Radicalesbians and Nietzsche: Slave Morality and the Uberfrau

From among the multitude of political and social activist movements of the 1960-70’s emerged the radical feminist group Radicalesbians. Radicalesbians were radical in the sense that they sought to radically transform the conditions of existence for women and they were lesbians in the sense that they viewed loving relationships between women, not necessarily sexual relationships, as necessary for a true feminist movement. In the article “The Woman-Identified Woman[1],” Radicalesbians first demonstrate how “woman” has been defined solely in relation to “man” and secondly demonstrate how “woman” can be redefined from the perspective of woman. In this sense, Radicalesbians draw our attention to how society and cultural feminism has created and propagated Friedrich Nietzsche’s slave morality in regard to the dominated class of women. Further, Radicalesbians offer insight into how women can overcome Nietzsche’s slave morality in order to authentically redefine and create themselves to become Überfrau.[2]

Radicalesbians’ “The Woman-Identified Woman”

Radicalesbians begin by defining what a lesbian is. A lesbian, according to the feminist group, is any woman who seeks to be a “freer human being than her society” commands by having “not been able to accept the limitations and oppression laid on her by the most basic role of her society – the female role.”[3] The term lesbian is used in “a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy” in order to define and sustain gendered sex roles through assigning appropriate roles and punishing deviation from those roles.[4] Radicalesbians state “Those sex roles dehumanize women by defining us as a supportive/serving caste in relation to the master caste of men.”[5] “Lesbian” is linguistic weaponry used against “any woman who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives […], who dares to assert the primacy of her needs” in order to command acquiescence to gendered social norms.[6] Deviation from sexual social norms is not only met with this label, but also “any woman who was successful, independent, not orienting her whole life about a man” would find herself labeled a lesbian.[7] “Woman,” the gendered role, is essentially defined relationally as being merely an object to be used sexually by “man.”[8]

In a male dominated sexist society where gendered sex roles define “woman” as merely an object to be used sexually by men, women who give “primacy to anything other than men and family” are labeled as being not a “real woman” and such a designation manipulates women’s actions through the use of gender roles in order to enforce domination.[9] In other words, in a society where a woman is merely an object to be used sexually by men, women who try to assert their humanity and autonomy are shamed into acquiescing to their socially defined objectified and dominated position. Women need to “begin disengaging from male-defined response patterns,” because “if we are male-identified in our heads, we cannot realize our autonomy as human beings.”[10]

Women have been socialized in a male-oriented system and as such have “internalized the male culture’s definition of” womanhood.[11] To be a woman has been to be a relation to man, defined by man in order to be used by man to suit man’s purposes (sexually and otherwise) and this objectified “slave status” legitimizes women in society.[12] To be a woman has been to be a non-person. To be a woman needs to be defined solely from the perspective of women, a definition free from the dependency on the male-oriented system, with the aim of affirming the personhood of women.[13] Such a revolutionary redefining of “woman” can only occur through women; “Only women can give to each other a new sense of self. That identity we have to develop with reference to ourselves, and not in relation to men.”[14] The redefinition of what it is to be a woman needs to break free of the male-oriented system in order to reject all male-centered definitions that necessarily place women in objectified roles, sexual or otherwise.

Cultural Feminism and Nietzsche’s Slave Morality

Radicalesbians are indeed proposing a radical and revolutionary redefining of womanhood. It is not merely a redefining of feminine values through an inversion of the male-oriented value system, but an entirely new creation of values oriented around womanhood. Ellen Willis points out how radical feminism morphed into a cultural feminism whereby feminists tried to redefine themselves by inverting the male-oriented value system. Ellis states:

The “female values” cultural feminists proclaimed […] were none other than the traditional feminine virtues. Once again we were alleged to be loving, nurturing, in tune with nature, intuitive and spiritual rather than genital in our eroticism, while men were violent, predatory, alienated from nature, committed to a sterile rationalism and obsessed with genital sex […] Thus “radical feminism” came full circle, from challenging the polarization of the sexes to affirming it and even embracing a reverse sexism.[15]

What Ellis is describing of cultural feminism is nothing more than Nietzsche’s slave morality. Nietzsche states:

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself”; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye – this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself – is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all – its action is fundamentally reaction.[16]

In embracing as good the “womanly” virtues as defined and propagated by a male-oriented society, cultural feminism simply inverts the already created system. Cultural feminists are dominated within the male-oriented system and as such are denied true creative capacity. Their capacities are hindered by the already constructed system from which they have emerged. Instead, they take the values given to them and call these values truly good while at the same time calling the dominating values bad. Such a value inversion asserts the already defined values associated with “woman” are truly good because they are different from the dominating values defined as associated with “man.” Further, cultural feminism’s creation of values through inversion can only occur within a hostile, male-oriented, external system. In other words, cultural feminists are still defining “woman” in relation to “man” instead of affirming womanhood from the perspective of itself. Such a move cannot give women autonomy. It valorizes the very attributes that make women useful to men as objects and it perpetuates the male-oriented value system.

Nietzsche asserts “Slave morality is essentially a morality of utility” in that “qualities are brought out […] which serve to ease existence for those who suffer” and “pity, the complaisant and obliging hand, the warm heart, patience, industry, humility, and friendliness are honored – for here these are the most useful qualities and almost the only means for enduring the pressures of existence.”[17] Further, the dominated give themselves “the appearance of being the only permissible kind of [human], and glorifies [their] attributes, which makes [them] tame, easy to get along with, and useful to the herd, as if [their attributes] were the truly human virtues.”[18] The cultural feminist values Ellis noted are glorified, seen as the only permissible values and make women more complaisant to defined gender roles. Psychologists Shannon K. McCoy and Brenda Major have found that the practice of assigning positive values to a lower status group, or positive stereotyping, simultaneously “reinforces the belief” that lower status groups “are best suited for subordinate roles” while justifying the high status group’s position in the status hierarchy.[19] Such a practice “allows low status group members to feel good about their group identity while simultaneously keeping them from attempting to advance in the status hierarchy.”[20] The values advocated by cultural feminism are useful to women by easing the pain of dominated existence. The values are useful to a male-oriented society by assigning women a more passive and complaisant role. Ultimately, the values are useful to a male-oriented society in perpetuating domination because women take on a role more accommodating to objectification.

Pierre Bourdieu points out “It must never be forgotten that the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated ‘aesthetic’ which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics.”[21] Bourdieu is explaining how the dominated define themselves, make value judgments, in relation to the dominant which is similar to Nietzsche’s slave morality.[22] Bourdieu explains how in a system of domination, the dominant define the terms of and assign what is taken to be objective values.[23] Socialization instills in both the dominant and the dominated a sense that the values are indeed objective.[24] The dominated then define themselves in accordance with what the dominant have deemed to be objective values.[25] The dominated take the defined values as objective then assign worth to themselves based on those values.[26] The dominated by accepting such a definition of themselves condemn themselves to the objective values defined by the dominant and thus consent to and perpetuate their own domination.[27]

Linda Alcoff would appear to agree with Bourdieu. Alcoff asserts, in line with Alice Echols, cultural feminism’s “effect is to ‘reflect and reproduce dominant cultural assumptions about women,’ which not only fail to represent the variety in women’s lives but promote unrealistic expectations about ‘normal’ female behavior.”[28] Further, Alcoff states “There is a self-perpetuating circularity between defining women as essentially peaceful and nurturing and the observations and judgments we shall make of future women and the practices we shall engage in as women in the future.”[29] In line with Bourdieu, Alcoff asserts to take the “womanly” values as defined by the male-oriented dominant society and promote these values as being objectively inherent and of higher worth is to perpetuate the domination of women by manipulating women’s actions and perceptions to be in accord with such values. The values advocated by cultural feminism are indeed beautiful values, but such values have been formed out of utility in response to domination. Alcoff is clear about the dangers of cultural feminism to the feminist movement. Alcoff asserts women, as other oppressed groups, developed positive attributes in order to adapt to their domination.[30] Cultural feminism’s valorization of attributes developed under oppression promotes the conditions of existence of domination and reinforces sexist oppression by promulgating the “the belief in an innate ‘womanhood’ to which we must all adhere lest we be deemed either inferior or not ‘true’ women.”[31]

While the values promoted by cultural feminism are positive and should be promoted in society, to promote such values as inherently tied to the gender of “woman” is a dangerous mistake. Such values were formed out of utility in response to domination in order to ease the pain of existence and ensure self-preservation. The promulgation of such values as inherent only serves to perpetuate the dominating conditions of existence that gave rise to them. Such values reinforce the status quo of the male-oriented system and manipulate women’s actions by coaxing women into behavioral acquiescence to socialized gender roles in fear of being deemed inadequate. Thus cultural feminism is not the radical and revolutionary redefinition of “woman” required to radically change the conditions of existence for women.

Nietzsche’s Überfrau

            Radicalesbians revolutionary redefinition of “woman” cannot come from an inauthentic value inversion of the male-oriented value system. Women must define and create themselves in order to achieve autonomy. So, the ultimate question is: How do women define woman from the perspective of woman? Radicalesbians asserted the redefinition of woman can only occur through only women in relation to each other and themselves. Admittedly, I do not have a complete answer to this crucial and complicated question. However, whatever the solution, I propose it must originate from Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch. Nietzsche’s Übermensch is an authentic, self-creating, and autonomous individual who rejects slave morality in favor of a self-affirming morality. Such a noble morality, states Nietzsche, “develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself” and “acts and grows spontaneously, it seeks its opposite only so as to affirm itself more gratefully and triumphantly.”[32] Richard Schacht explains Nietzsche envisioned “exceptional human beings capable of an independence and creativity elevating them above the level of the general human rule […] and through Zarathustra proclaimed the Ubermensch […] to be ‘the meaning of the earth,’ employing this image to convey the ideal of the overcoming of the ‘all-too-human’ and the fullest possible creative ‘enhancement of life.’”[33]

Such exceptional human beings are not simply men. Ruth Abbey argues Nietzsche’s misogyny has been misread.[34] Abbey grants that Nietzsche alternates between appearing to advocate inherent gender attributes for both men and women and appearing to advocate historicized and socialized gender attributes.[35] Ultimately, however, Abbey asserts the self-creating capacity for Nietzsche resides in both men and women, but that women have been historically socialized to take on a more passive role thereby making it harder for women to overcome in order to self-create.[36] Lewis Call argues Nietzsche’s criticism of women originate from his criticism of the Enlightenment. Call asserts the Enlightenment propagated a “tremendously dangerous concept of the female” based on the “ideal of freedom and emancipation” for both men and women and such an ideal “simultaneously reinforces the Enlightenment tradition from which it draws these ideas.” Nietzsche criticisms of women are the same criticisms he has of men in that “Both are corrupt, sick, and weak; neither can produce the kind of world Nietzsche desires.”[37] Call asserts a feminism that can produce the kind of world Nietzsche desires conceives of woman existing:

as a positive possibility, beyond the modernist mockeries that too often are all that can be seen of her. She is more an ideal than a reality, of course: “All at once we believe that somewhere in the world there could be women with lofty, heroic, and royal souls, capable of and ready for grandiose responses, resolutions, and sacrifices, capable of and ready for rule over men because in them the best elements of man apart from his sex have become an incarnate ideal” (Gay Science 70) […] these “lofty, heroic and royal souls” certainly seem far removed from Nietzsche’s misogyny. Stripped of her modernist dross, woman displays all the strength, the power that is so much a part of Nietzsche’s superior individual. There are hints of “Überfrau” As David Krell puts it, “The liberation of the woman in woman is to be something utterly new and unheard of: it is to be the very matrix of Übermensch” (30).[38]

As opposed to cultural feminism’s inauthentic value inversion of male-oriented definitions of “woman” and “man,” a noble and radical redefinition of woman would begin from womanhood affirming itself by creating for itself what it seeks to be. Woman redefined would only seek its opposite (as in what it seeks not to be) to reaffirm to itself the triumph of what it is, not to define itself. Nietzsche questions “Are you a new strength and a new right? A first motion? A self-propelling wheel?”[39] Woman redefined would originate from its own strength to offer a new conception of itself, solely propelled by its own force. It would not be an opposition force, its strength would not emerge as counter force and it would not be propelled to act as a counter force to the male-oriented system. A merely reactionary force is a dominated force. Nietzsche continues, “You call yourself free? I want to hear your ruling thought, and not that you have escaped from a yoke.”[40] Woman redefined is truly free in that it is ruled only by itself; its ruling thoughts are its own creations. Its thoughts are not dominated by remnants of the historicized and socialized domination of gender roles. Nietzsche questions again, “Can you give to yourself your evil and your good and hang up your will above yourself as law? Can you be judge for yourself and avenger of your law?”[41] Woman redefined would be a surpassing of the socially defined good and evil in socially defined gender roles. It would define for itself its own attributes, thereby rejecting society’s characterization of such attributes as being masculine or feminine along with any associated value judgments with such a characterization. It is through such a radical and revolutionary redefinition of woman that the Überfrau emerges.

Conclusion

If Radicalesbians are correct in asserting women need to define womanhood from the perspective of women in order to overcome domination, then the slave morality value inversion of cultural feminism fails to provide a path to overcoming domination. Cultural feminism simply takes the values defined in a male-oriented system and inverts their value judgments. Nietzsche’s concept of the Überfrau offers a radical and revolutionary path to overcoming domination through autonomous self-creation and self-affirmation. Nietzsche’s Überfrau would be an autonomous self-creating individual who is truly free because their strength, values and thoughts all emerge from within themselves. What remains to be considered is the relation between individual Überfrau, women as a dominated group and the male-oriented society. Radicalesbians argued for autonomy for women and asserted “woman” needs to be redefined from the perspective of woman which could only be done through relationships between women.[42] Nietzsche’s Überfrau however is an individual process whereby the individual creates from only themselves. It could be argued that if individual autonomy for women is sought, then Radicalesbians is wrong to assert women ought to redefine themselves through relationships to women. However, women exist as both dominated individuals and as members of a dominated group within a male-oriented society. Nietzsche’s Überfrau offers a path for individual women to redefine themselves within a dominating society. Even if the domination of the group continues to exist, the Überfrau is the freest an individual woman can be in male-oriented society.


[1] Radicalesbians, “The Woman-Identified Woman,” Documents from the Women’s Liberation Movement , Duke University Special Collections Library, http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/womid/

[2] The use of this term is taken from Lewis Call, “Woman as Will and Representation: Nietzsche’s Contribution to Postmodern Feminism.” Call credits David Krell with the term.

[3] Radicalesbians, online.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. Radicalesbians state: “For in this sexist society, for a woman to be independent means she can’t be a woman – she must be a dyke […] It says as clearly as can be said: women and person are contradictory terms. For a lesbian is not considered a “real woman.” And yet, in popular thinking, there is really only one essential difference between a lesbian and other women: that of sexual orientation – which is to say, when you strip off all the packaging, you must finally realize that the essence of being a “woman” is to get fucked by men.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. Radicalesbians state: “By virtue of having been brought up in a male society, we have internalized the male culture’s definition of ourselves. That definition consigns us to sexual and family functions, and excludes us from defining and shaping the terms of our lives. In exchange for our psychic servicing and for performing society’s non-profit making functions, the man confers on us just one thing: the slave status which makes us legitimate in the eyes of the society in which we live. This is called “femininity” or “being a real woman” in our cultural lingo. We are authentic, legitimate, real to the extent that we are the property of some man whose name we bear. To be a woman who belongs to no man is to be invisible, pathetic, inauthentic, unreal. He confirms his image of us – of what we have to be in order to be acceptable by him – but not our real selves; he confirms our womanhood – as he defines it, in relation to him – but cannot confirm our personhood, our own selves as absolutes. As long as we are dependent on the male culture for this definition, for this approval, we cannot be free.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ellen Willis, “Radical Feminism and Feminist Radicalism,” Social Text, p. 112. Ellis discusses the conflict between lesbian feminist groups and heterosexual feminist groups; how lesbianism was promoted as the “vanguard” of feminism due to a full break with any association with men. Members of the group Radicalesbians advocated this view as well as a view that lesbian sexual relations were superior to heterosexual relations because heterosexual sexual relations were necessarily dominating. See Yamissette Westerband, http://sitemaker.umich.edu/lesbian.history/lesbian_feminism. I agree that women need to define and create their identities outside of the restrictive conditions of existence defined within the male-oriented society. However, I do not agree that heterosexual relationships are necessarily dominating and that only lesbians can truly be feminists. Heterosexual relationships may have historically been dominating due to the gender conditioning of males to uphold socialized gender roles, but just as women can redefine themselves by breaking out of gender roles, there is no reason to think men cannot break out of such gender roles also. If so, then there seems to be no reason why heterosexual relationships cannot be as loving and nurturing as lesbian relationships are claimed to be.

[16] Friedrich Nietzsche, “Genealogy of Morals,” Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann, pp. 472-73

[17] Ibid., “Beyond Good and Evil,” Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann, p. 397.

[18] Ibid., p. 301.

[19] Shannon K. McCoy and Brenda Major, “Priming Meritocracy and the Psychological Justification of Inequality,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43 (2007), p. 347.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Jugement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, p. 41.

[22] Although Bourdieu is referring to aesthetic value judgments, the parallels between aesthetic value judgments and gender value judgments as relates to domination seem, prima facie, as different outcomes of a slave morality sort of mentality because in both cases the dominated can only define themselves in relation to the dominant and as such invert the worth of the value judgments.

[23] Ibid., p. 471. Bourdieu asserts: “Dominated agents, who assess the value of their position and their characteristics by applying a system of schemes of perception and appreciation which is the embodiment of the objective laws whereby their value is objectively constituted, tend to attribute to themselves what the distribution attributes to them, refusing what they are refused […], adjusting their expectations to their chances, defining themselves as the established order defines them, reproducing in their verdict on themselves the verdict the economy pronounces on them, in a word, condemning themselves to what is in any case their lot, ta beautou, as Plato put it, consenting to be what they have to be, ‘modest,’ ‘humble’ and ‘obscure’. Thus the conservation of the social world is decisively reinforced by what Durkheim called ‘logical conformity’, i.e., the orchestration of categories of perception of the social world, which, being adjusted to the divisions of the established order (and thereby to the interests of those who dominate it) and common to all minds structured in accordance with those structures, present every appearance of objective necessity.”

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” Signs, p. 413.

[29] Ibid., pp. 413-414.

[30] Ibid., p. 414. Alcoff states: “Under conditions of oppression and restrictions on freedom of movement, women, like other oppressed groups, have developed strengths and attributes that should be correctly credited, valued, and promoted. What we should not promote, however, are the restrictive conditions that gave rise to these attributes: forced parenting, lack of physical autonomy, dependency for survival on meditation skills […] To the extent cultural feminism merely valorizes genuinely positive attributes developed under oppression, it cannot map our future long-range course. To the extent that it reinforces essentialist explanations of these attributes, it is in danger of solidifying an important bulwark for sexist oppression: the belief in an innate “womanhood” to which we must all adhere lest we be deemed either inferior or not “true” women.”

[31] Ibid.

[32] Nietzsche, p. 473.

[33] Richard Schacht, “Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm,” The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 616.

[34] Ruth Abbey, “Beyond Misogyny and Metaphor: Women in Nietzsche’s Middle Period,” Journal of History of Philosophy, 34:2, April 1996, pp. 233-256.

[35] Ibid., p. 238; 248.

[36] Ibid., pp. 239-241; 246

[37] Lewis Call, “Woman as Will and Representation: Nietzsche’s Contribution to Postmodern Feminism,” Women in German Yearbook 11, 1995, p. 122.

[38] Ibid., p. 125.

[39] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 56.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] As noted earlier, I am taking these relationships to not just be sexual relationships. As Radicalesbians have noted, “Affixing the label lesbian not only to a woman who aspires to be a person, but also to any situation of real love, real solidarity, real primacy among women, is a primary form of divisiveness among women: it is the condition which keeps women within the confines of the feminine role, and it is the debunking/scare term that keeps women from forming any primary attachments, groups or associations among ourselves” (online).

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Kantian Vegetarianism: From Pyrrhonian Skepticism to Justification for Belief

Immanuel Kant argued humans have indirect moral duties to animals because animals have only extrinsic value. [i] Animals do not have intrinsic value because they are not rational and willing beings.[ii] A being must have intrinsic value in order for other beings to have direct moral duties to the being. Humans are rational and willing beings, thus humans have intrinsic value. If one were to be cruel to animals, then one would be more likely to be cruel to humans. Thus, humans have a duty to not be cruel to animals in order to observe their duty to not be cruel to humans. Animals have merely extrinsic value in this regard because their value is merely a means to the end of observing the intrinsic value of humans.

I will argue Kant’s metaphysics, epistemology and ethics supports vegetarianism, despite there being no evidence Kant was a vegetarian and there being vast amounts of evidence Kant viewed animals as unworthy of the moral consideration granted to humans.[iii] In order to make this argument, I will begin with a discussion of rationality and Kant’s ethical theory.[iv] Next, I will demonstrate how Kant’s metaphysics, in accord with Pyrrhonian skepticism, leads to equipollence when applied to the issue of animal rationality.[v] Given the lack of knowledge on the issue of animal rationality, we are rationally led to the suspension of judgment (epoché) regarding the issue. However, I will demonstrate how the unification of theoretical reason and practical reason under the Categorical Imperative serves as a guide for our beliefs and actions, thus provides non-epistemic subjectively sufficient justification for beliefs and actions.[vi] Finally, I will demonstrate how the Categorical Imperative provides moral, non-epistemic, subjectively sufficient justification for the belief in and act of vegetarianism.

I. Rationality and Kant’s Ethics

The concept of rationality is not a settled issue. For instance, practical rationality has been distinguished from theoretical rationality.[vii] Practical rationality is considered goal oriented and problem solving capabilities whereas theoretical rationality is considered the ability to think abstractly.[viii] Kant’s definition of rationality encompasses humanity’s ability to reason and will via autonomous choice.[ix] Both humans and animals act practically based on incentives and principles.[x] Incentives are what motivate acts, whereas principles are the guidelines for how to act when presented with a motivation.[xi] For example, if a being is presented with the incentive of food and holds the principle of eating when it is hungry, then it will act by eating the food. To act on instinct is to respond in a way primitively and automatically intuited as appropriate given a particular incentive.[xii] Although instincts are inborn to some degree, they can also be learned from experience and thus a being can increase the number of appropriate ways they respond to given incentives.[xiii] Animals act from instinct in that they act unaware of the grounds of their actions.[xiv] Humans act self-consciously aware of the grounds of their actions.[xv] Humans are aware they are “inclined to act in a certain way” when presented with a particular incentive.[xvi] Animals would be aware of food and aware the food is to be eaten when they are hungry, but humans are aware that they eat the food because they have the principle of eating food when they are hungry.

Humans are uniquely aware of the principles which ground their acts and thus are uniquely able to question the morality of the principles from which they act.[xvii] Humans are also uniquely aware they are inclined to form theoretical beliefs based on attributing an evidential connection between objects via empirical perception.[xviii] Thus, humans are able to question whether the evidence provided via perception is sufficient reason for the belief.[xix] Rationality is the ability of humans to be aware of and question the principles grounding their instinctual beliefs and actions.[xx] Rationality makes it possible and necessary for humans to legislate their beliefs and actions based on the results of their questioning.[xxi] All beings with rationality subjectively deem their rational nature as being intrinsically valuable, which gives such determination an objective ground.[xxii] As such, all beings with rationality are obligated to promote and respect all other beings with rationality as having intrinsic value.[xxiii] Beings with rationality are the only beings worthy of direct moral consideration because they have “legislative wills” by which they participate in the process of creating and assigning value to themselves, their beliefs and their actions.[xxiv] In other words, animals do not reason and will. Unlike humans, animals do not question and legislate morality. They do not have the capacity to decide what is moral and act on it. Without this capacity, we are not obligated to treat them with the same moral consideration as humans.[xxv]

For Kant, humans ought to reason and will using the two formulations of the Categorical Imperative.[xxvi] The Categorical Imperative asserts one ought to universalize their maxim, or statement of the principle from which they act, in order to determine if they should commit the act. The universalization of maxims leads to two formulations of the Categorical Imperative. The first formulation of the Categorical Imperative states, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”[xxvii]  If the universalization of an action leads to a contradiction, such as a world which entails promises both do and don’t exist, then the action should not be committed. The second formulation of the Categorical Imperative asserts, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.”[xxviii]  Actions should always regard rational beings as having intrinsic value, as opposed to merely extrinsic value. For example, committing suicide would not result in a contradiction, but it would not be treating oneself as an end.

II. Kant’s Metaphysics, Pyrrhonian Skepticism and the Equipollence of Animal Rationality

II.1. Kant’s Antinomies

The moral status of animals in Kant’s ethics rests on the premise that animals are not rational. There is much dispute over what exactly rationality is and what cognitive faculties give rise to it.[xxix] Therefore, in studying rationality, researchers look for behaviors indicative of theoretical and practical rationality.[xxx] There is empirical evidence animals have displayed both types of rationality. Monkeys and birds have used tools to acquire food.[xxxi] Dolphins have displayed problem solving capabilities.[xxxii] Rats have displayed the ability to figure out how to open a container without previous training.[xxxiii] Gorillas have communicated via sign language thoughts about themselves as individuals and emotions about the past and future.[xxxiv] Monkeys have displayed behaviors indicative of knowing what other beings may be thinking.[xxxv] Dogs have displayed behaviors associated with recognizing fairness.[xxxvi] Rats and monkeys have displayed behaviors associated with altruism and empathy.[xxxvii]

One may assert such behaviors are simply instinctual, learned or mimicked. René Descartes argues animals are machines. Descartes asserts all animal actions can be reduced to mechanistic instincts, learned behaviors or mimicry because animals do not communicate thought associated with theoretical rationality.[xxxviii] One may assert such a response is anthropocentric question begging in that humans are defining the subjectively human concept of rationality based on human attributes and then expecting animals to be human-like in order to be granted moral consideration.[xxxix] Rationality becomes nothing but a human construct of human capabilities. However, the charge of anthropocentricism can go both ways. One may point out that to assert animals are displaying behaviors associated with human qualities, like emotions and morality, in order to grant them moral consideration is to inappropriately project humanness onto nonhuman beings.[xl] Descartes argument implies a very good point in that until we can access the minds of animals, for all we know they could just be acting on instinct, learned behavior or mimicry. The issue of how do we know if animals are rational is similar to the “problem of other minds.”[xli] The question can be examined by considering “How do we know other humans are rational?” We can have objectively sufficient grounds for knowing other humans are rational because we can extrapolate from our experiences of our cognitive faculties onto beings who share an extreme likeness to us.[xlii] But, could we extrapolate from our experiences onto animals? At what genetic point are animals enough like us for us to be able to do so and what makes us certain this point is the defining point? Any point we pick is going to be determined solely from a subjectively human perspective, thus runs into the risk of being anthropomorphic.

Instead, we can examine the issue using a method similar to Kant’s antinomies. Kant’s antinomies demonstrate how contradictions arise from metaphysical reasoning regarding concepts outside of our experience.[xliii] In the “mathematical antinomies,” Kant takes the disjunctive of the thesis and antithesis and reduces both to the absurd to demonstrate how both are false.[xliv] It is interesting how Pyrrhonian skepticism similarly seeks to limit what we think we can know by offering equally plausible contradictory claims, which for the skeptic invokes the epoché.[xlv] Kant uses the antinomies to make his case for transcendental idealism which seeks to define the limits of reason, thus rescue metaphysics from skepticism’s epoché. [xlvi] At the root of the issue regarding animal rationality is the metaphysical and epistemological claim that the human subjective experience of observing animals, their behaviors and physicality, guided by reason is enough to determine if animals are rational. Let us take the proposition “animals are not rational” as the thesis and its contrary as the antithesis for the disjunctive in order to examine the issue.

The thesis: Animals are rational. Humans are rational. Rationality is a cognitive faculty. Cognitive faculties give rise to specific behaviors. If both humans and animals are rational, then both humans and animals share some of the same cognitive faculties. If humans and animals share some of the same cognitive faculties, then they share some of the same specific behaviors. Specific behaviors are indicative of what a being is thinking. If humans and animals share some of the same specific behaviors, then humans would intuitively know what animals are thinking by observing animals’ specific behaviors that are the same as human behaviors.[xlvii] Humans study animal behaviors to try to determine what animals are thinking. Therefore, humans do not intuitively know what animals are thinking. Therefore, either humans are not rational or animals are not rational.  Humans are rational. Therefore, animals are not rational.

The antithesis: Animals are not rational. Humans are rational. Instincts are not rational. Animals act on instincts and humans act on instincts. Instincts are responses that are primitively and automatically intuited as appropriate given a particular incentive. Instincts are both inborn and learned responses to incentives. Instincts are automatic responses to incentives. Instincts are cognitive faculties; abilities of the mind. Rationality is the ability to be aware of and question the principles grounding one’s instinctual beliefs and actions. Rationality is both inborn and a learned behavior. Rationality is an automatic response to incentives (which rouses awareness and questioning of the grounds of principles). Rationality is a cognitive faculty; an ability of the mind. Rationality has the same primary characteristics as instincts and rationality fits the definition of instincts.[xlviii] Therefore, rationality is a type of instinct.[xlix] Therefore, to act rationally is to act on instinct, but to act on instinct is to not act rationally. Therefore, either instincts are rational or rationality is not a type of instinct. Rationality is a type of instinct. Therefore, instincts are rational. If animals act on instincts and instincts are rational, then animals are rational. Therefore, animals are rational.

The contradiction demonstrates how both propositions are false when examined through the use of reason. If both propositions lead to contradictions, then we are in a position to suspend judgment on the issue, as Pyrrhonian skeptics would.[l] Or, the disjunctive could be a false dichotomy, which means there could be another option.[li]

II.2. Kant’s Synthetic a Priori Judgments

In order to determine whether we should suspend judgment on the issue of animal rationality or investigate another option, we can examine another interrelated way to view Kant’s metaphysics in regard to the issue. This other approach involves Kant’s synthetic a priori judgments and the propositions “animals are not rational” and “animals are rational.” Kant details four kinds of judgments.[lii] Analytic a priori judgments are necessarily true and determinable as such by reference to the meaning of the words in the proposition via the use of cognitive faculties.[liii] “All cats are mammals” is an analytic a priori judgment. All analytic judgments are a priori because they are necessarily true.[liv] There are no analytic a posteriori judgments because analytic judgments are necessarily true by reference only to the meaning of the words whereas a posteriori judgments are contingently true depending on the facts of the matter.[lv] Synthetic a posteriori judgments are determined solely by empirical perceptions and are contingently true given the empirical facts.[lvi] “All cats are grey” is a synthetic a posteriori judgment. Synthetic a priori judgments are necessarily true, yet unable to be determined by our logical reasoning alone.[lvii] These judgments can be logically denied.[lviii] Empirical observations or contingent facts are insufficient to determine the meaning and truth of synthetic a priori judgments.[lix] Propositions in math and geometry are examples of synthetic a priori judgments. Synthetic judgments are deemed true based on intuitions, specifically, the pure intuitions of space and time.[lx] Space and time are necessary for human experience to be possible, but are also necessary for empirical experiences to be meaningful, thus are necessary for judgments regarding empirical experiences to be deemed true.[lxi] Therefore, synthetic a priori judgments are propositions which can only be true in conjunction with human experience.[lxii] Without human experience, such judgments would be “truth-valueless.”[lxiii]

So, where do judgments regarding animal rationality fit? Such judgments are not analytic a priori judgments because “not rational” (or “rational”) is not inherent in the word “animal.” Perhaps the judgments could have at one time been considered synthetic a posteriori judgments in that one could make such determinations based solely on the empirical facts presented by observing animals, facts which would contingently determine the truth of the judgment. However, given how empirical facts demonstrate that animals portray behaviors both indicative of and not indicative of practical and theoretical rationality, such judgments are not synthetic a posteriori judgments. Simply observing animal behaviors and physicality does not get us any closer to knowing if they are rational. Further, we cannot determine if animals are rational via our logical reasoning alone. The propositions “animals are not rational” and “animals are rational” can be logically denied. Thus, the judgments are not solely empirical judgments and are unable to be determined by logical reasoning alone. Therefore, it appears such judgments are synthetic a priori judgments.

The judgments animals are or are not rational would be “truth-valueless,” they would be neither true nor false. The reason being is because of the requirement of human experience. Synthetic a priori judgments can only be necessarily true in conjunction with human experience. In order for either of the propositions to be necessarily true as a synthetic a priori judgment, humans must be able to experience via the pure intuitions of space and time animal cognitive faculties. Humans cannot, at least at this time, experience via the pure intuitions of space and time animal cognitive faculties. Humans would have to retain their subjective position while obtaining direct access to animal cognitive faculties in order to do so.[lxiv] We would have to know what the animal’s cognitive faculties are by experiencing their cognitive faculties as they do.[lxv] Therefore, the propositions are truth-valueless.

In other words, subjective human experience is necessary in order to assign truth-value to either of the propositions regarding animal rationality. It is not enough for humans to simply observe animal physicality and behavior. Humans must somehow subjectively experience animal cognitive faculties, be the subject inside the mental workings of the animal. Unless this is possible, humans cannot know if animals are rational.[lxvi] Again, it seems we are at the Pyrrhonian skeptic’s epoché regarding the issue. However, what Kant’s synthetic a priori judgments demonstrate, is that there is another option. For Kant, such truth-valueless propositions can still rationally guide action in regard to morality.[lxvii] Also, as we will see, such truth-valueless propositions can still rationally justify belief.

III. The Epoché Regarding Animal Rationality, Practical Reason, Morality and Belief

Theoretically we have come to an impasse regarding knowledge of animal rationality. We have no objectively sufficient grounds, meaning no grounds probable to a moderate to high degree, to know one way or the other if animals are rational.[lxviii] However, the theoretical issue of animal rationality has direct practical and moral consequences for the way humans treat animals. The issue of particular importance for this paper is vegetarianism. Vegetarianism, broadly defined, is not killing an animal in order to eat it.[lxix] Kantian ethics firmly assigns moral worth to beings based on their rational capacity. If animals are rational, then the Kantian vegetarian has justification for moral judgments in favor of vegetarianism. If animals are not rational, then the moral case for vegetarianism using Kantian ethics becomes much harder to justify. If my argument is correct, Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology has demonstrated that given the limitations of our subjective experiences, we are not in a position to know if animals are rational. However, what we do know is that we do not know if animals are rational. Such an affirmation demonstrates how Kant sees himself as rescuing metaphysics (and by extension morality) from Pyrrhonian skepticism.[lxx] Sextus Empiricus asserts the true skeptic must not only suspend judgment on any particular dogmatic claim to knowledge, but they must also suspend judgment on their own epoché; the true skeptic says they do not know if they do not know.[lxxi] Kant sees having knowledge of what we do not know as a starting point upon which justified knowledge and belief can be built.[lxxii]

Once we know that we do not know, the interplay between theoretical reason and practical reason becomes emphasized. Practical reason guides our actions and “the supreme principle of practical reason” is the Categorical Imperative.[lxxiii] Practical reason has “primacy” over theoretical reason, meaning the interests of practical reason have privilege over the interests of theoretical reason.[lxxiv] Practical reason has primacy over theoretical reason because firstly, unlike theoretical reason, practical reason is independent from, thus is uncorrupted by, our subjective “pathological conditions” which allows it to avoid errors in judgment.[lxxv] Secondly, there must be a hierarchy between the forms of reason in order to avoid conflict, and practical reason being hierarchically higher is only appropriate because the interest of theoretical reason in obtaining truth and knowledge is ultimately practical.[lxxvi] Kant asserts human reason has an “undeniable need” to unify practical and theoretical reason.[lxxvii] The Categorical Imperative must be the supreme principle over the two forms of reason because the supreme principle over practical reason is the Categorical Imperative and practical reason has primacy over theoretical reason.[lxxviii] The Categorical Imperative is the “common principle” unifying practical and theoretical reason.[lxxix]

If the Categorical Imperative is the supreme principle over both forms of reason, then the dictate of the Categorical Imperative would also apply to the interests of theoretical reasoning.[lxxx] The dictate would assert one ought to believe a proposition only when such a belief can be universalized without contradiction or without conflicting with treating rational beings as ends in themselves.[lxxxi] Reason, guided by the Categorical Imperative, offers us a guide to action and belief. The Categorical Imperative is a both a practical, moral, guide and a theoretical, epistemic, guide. Moral grounds (i.e. practical reasons) offer sufficient justification for our assent, or “taking-to-be-true,” of belief when theoretical reason fails to provide us with sufficient evidence that would allow us to offer our assent of knowledge to one claim over its contrary.[lxxxii] The subjective sufficiency of moral grounds comes from the non-epistemic merits of achieving unified knowledge or moral coherence.[lxxxiii]

 IV. The Categorical Imperative and Vegetarianism

In light of the inability of humans to know if animals are rational we cannot assent to knowledge of the fact of the matter, but we can use the Categorical Imperative to guide our beliefs and actions. Actions are deemed moral and beliefs are epistemologically justified when guided by the supreme principle of reason. As practical reason and theoretical reason are unified under the Categorical Imperative, moral considerations offer sufficient justification for belief in a proposition. So, how does the Categorical Imperative apply to vegetarianism?  Recall vegetarianism is defined broadly as not killing an animal to eat it. Also recall the Categorical Imperative asserts one must act or believe only when such an act or belief can be universalized without contradiction or without conflicting with treating rational beings as ends in themselves. The problem, we have found, is the Categorical Imperative assigns moral worth to rational beings, but we do not know if animals are rational. Therefore, we must universalize the act and belief in a way that takes into account our lack of knowledge regarding animal rationality.

To examine vegetarianism let us consider the maxim: I will kill animals to eat them despite not knowing if they are rational. What is interesting about this maxim is it results in a disjunctive because of the inability to know if animals are rational. In order to fully examine the issue, we must take into consideration both sides of the disjunctive. However, a conjunctive arises because both sides of the disjunctive must fit the two requirements of the Categorical Imperative in order to justify the act.

If humans were able to subjectively be in the mind of animals, we would find either animals are rational or they are not rational. If animals are rational and we universalize killing to eat them, it would not result in a contradiction. Everyone can eat animals, or other humans for that matter, without contradiction. The universalization of killing rational beings to eat them does not entail a world where killing to eat and not killing to eat exist at the same time. At most it would entail a world where killing to eat no longer exists because every other rational being has been killed and eaten.  However, if animals are rational and we universalize killing them to eat them, then it does conflict with treating rational beings as ends in themselves. To treat a rational being as an end in themselves is to respect them. Respecting rational beings is to promote their rationality, but to kill them to eat them is to take away their rationality. Therefore, if animals are rational, we cannot universalize killing animals to eat them.

If animals are not rational and we universalize killing them to eat them, it would not result in any contradiction nor any conflict with treating rational beings as ends in themselves. We again seem to be at an impasse similar to Pyrrhonian equipollence. However, consider the maxim: I will not kill animals to eat them despite not knowing if they are rational. Again, let us look at both sides of the disjunctive to see if both of the conjuncts are satisfied. If animals are rational and we universalize the act of not killing them to eat them, then it would result in no contradiction nor conflict with treating rational beings as ends in themselves. If animals are not rational and we universalize the act of not killing them to eat them, then it would also result in no contradiction nor conflict with treating rational beings as ends in themselves. Everyone not killing animals to eat them does not entail a world where killing animals to eat them exists and does not exist at the same time, because it does not exist at all. Further, not killing animals to eat them even when animals are not rational does not conflict with treating rational beings as ends in themselves because it does not deny anyone rationality. While the first formulation of the maxim was inconclusive, both parts of the conjunctive for the second formulation were satisfied. Therefore, the Categorical Imperative provides practical, moral, justification for the act of vegetarianism. With the unification of the practical and the theoretical, the Categorical Imperative provides rational non-epistemic subjectively sufficient justification for the belief in the morality of vegetarianism.

V. Conclusion

In closing, I would like to draw attention to three passages in Chapter II: The Canon of Pure Reason of the Transcendental Doctrine of the Method at the end of the Critique of Pure Reason. In Section I of Chapter II, Kant discusses how theoretical reason reaches for knowledge beyond the empirical resources available to it.[lxxxiv] Particularly, theoretical reason does so in regard to freewill, the immortal soul, and God.[lxxxv] Kant argues the drive of reason to achieve knowledge of each of these topics must be practical because each of these in themselves are not necessary for knowledge.[lxxxvi] Hereafter, Kant states:

By ‘the practical’ I mean everything that is possible through freedom. When, however, the conditions of the exercise of our free will are empirical, reason can have no other than a regulative employment in regard to it, and can serve only to effect unity in its empirical laws […] In this field, therefore, reason can supply none but pragmatic laws of free action, for the attainment of those ends which are commended to us by the senses; it cannot yield us laws that are pure and determined completely a priori. Laws of this latter type, pure practical laws, whose end is given through reason completely a priori, and which are prescribed to us not in an empirically conditioned but in an absolute manner, would be products of pure reason. Such are the moral laws; and these alone, therefore, belong to the practical employment of reason, and allow of a canon.[lxxxvii]

Kant is speaking of the Categorical Imperative as a pure practical law. Later, in Section II, Kant presents us with three questions: What can I know? What ought I do? What may I hope?[lxxxviii] As far as what we can know, Kant directs us his metaphysics.[lxxxix] In regard to the next two questions, Kant asserts what we ought to do is tied up with what we may hope, but we ought to do what makes us worthy of happiness because it is repugnant to reason those who are unworthy of happiness are happy and those who are worthy of happiness are unhappy.[xc] If we do what makes us worthy of happiness, we may hope that we may attain happiness to the degree to which we are worthy of it.[xci] Kant proceeds to argue the only way one can hope for happiness it to believe in freewill, the immortal soul and God. Only when these three things are believed to exist, can practical and theoretical reason unite and guide moral, practical, action.[xcii]

In Section III, Kant distinguishes between various forms of opinion, knowledge and belief.[xciii] He contrasts doctrinal belief with moral belief. Doctrinal belief is firmly held and purely theoretical.[xciv] Such beliefs are held despite having no absolute practical necessity.[xcv] However, Kant states:

It is quite otherwise with moral belief. For here it is absolutely necessary that something must happen, namely, that I must in all points conform to the moral law. The end is here irrefragably established, and according to such insight as I can have, there is only one possible condition under which this end can connect with all other ends, and thereby have practical validity, namely, that there be a God and a future world […] I inevitably believe in the existence of God and in a future life, and I am certain that nothing can shake this belief, since my moral principles would thereby be themselves overthrown, and I cannot disclaim them without becoming abhorrent in my own eyes.[xcvi]

In regard to moral belief, Kant continues:

Thus even after reason has failed in all its ambitious attempts to pass beyond the limits of all experience, there is still enough left to satisfy us, so far as our practical standpoint is concerned. No one, indeed, will be able to boast that he knows that there is a God, and a future life […] No my conviction is not logical, but moral certainty; and since it rests on subjective grounds (of the moral sentiment), I must not even say, ‘It is morally certain that there is a God, etc.’, but ‘I am morally certain, etc.[xcvii]

The argument I have laid out in this paper asserts rationality is metaphysically akin to freewill, the immortal soul and God because it is beyond our subjective empirical experiences. We examine rationality (reason itself) using reason in the same way we examine freewill, the immortal soul and God; we do so not simply for knowledge, but ultimately for practical ends. We can have sufficient objective grounds in knowing other humans are rational because of their extreme likeness to us, but we do not have sufficient objective grounds to extrapolate our experiences in the same way onto animals. When we try to reason about animal rationality based on empirical observations of animal behaviors and physicality, we are led into contradictions and truth-valueless synthetic a priori judgments. Thus, when we make claims about animal rationality, we are reaching beyond the empirical resources available to our reason. We must be able to be a subject experiencing the animal’s cognitive faculties in order to know if they are rational. Knowing if animals are rational is practical in that it would guide our actions toward animals. Our reason bound by empirical observation of animal behavior and physicality cannot lead to practical moral laws of pure reason.

Further, for Kant, rationality is very nearly as important as freewill, the immortal soul and God because it is what holds his whole ethical theory together and gives beings moral worth. It is through rationality one acts autonomously and autonomous acts done in accord with the Categorical Imperative are what makes one worthy of happiness, a happiness regulated by God and awarded to one’s immortal soul. Moral belief must conform to the moral law as determined by the Categorical Imperative. Both of the two parts of the Categorical Imperative aim at the end of respecting rationality. Kant’s entire moral system falls apart without respect for rationality. The moral belief that one ought to not kill animals to eat them aims at the end of respecting rationality when we do not or cannot have sufficient objective grounds to assent to the knowledge of if animals are rational. Therefore, belief in vegetarianism is one of subjectively sufficient, non-epistemic, practical moral certainty.


[i] “If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, for the dog cannot judge, but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. (Kant, LE, 240)” Lori Gruen, “The Moral Status of Animals,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/moral-animal/&gt;.

[ii] Christine M. Korsgaard, “Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and our Duties to Animals,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Grethe B. Peterson (ed.), (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2004) Vol. 25/26, pp. 79-110 or <http://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_documents/a-to-z/k/korsgaard_2005.pdf >.

[iii] For this argument I utilize many interpretations of Kant’s work. Kant’s work does not easily lend itself to one interpretation, thus interpretations of his work have always been disputed. My argument may or may not apply to different interpretations of his work. My argument is intended to offer a broad conceptualization of how Kantianism supports vegetarianism. I will not be able to argue the specifics for or against any particular interpretation of his work within the scope of this paper. I will, however, argue Kant’s theories lead us to a different conclusion regarding animal rationality than what he explicitly advocated.

[iv] This portion of the argument is based on work by Christine M. Korsgaard.

Christine M. Korsgaard, “Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and our Duties to Animals,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Grethe B. Peterson (ed.), (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2004) Vol. 25/26, pp. 79-110 or <http://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_documents/a-to-z/k/korsgaard_2005.pdf >.

[v] This portion of the argument is based primarily on work by Michael N. Forster, Michelle Grier and Robert Hanna.

Michael N. Forster, “Kant and Skepticism,” online, <http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/files/forster/KantSkept2.pdf&gt;.

Michelle Grier, “Kant’s Critique of Metaphysics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/kant-metaphysics/&gt;.

Robert Hanna, “Kant’s Theory of Judgment,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming, <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/kant-judgment/&gt;.

[vi] This portion of the argument is based primarily on work by Andrew Chignell and Garrath Williams.

Andrew Chignell, “The Ethics of Belief,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/ethics-belief/&gt;.

Andrew Chignell, “Kant’s Concepts of Justification,” Noûs, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2007) Vol.41:1, pp. 33-63.

Garrath Williams, “Kant’s Account of Reason,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/kant-reason/&gt;.

[vii] Kristin Andrews, “Animal Cognition,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/cognition-animal/&gt;.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Korsgaard, pp.80-81.

[x] Ibid. p. 83.

[xi] Ibid. pp. 83-84.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid. pp. 84-85.

[xiv] Ibid. p. 85.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid. pp. 85-86.

[xviii] Ibid. p. 86.

[xix] Ibid. pp. 85-87.

[xx] Ibid. p. 87.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid. p. 92; Korsgaard does not use the term “intrinsically valuable,” or any variation thereof. Instead she uses variations of “end-in-itself.” I am taking the two terms to be equivalent, despite possible arguments denying such is appropriate. The reason I am equating the two terms and using the former instead of the latter is because Korsgaard’s argument requires her to distinguish “intrinsic value” from “end-in-itself” and my argument does not require such a distinction. Further, for my argument the term “intrinsic value” more aptly conveys the way humans subjectively confer value on themselves-a point which will be relevant later in my argument.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p. 91.

[xxv] Korsgaard proceeds to offer an argument for duties to animals based on a distinction between an end-in-itself being a “source of legitimate normative claims” and an end-in-itself as being one who can “give the force of law to his claims, by participation in moral legislation.” This distinction leads Korsgaard to argue, similar to Tom Regan, that animals are as Regan states “subjects of a life” that matters to them. Tom Regan, “Animal Rights, Human Wrongs,” Environmental Ethics, Eugene C. Hargrove (ed.), (Denton, TX: Center for Environmental Philosophy, Summer 1980) Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 99-120. Korsgaard asserts animals are unable to participate in moral legislation. However, they are a source of obligatory normative claims because an animal “matters to itself, for it pursues its own good for its own sake.” She asserts humans share this with animals and humans “legislate that the natural good of a creature who matters to itself is the source of normative claims.” I do not address this part of Korsgaard’s argument because my argument proceeds in a different direction than Korsgaard’s.

[xxvi] Ibid. p. 87

[xxvii] Immanuel Kant, “Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Classics of Moral and Political Theory, Michael L. Morgan (ed.), (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011) p. 962.

[xxviii] Immanuel Kant, “Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Classics of Moral and Political Theory, Michael L. Morgan (ed.), (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011) p. 966.

[xxix] Andrews, online.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Julia Cort, “How Smart Are Animals?” NovaScienceNow, Hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Web, <http://video.pbs.org/video/1777525840/&gt;.

[xxxiii] Michael Bicks & Anna Lee Strachan, “What Are Animals Thinking?” NovaScienceNow, Hosted by David Pogue, Web, <http://video.pbs.org/video/2299746925/&gt;.

[xxxiv] David Malakoff, “A Conversation with Koko,” NATURE, in association with The Gorilla Foundation, Web, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/koko/.

[xxxv] Cort, online.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] René Descartes, “Animals are Machines,” Animal Rights and Human Obligations, Tom Regan and Peter Singer (eds.), (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989) pp. 16-19.

[xxxix]  This argument is a modified version of an argument by Paul Taylor: “It is not difficult here to recognize a begging of the question. Humans are claiming human superiority from a strictly human point of view, that is, from a point of view in which the good of humans is taken as the standard of judgment…To use only standards based on human values is already to commit oneself to holding that humans are superior to nonhumans, which is the point in question.” Paul Taylor, “The Ethics of Respect for Nature,” Environmental Ethics: An Anthology, Andrew Light and Holmes Rolston III (eds.), (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003) pp. 79-80. Taylor questions why rationality is the standard to judge other beings by in order to grant them moral consideration. I am questioning why human rationality conceived of from a human perspective is the standard to judge other beings by in order to grant them moral consideration.

[xl] Andrews, online.

[xli] This is a modification of the problem of other minds detailed by William Jaworksi. The traditional formulation of the problem of other minds deals with minds and consciousness. William Jaworski, Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) pp. 17-18.

[xlii] This is a modification of the “argument from analogy” Andrews offers online. It should be noted, I haven’t found any evidence Kant ever explicitly spoke of the problem of other minds, thus that he ever offered a response to it. In regard to the mind, Andrew Brook asserts, Kant’s “official view has to be: nothing — about the mind’s structure and what it is composed of, at any rate, we can know nothing…[However,] Kant in fact held that we do have knowledge of the mind as it is. In particular, we know that it has forms of intuition in which it must locate things spatially and temporally, that it must synthesize the raw manifold of intuition in three ways, that its consciousness must be unified, and so on.” Andrew Brook, “Kant’s View of the Mind and Consciousness of Self”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/kant-mind/&gt;. Kant’s position was that we can know how the cognitive faculties of the mind work because in order for us to experience the world as we do, the cognitive faculties must work how he argued they work. Kant also argued all rational beings see themselves as rational. Putting these two concepts together, one has a plausible argument for a Kantian response to the problem of other minds which would go something like the argument from analogy offered by Andrews.

[xliii] Forster, online; Grier, online; Matt McCormick, “Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2005), James Fieser and Bradley Dowden (eds.), <http://www.iep.utm.edu/kantmeta/&gt;.

[xliv] Grier, online.

[xlv] Forster, online.

[xlvi] Ibid. Forster asserts Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, was in response to and intended to rescue metaphysics from both Pyrrhonian and Humean skepticism. Kant ultimately does so by demonstrating how (1) metaphysics can guide us to obtain some forms of knowledge via a priori synthetic judgments and (2) we can obtain knowledge of what we cannot know, thus what should be excluded from metaphysical inquiry. My argument will focus on these two aspects in order to demonstrate how animal rationality is not something we can know via subjective experiences observing animal behavior and physicality.

[xlvii] This premise is probably the most debatable. People do have the ability to know what other people are thinking by observing their facial expressions and body language. Whether this is intuitive or learned through social conditioning is not a scientifically settled issue. However, such a skill is present, to various degrees, in the vast majority of humanity. Humans cannot with such skill determine what animals are thinking.

[xlviii] This is a disputable and crucial premise. Although Kant (and Korsgaard) would probably disagree, his conception of rationality implies this premise. To explain this premise further, rationality is the ability to be aware of and question the principles grounding one’s instinctual beliefs and actions. Instincts are responses that are primitively and automatically intuited as appropriate given a particular incentive. Rationality, the ability, is a response that is primitively and automatically intuited as appropriate given a particular incentive that allows humans to be aware of and question the principles grounding their instinctual beliefs and actions (including rationality itself). Rationality is not an activity we come to perform after considering it and learning how to do it. We just do it, automatically. We can learn to be more rational, thus increase the ways in which we respond rationally, but it is something inborn. It is primitively ingrained in us, thus intuited as an appropriate response to incentives. Korsgaard mentions it is most likely there are degrees of rationality. Rationality being an instinct in the ways I have just suggested would, at least prima facie, be why there are degrees of rationality.

[xlix] This premise is highly disputable. Based on the explanation of instincts and rationality offered by Korsgaard as outlined in section I, it is highly doubtful Kant would assert this because Kant clearly wants to distinguish instinct and rationality as being distinct and separate. However, based on the previous premises which do align with Kant, and Korsgaard’s explanation of Kant, this premise seems to follow. One could argue against this premise by asserting rationality is a uniquely human instinct. However, such a claim would open itself up to the rebuttal of anthropocentric question begging.

[l] Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, online, <http://www.sciacchitano.it/pensatori%20epistemici/scettici/outlines%20of%20pyrronism.pdf&gt;. “22. ‘I withhold Assent’ We use ‘I withhold assent’ as short for ‘I am unable to say which of the alternatives proposed I ought to believe and which I ought not believe,’ indicating that the matters appear equal to us as regards credibility and incredibility. As to whether they are equal, we maintain no firm opinion, but we do state what appears to us to be the case about them when that appearance affects us. And withholding assent [epochè] is so called from the intellect’s being held back [epechesthai] in such a way as neither to assert nor deny, because of the equipollence of the matters in question.”

[li] Grier, online.

[lii] Hanna, online. Prior to Kant judgments were postulated as being only a priori or a posteriori. A posteriori judgments are determined solely by empirical perceptions and/or are contingently true depending on the facts of the matter. A priori judgments are determined solely by cognitive faculties and are necessarily true. Kant introduced analytic and synthetic judgments. Analytic judgments are true given the meaning of the words in the proposition. The subject is contained in the predicate thus such judgments are necessarily true. Synthetic judgments are contingently true given the empirical facts; they are proposition based on intuitions (“singular,” “sense-related,” “object-directed representations” dependent upon the object which refer directly to the object).

[liii] Ibid.

[liv] Ibid.

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] Ibid; “Now since according to Kant our a priori formal representations of space and time are both necessary conditions of the possibility of human experience and also necessary conditions of the objective validity or empirical meaningfulness of judgments, which in turn confers truth-valuedness upon propositions, it then follows that a synthetic a priori judgment is a proposition that is true in all and only the humanly experienceable possible worlds and truth-valueless otherwise (Hanna 2001, 239–245) […] since synthetic a priori judgments are either true or truth-valueless in every logically possible world, it also follows that they are never false in any logically possible world and thus satisfy Kant’s general definition of a necessary truth, i.e., that a proposition is necessary if and only if it is strictly universally true, in that it is true in every member of a complete class of possible worlds and has no possible counterexamples or falsity-makers (Hanna 2001, ch. 5). Less abstractly and gallumphingly put, a synthetic a priori judgment is a necessary truth with a human face.”

[lxiv] Cf. Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1974) Vol. 83, No. 4, pp. 435-450.

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] If we can’t know rationality, then it could be argued everything could potentially be rational; insects, plants, rocks. In response, I am not strictly saying this. I am saying, using Kant’s definition of rationality (i.e. ability to reason and will) we cannot say if animals reason and will based simply on their physicality and behaviors. The further we get from us (fish, insects, plants) the harder it is to conceive of the creature having the ability to reason and will. But first, we could remove rocks because they don’t act (as in respond to incentives) – their physical structure changes based on external (as in laws of physics) forces working upon them. Regarding plants, fish and insects, this becomes a litter harder to distinguish because they do act. The question for plants, fish and insects is if they reason – if they can think about the principles from which they act. Plants could also be removed because in order to think the creature must have at the very minimum a brain and a nervous system. Neither of which a plant has. Insects and fish have brains and nervous systems, so at this point is where my argument could have a problem. Contrary to mammals, I am unaware of any study that even remotely makes the claim that insects and fish, despite having brains and nervous systems, have the ability to think.  It could be argued it is not just brains and nervous systems that are required to think, but certain configurations and/or types of brain and nervous system events, events which are evident in humans. But, this is where my argument stands – that we cannot know for certain what those brain and nervous system events are for other creatures because we are using ourselves as the standard by which to judge creatures who are not extremely like us.

[lxvii] Hanna, online; “all judgments that are not objectively valid are “empty” (leer) or truth-valueless. Nevertheless, it must be noted that for Kant empty judgments can still be rationally intelligible and not in any way nonsensical, if all the concepts contained within them are at least logically consistent or “thinkable” (Bxxvi n.). In this way, e.g., some judgments containing concepts of noumenal objects (things-in-themselves, or real essences) or noumenal subjects (rational-agents-in-themselves, or persons) are empirically meaningless and truth-valueless, hence empty, yet also are rationally intelligible targets of what Kant calls “doctrinal” belief […] and even, at least from a certain Critical meta-philosophical standpoint, essential both to Kant’s theoretical metaphysics (A254–255/B309–310, A650–654/B678–682) and also to his practical metaphysics of freedom and morality (A530–558/B566–586).”

[lxviii] Chignell, “Kant’s Concepts of Justification,” p. 42. Chignell makes no claims regarding animal rationality, but offers an explanation of objectively sufficient grounds.

[lxix] Vegetarianism seems like an appropriate topic given that Kant’s duties to animals explicitly forbids cruelty to animals. So, on a prima facie reading of Kant, one can morally kill animals to eat them as long as they are not cruel to the animal in the process.

[lxx] Cf. Forster, online.

[lxxi] Sextus Empiricus, online. “23. ‘I Determine Nothing’ Concerning ‘I determine nothing’ we say the following. We think that ‘determining’ is not simply saying something but rather is putting forward and assenting to something non-evident. Thus, I suppose, the Skeptic will be found not to be determining anything, not even the slogan ‘I determine nothing’ itself. For that slogan is not a dogmatic opinion, that is, an assent to the non-evident, but rather it makes evident our pathos. Whenever the Skeptic says ‘I determine nothing,’ he is saying this: ‘I am now in such a state of mind as neither dogmatically to affirm nor deny any of the matters in question.’ And this he says, reporting what appears to him concerning the matters at hand, not dogmatically and confidently, but just as a description of his state of mind, his pathos.”

[lxxii] Williams, online.

[lxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxiv] Ibid; primacy is defined as “the prerogative of the interest of one insofar as the interests of others is subordinated to it.”

[lxxv] Ibid.

[lxxvi] Ibid; “’But if pure reason of itself can be and really is practical, as the consciousness of the moral law proves it to be [cf. §2.2 on the “fact of reason”], it is still only one and the same reason which, whether from a theoretical or a practical perspective, judges according to a priori principles; it is then clear that, even if from the first [theoretical] perspective its capacity does not extend to establishing certain propositions [e.g., the existence of God] affirmatively, although they do not contradict it, as soon as these same propositions belong inseparably to the practical interest of pure reason it [theoretical reason] must accept them.’ (5:121)”

[lxxvii] Ibid; “In the second Critique, Kant compares the book’s structure with the first Critique and comments: ‘such comparisons [are] gratifying; for they rightly occasion the expectation of being able some day to attain insight into the unity of the whole rational faculty (theoretical as well as practical) and to derive everything from one principle—the undeniable need of human reason, which finds complete satisfaction only in a complete systematic unity of its cognitions’ (5:91).”

[lxxviii] Ibid; Williams cites Onora O’Neill as making this point in regard to a “common principle” for reason.

[lxxix] Ibid.

[lxxx] Ibid; “Kant now says: think only in accordance with that maxim that could be a universal law. Differently put: thinking is an activity, and if the Categorical Imperative is indeed ‘categorical’ then it applies to all our activities.”

[lxxxi] This is a modified version of Williams’s explanation previously noted. I replaced Williams’s “think” with “believe.”

[lxxxii] Chignell, “The Ethics of Belief,” online; “practical reasons can provide adequate motivation for adopting a positive attitude towards a proposition (rather than suspending judgment) in the absence of sufficient epistemic grounds.” Chignell, “Kant’s Concepts of Justification.” p. 34.

[lxxxiii] Chignell, “Kant’s Concepts of Justification,” pp. 51-53; “A non-epistemic merit, on the other hand, is a property of an assent that makes it valuable or desirable for a subject-given her needs, interests, and goals-but which does not do so by way of indicating that the assent is probably true.” “Generally speaking, the goals, interests, and needs in question must somehow arise from what Kant thinks of as our rational nature (in its drive for unified knowledge, or its need for moral coherence, and so on).” Chignell also details objective sufficiency (probable to a moderate to high degree) and another form of subjective sufficiency (taking one’s grounds to be objectively sufficient), but neither apply to vegetarianism because of the metaphysical establishment of equipollence.

[lxxxiv] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Norman Kemp Smith (trans.), (New York City: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) 2nd Edition, A797/B825

[lxxxv] Ibid., A798/B826

[lxxxvi] Ibid., A799/B827 – A800/B828

[lxxxvii] Ibid., A800/B828

[lxxxviii] Ibid., A805/B833

[lxxxix] Ibid.

[xc] Ibid., A806/B834

[xci] Ibid., A805/B833 – A809/B837

[xcii] Ibid., A809/B837 – A818/B846

[xciii] For an excellent discussion and explanation of the various forms see Chignell, “Kant’s Concepts of Justification.”

[xciv] Kant, A825/B853

[xcv] Ibid., A826/B854

[xcvi] Ibid., A828/B856

[xcvii] Ibid., A829/B857

Argument for Social Change: Critical Analysis of Ideology

In order to enact lasting social changes, I argue we collectively need to focus on ideology. Ideology is a set of overarching, unified assertions about the way something is or ought to be. Political ideology, specifically, serves to justify the distribution of society’s resources; it justifies who gets what, when, where, why and how.  In order to make this argument, I will demonstrate how the dysfunction in American society we have studied this semester can be traced back to ideology, specifically liberal ideology. Liberal ideology posits four things; limited government, competitive individualism, private property, and free market economics. I conclude with practical solutions each and every person can do to focus on ideology and enact lasting changes.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/thu-december-5-2013-jorge-ramos Start: 1:30 Stop: 4:45

The themes in this clip are representative of the themes we have explored this semester; “more government assistance” (i.e. limited government), “empowerment over entitlement” (i.e. competitive individualism), “people are starving…about the economics of it” (i.e. free market, anti-regulation). Ernesto and Marin spoke of the fast food workers strikes to increase minimum wage as acts of democratic speech and Darrell spoke of needing to bridge the wage gap. Ernesto, Marin and Darrell are correct, but I think what they have pointed out stems from this: Consider the ideology of the American Dream. The American Dream asserts America is a meritocracy; that if you work hard enough you will be successful and you will advance your economic and social standing because in America there is equal opportunity. As the arguments in the Daily Show clip show, the American Dream ideology justifies low wages, because if you are working at a low wage job, you deserve it because you were not working hard enough or being competitive enough. Further, the argument asserts, we can’t force companies to raise wages because that is government interference in the free market and the free market is the key to amassing private property, just as long as you work hard enough. The American Dream ideology is directly tied to liberal ideology. It is by being a competitive individual in a free market that you can make lots of money and with a limited government you can keep more of your money (i.e. private property). The liberal ideology asserts America is a land of equality and opportunity and if you are poor it is your own fault because you were not competitive enough.

However, economist Joseph Stiglitz among others, has shown income inequality and social immobility are facts of American life. Stiglitz (The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future) has shown that the biggest determining factor by which a child’s future success can be judged is what socio-economic class the child was born into – poor kids stay poor and rich kids stay rich. Hartmann, Klein, and McChesney have shown how corporations have profited from unequal access to the government and media, shaping the laws and controlling access to information. Underneath it all, corporate behavior is justified as being competitive individuals with the aim of limiting government to the sphere of accommodating corporate interests to allow corporations to amass private property in a free market economy. In a society that accepts ideologies like the American Dream as being how America is and liberalism as how America ought to be, such corporate behaviors and inequality are justified. A study by psychologists Shannon K. McCoy and Brenda Major have shown that giving individuals “subtle cues” in favor of an ideology can “influence thoughts and behaviors” (“Priming Meritocracy and the Psychological Justification of Inequality,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43). McCoy and Major discovered if individuals are given a simple sentence unscramble task, with statements affirming the American Dream ideology, then the individuals are more likely to have “increased personal endorsement of meritocratic beliefs” when compared to those who were not given the task. For example, when both women and men were primed with statements affirming the American Dream ideology then placed in a situation where they were rejected for a job, women and men behaved in “system-justifying” ways.  Women, who are traditionally seen in society as having a lower status, justified the rejection by the male interviewer as being their own fault. Men, who are traditionally seen has having a higher status, claimed the rejection by the female interviewer was discrimination. What McCoy and Major’s research shows is that ideology shapes individuals’ beliefs about what is socially justified-it allows those in power to maintain power because those who are without power see it as their own fault that they have no power.

Jessica spoke of how corporations have influence in all areas of society and how corporate influence and ideology are a cycle feeding off each other. I agree with Jessica. However, corporate actions are justified by ideology, therefore, in order to gain a grassroots movement to try to revoke corporate personhood, we have to first change the ideology that has justified corporate personhood. William I think nailed it, when he said that the idea of liberalism allows corporations to gain momentum. The people who are already there, speaking out against corporate personhood, corporate welfare and corporate manipulation of the media are all the ones who do not agree with the four tenants of liberal ideology. Hartman, McChesney, Kinzer and Klein demonstrated how corporations have been working for generations to amass the power and influence they now have. What their arguments demonstrate is that no amount of change in the media, government or law is going to provide lasting results until the underlying ideology is questioned and changed.

Andy and Travis spoke of needing to teach citizens how to think critically and talk about politics. I agree with them completely. So, the question is, how specifically can we enact change? Being that lasting change can only arise from changing the ideology that justifies in a society who gets what, when, where, why and how, we need individually and collectively to start critically thinking about ideology and how it shapes us as individuals and us as a society. Then, we need to discuss politically the issue of ideology. Even more specifically, what is it that each and every one of us can do? We can start questioning ideology in our own lives; how it has shaped us, and then we can start speaking to others about ideology in their lives. We can go on Facebook and any news website that allows comments, and critically challenge ideological assumptions. We can write letters to editors of newspapers and magazines offering a critical examination of the ideology in any specific social or political issue along with the larger context of how that ideology fits into interconnected social issues. We can participate in our local governments by discussing and questioning the ideology behind political decisions. We can engage our families, friends, neighbors and anyone else who is willing in political discussions critically examining how ideologies have shaped us individually, socially and politically.

These changes are not going to be instant, broad, sweeping changes. These changes are going to have to take place over time and slowly, just under the surface of society. But, as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, these little behaviors will start small, gain a few people here and there, but then this ideological shift will exponentially hit a threshold, a critical mass, where the scales are tipped in favor of true and lasting change.