Skip to main content

Kantianism for humans, utilitarianism for nonhumans? Yes and no

Abstract

Should we accept that different moral norms govern our treatment of human and nonhuman animals? In this paper I suggest that the answer is both yes and no. At the theoretical level of morality, a single, unified set of norms governs our treatment of all sentient beings. But at the practical level of morality, different sets of norms can govern our treatment of different groups in different contexts. And whether we accept that we should, say, respect rights or maximize utility at the theoretical level, we might also accept that we should apply a relatively Kantian set of norms to our treatment of humans and a relatively utilitarian set of norms to our treatment of nonhumans in practice, with many caveats. I argue that this moderate “monist in theory, hybrid in practice” view has many advantages over fully monist or hybrid alternatives.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Note that, moving forward, I will mostly talk in terms of humans and nonhumans, or in terms of agents and patients, rather than in terms of people and animals, since I think that animals are people too. For more on this point, see Andrews et al. 2018.

  2. Bentham 2018.

  3. Kant 2012.

  4. Aristotle 2016.

  5. For an example of someone who accepts that there can be multiple basic goods, see Chang 1997.

  6. For an example of someone who accepts that there can be multiple basic duties, see Ross 1988.

  7. For an example of someone who accepts that there can be multiple basic virtues, see Swanton 2005.

  8. Nozick 1974.

  9. Scanlon 1998, 179.

  10. Fischer in preparation. For related discussion, see Chang 1997 and MacAskill, Bykvist, and Ord 2020, Chap. 5.

  11. Hare 1981.

  12. Brink 1989: 256.

  13. See, for example, Sidgwick 2014, Railton, 1984, and John and Sebo 2020.

  14. Parfit 1984: 24.

  15. Scheffler 1982.

  16. Nozick 1974.

  17. This interpretation of rights theory partly draws from the interpretation of “restricted deontology” that Shelly Kagan develops in 2019.

  18. For discussion, see Schukraft 2020.

  19. In particular, rights theorists might hold that we have this right in theory, and utilitarians might hold that we have this right in practice, since the capacity for agency shapes what kinds of interests we can have and, as a result, what can bring us pleasure and pain.

  20. For discussion, see Sebo 2017.

  21. For discussion of why we might have a duty to help to wild animals, see Horta 2010, Johannsen, 2020, and Sebo 2022.

  22. For an example of such a view, see Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011.

  23. For an example of such a view, see Gabardi 2017.

  24. Thanks to David Killoren and Richard Rowland for editing this special issue, and for organizing the Oxford Workshop on Utilitarian Approaches to Animal Ethics in September 2019, at which I presented related material. Thanks also to the participants at this workshop and three anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback, and to Dale Jamieson for helpful discussion.

References

  • Andrews, K., Comstock, G., & Crozier, G. K. D.,Sue Donaldson, Andrew Fenton, Tyler, M., John, L., Syd, M., Johnson, R. C., & Jones,Will Kymlicka, Letitia Meynell, N., & Nobis, David Peña-Guzmán, and Jeff Sebo, 2018, Chimpanzee Rights: The Philosophers’ Brief. New York:Routledge

  • Aristotle (2016). Nicomachean Ethics. Scotts Valley: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

    Google Scholar 

  • Bentham, J. (2018). The Principles of Morals and Legislation. New York: Franklin Classics

    Google Scholar 

  • Brink, D. (1989). Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics. New York Cambridge University Press

  • Chang, R. (1997). Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason. Cambridge : Harvard University Press

  • Fischer, B., in preparation, “Hybrid Moral Theories and the Problem of Arbitrariness.&

  • Gabardi, W. (2017). The Next Social Contract. Philadelphia: Temple University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Hare, R. M. (1981). Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Methods, and Point. Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Horta, O. (2010). “Debunking the idyllic view of natural processes. Population dynamics and suffering in the wild,” Télos 17, 73–88

  • Johannsen, K. (2020). Wild Animal Ethics: The Moral and Political Problem of Wild Animal Suffering. Routledge

  • John, T. (2020). and Jeff Sebo,“Consequentialism and Nonhuman Animals,” in Portmore, D. (Ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press

  • Kagan, S. (2019). How to Count Animals, More or Less. Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Kant, I. (2012). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

  • MacAskill, W., Krister Bykvist, and Toby Ord, 2020, Moral Uncertainty. Oxford: Oxford University Press

  • Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books

    Google Scholar 

  • Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and Persons. Oxford:Oxford University Press

  • Railton, P. (1984). “Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality,”Philosophy &Public Affairs13:2:134–171

  • Ross, W. D. (1988). The Right and The Good. New York: Hackett Pub Co Inc

    Google Scholar 

  • Scanlon, T. (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Scheffler (1982). The Rejection of Consequentialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Schukraft (2020). “Comparisons of Capacity for Welfare and Moral Status Across Species,” Rethink Priorities: https://www.rethinkpriorities.org/blog/2020/5/16/comparisons-of-capacity-for-welfare-and-moral-status-across-species

  • Sebo, J. (2022). Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves. Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sebo, J. (2017). Agency and Moral Status. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 14(1), 1–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sidgwick, H. (2014). The Methods of Ethics. New York: The MacMillan Company

    Google Scholar 

  • Swanton, C. (2005). Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View. Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeff Sebo.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sebo, J. Kantianism for humans, utilitarianism for nonhumans? Yes and no. Philos Stud (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-022-01835-0

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-022-01835-0