avid meat-eater says “it’s my right to choose what I eat.”However, from a Kantian perspective individual positive rights must be limited in order to respect the negative rights of all persons.

• The concept of freedom is central to “the moral law” and rights language; however, crucially, there are limitations to freedom: “it is limited by respect for the rights of others.”

• Kant’s expression of this is as follows: to ensure equality we must “limiting the freedom of each to the conditions under which it can coexist with the freedom of everyone else in conformity with a universal law.”

• A vernacular expression of this principle is as follows: The freedom to swing my fist ends where my fist meets your face – attributed to Judge Learned Hand.

• Exploiting animals is not universalizable if we concede that they are moral subjects.

• Environmentally, we may understand this as the moral imperative to limit our “right” to finite resources in consideration of all others who need them, including future generations and non-humans. In this way, the principle of universalizability is tied to sustainability and habitat conservation.

Kant’s philosophy of religion and how it applies to animal issues

• There are two types of religion: true pure religious faith (i.e. “the moral law within”) and historical faith (created by men).

• The historical form of religion provides us with important lessons for all cultural formations, including secular human groups, movements, and institutions.

• Note: Kant appropriated religious language to describe an essentially cultural phenomenon. He may be considered an atheist or agnostic thinker, although some theologians have tried to claim that he was a Christian. This is disputed by James DiCenso.

• “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them and merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurity or in the transcendent region beyond my horizons; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. The first begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense and extends the connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude with worlds upon worlds and systems upon systems, and moreover into the unbounded times of their periodic motion, their beginning and their duration.”(5:161, tr. Guyer 1992).

Morality, in this expression, is like the universe around us: something larger and much older than us, that we ought to defer to; however, at the same time, it is not transcendental but its expression can be; the important thing is to discern this and employ it wisely, without granting that supersensible ideals exists within sensible reality. In other words, recognize their practical value, but do not grant them constitutive reality.

This perspective arises from the Third Critique, which argues that our perception of nature is much like our perception of God: it is something that derives from within us (that we create in imagination) and that we must recognize this and learn to use these perceptions practically for the good of all. This does not dismiss a biocentric worldview, but it does put it in perspective as something shaped by human ways of perceiving the world.

• Returning to historical faith (which we are saying is merely a cultural formation, something created by men, like all other cultural formations): there are two directions that historical faith can go in: “counterfeit faith” which violates the moral law (e.g. use of religion to justify violence, animal exploitation, to amass power for ecclesiastical authorities, to rob people of their ability to think for themselves), and historical religion that helps advance the moral law (e.g. social gospel, liberation theology, eco-theology, Christian animal rights, engaged Buddhism, ahimsa, Jesus’ ethical teachings on love, Gandhian philosophy).

• All cultural formations can go in these two directions, it seems: even the animal rights movement. None are above reproach. We (humans) also need systems of shared representations (Vorstellung in German) in order to share conceptions of the highest ideals that our imaginations create and which have (potentially) practical use. They also have the potential for evil because of supersensible imagination: the most demonic example is Nazism, which was a kind of religion based on the non-universalizable ideal of “blood purity.” Ideals that are non-universalizable have the potential to become fascist.

• In terms of historical forms of religion: we can have morality without religion (standard atheist argument) but there are two reasons to still consider it valuable without saying the atheists are wrong: 1) Pragmatically, it is here to stay. The secularization debate, after 9//11, has swayed in favour of those who argue that religion is here to stay. 85 percent of humanity is religious in some fashion; if it can be used for the good, it should be (Scharper). It has the potential to help humanity form a better society (Berry). 2) It provides the “clothing” (e.g. symbols, myths, shared representations) around which ethically minded communities form (e.g. Quakers, also animal rights). Ethical principles are abstract, esoteric; there is a need for symbols to easily convey these principles to the masses. We need “shared representations” to convey abstract principles such as ethical ideals. This helps us understand the potential of religion to convey the highest ideals.

• The danger, however, is that these ideals will be misunderstood, which happens quite often because of moral laziness and heteronomy of the will. The danger of employing traditional historical traditions is that they will be misunderstood (e.g. religious fundamentalists, Islamists, the American Religious Right, Nazism, communism, etc.). So it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure they are correctly understood, not to advance parochial interests, but to advance the common good. This is a constant never-ending process. Why stop the process at humanity? Why not non-humanity, if they are moral patients (and even moral agents)?

• This does not mean allegiance to ideological purity (the task of the Inquisitor or zealot); rather, it means commitment to living in accordance with and advancing the ideals that are most inclusive, most egalitarian, most conducive to the well-being of everyone in society. If an ideal is advanced in such a way that it compromises the well-being of others, we need to stop and question that. Kant argues for the ideal of education, which can be distinguished from indoctrination.

• So how do we discern? James Garvey’s distinction between necessary and luxury emissions can be applied: is it necessary to exploit animals, or merely a desire? The most inclusive society is the one that is considerate of the well-being of all sentient beings (if we accept FH –> FS or some other formulation of animal rights).

• These communities all have ethical blind spots, through which parochial interests can be advanced, at the expense of the moral law, which is why there need to be principles that advance the moral law, to help the community self-reflect and grow morally.

• Ethical communities can learn from one another. CI and FH are formal expressions of universal ethical principles that we find in many religious traditions (various expressions of the Golden Rule).

• Let us return for a moment to the idea of “pure practical reason a priori.” The “subjective determining ground of reason” and “freedom of power of choice” to choose good or evil is something we are born with, but it has to be activated; in some people it is not adequately activated, because of both external conditions and also our own choices: because we are morally lazy sometimes it is not activated within us, or because the society we are in is given over to evil in various ways and this misleads people. This is where Kant’s philosophy of religion comes into play: religion can help educate us, but if it orders us to think in a certain way, or reinforces unequal power relaions and hierarchical thinking and injustice, rather than educating us to use our own reason, then it is worse than useless.

Notes on Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason

• P. 50 (11) Three predispositions in human nature. 1) animality, 2) humanity, 3) personality. They can be corrupted by self-love [self-interest]. Self-love is not evil but if it is given precedence in our power of choice over the ML, that is evil. It’s okay to have animal desires (#1), or social instincts (# 2) but if we allow them to be corrupted, these predispositions can become great forces of evil in the world.

• Example for #2: a natural desire to gain equal worth in the eyes of others (sociality), which Kant thinks is a good thing, can be corrupted throught the power of choice into becoming a state of viewing others as inferiors. He is say that a natural inclination (or predisposition), good in itself and necessary for us, has evil “grafted onto it” by the choice to put self-interest ahead of the moral law, and then it becomes hierarchical thinking. This has led to consumerism (acquiring things for social status); a good examples vis-a-vis animals is meat, shark-fin soup, Canada Goose jacket.

• The corruption of the Predisposition of Animality (#1) is also important: this predisposition refers to our natural desires for food, sex, shelter, etc. A corruption of this is gluttony, desiring more than we need without consideration for others’ rights — in this case the rights of those eaten.

P. 109(13) “the ethical community” – K. is appropriating religious language in order to convey transcendental (supersensible) ideals …

• He also builds into his philosophy the tools for avoiding misinterpretation. This is not a religious tract; it is a description of any ethical community (‘religious’ or secular) that advances the common good. e.g. animal rights.

• The ethical community (or “true church”) is a kind of ethical vanguard for transforming society. e.g. Toronto Pig Save, and many other ethically minded protest movements. This community aspire to these infinite ideals (they are utopians – e.g abolitionism), but with the understanding that the ideal is “never fully attainable” and becomes an imperfect institution. This is the best that we can do, as human beings, and even to accomplish this requires endless moral striving and effort. The signs of a true ethical community are (p. 112 / 15):

Four criteria for ‘true church’ (or ethical community)

• Universal union. Against “sectarian schisms” – united by a common purpose, though allowing for differences of opinion.

• Purity, “union under no other incentive than moral ones” i.e. Not motivated by collective self-interest; motivated by altruism, the common good of all.

• “Relation under the principle of freedom” i.e. non-hierarchical, against “illuminatism” [cult of personality]; everyone is equal.

• Must have “secure principles.” i.e. Not cave into corruption or parochial interests (collective self-interests).

‘Counterfeit faith’

P. 153/16 – counterfeit service / priestcraft

• – the ideal of being able to eventually dispense with “ecclesiastical faith” and “statutory laws” and create a truly ethical society, where everyone is always considerate of everyone else, and works for the common good. Ecclesiastical authorities (and all those who accept corrupt systems and do not try to change) them are “damnable” – e.g. Temple Grandin. If we accept things as they are, that is unacceptable. In religions, acceptance of unjust social and political systems is wrong; in secular activist movements the same argument applies – especially when those movements symbolize the ideal. This means they have a moral responsibility to advance it. e.g. environmentalists or human rights activists who do not care about animal rights.

Excursus on “rights language” or the “rights position”

• Rights language arose from the Enlightenment idea (e.g. French Revolution, founding of Unites States of America, influence of Kantian ethics); they utilize “supersensible” (transcendental) ideals such as liberty, democracy, truth, freedom, equality (referred to above). Kant was influential in the development of rights language, which is prevalent today in many forms.

• Modern manifestations include: the United Nations forums on human rights, informed civil rights movement, women’s movement, human rights movement, Emancipation Proclamation, arguments against trafficking, torture, war crimes, Nuremberg trials, etc. Now it is part of popular discourse and law. However, there are strong criticisms, mainly to do with the critique of the Enlightenment as promoting individualism (contra communitarianism), and usually arguing that “rights” is a socially constructed worldview originating with Europeans.

• Rights are universal, those who have them are equals, they are inalienable. Opposed to “morality as a cultural product” and moral relativism (e.g. Asian values debate).

• Ambiguous role of religion as originary, speaks to the difference between a theocentric and human-centric or even atheistic worldview; note: one can also incorporate humanism into theology (e.g. Paul Tillich).

• Essential issue: rights, to be true, must be thought of ahistorically and their origin as existing a priori, even though common sense would dictate that their particular expression is historically particular.

• Rejection of the rights argument increasingly popular (Asad, McIntyre, Rachels, et al). Holism, if taken to an extreme, seems to abrogate rights (issue of “environmental fascism”), but that is a pending topic.

• Animal rights issue from human rights, historically. There is now also a “rights of nature” discourse. This is problematic because rights naturally accrue to individuals, not systems.

• Humans are animals, thus human rights = animal rights, logically.


Kant’s practical ethics are consistent with Gandhian non-violence. As Gandhi said, the means and ends must be consistent. This dovetails with Kant’s Formula of Humanity, which says never treat a person as a means to an end, but always as an end in themselves. Bringing together the two philosophies we can say that always treating others as ends in himself/herself requires us to act nonviolently towards everyone, regardless of who they are, consistent with the principle of universalizability. Violence treats others as means to an end (e.g. winning the war), but violates their basic rights in doing so and undermines the end (peace) through violence. Kant was against violence, judging from his essays, but he was for law and order. He did not think through the issue of civil disobedience.