Date of Award

Spring 5-6-2021

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Classics, Philosophy, and Religion

Department Chair or Program Director

Romero, Joe

First Advisor

Reno, Michael

Major or Concentration

Philosophy (Pre-Law Concentration)


In recent years, a number of competing theories have arisen regarding the moral significance of animals to Kant’s deontology, which has traditionally been viewed as unsympathetic towards animals. Based on an overview of how Kant himself positions animals in his moral system, primarily in the Doctrine of Virtue and Lectures on Ethics, I argue that his distinguishing of animals from humans on the basis of rationality is supported, but not to the extent that we are prevented from having moral obligations to animals. One popular reading of Kant only allows us to have indirect duties to animals as they lack rational nature and legislative wills. However, I find that these claims can only give us weak duties to animals and rest on tenuous empirical evidence. Christine Korsgaard, James Rocha, and others have advanced alternate interpretations of Kantian ethics that give us direct duties. I argue that a direct duties interpretation such as Korsgaard’s, which uses an alternative value-based framework rather than positing that animals possess a rational nature, is preferable as it gives us stronger duties with less empirically based grounds than indirect duties interpretations. In addition, I conclude that it gives us a satisfactory answer to certain problems, such as marginal cases, that arise from a rational-animal reading.

Included in

Philosophy Commons