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


24 thoughts on “Kantian Vegetarianism: From Pyrrhonian Skepticism to Justification for Belief

  1. Your first statement is,”Immanuel Kant argued humans have indirect moral duties to animals because animals have only extrinsic value.”

    My question to you is, “What does it mean to say that someone ( A ) has more value than someone else ( B ) ? ” Please give some examples.

  2. Hi there ontologicalrealist. It seems to me that to say some being or object has intrinsic value is to say its value is derived solely from what it is (ontologically – which, granted, raises questions about what exactly this being or object “is”). To say some being or object has extrinsic value is to say its value is derived from external sources. Speaking strictly from a Kantian perspective, Kant argues only rational moral legislators have intrinsic value because only rational moral legislator can create and follow moral law. Ontologically speaking, what rational moral legislators are (i.e. creators and followers of moral law) justifies their intrinsic value for Kant (whether this is circular could be argued). Moral duties to rational moral legislators are direct due to their intrinsic value. Duties to animals, for Kant, are indirect in that the reason for treating animals well is not because animals are due respect simply for what they are, but because one harming animals makes it more likely that one will harm rational moral legislators. So, this is what is taken to be the Kantian starting position regarding extrinsic vs. intrinsic value of beings. Animals have extrinsic value because, for Kant, any moral value they have is simply due to external sources – i.e. the extension of moral duties to rational moral legislators. Speaking outside of the Kantian perspective, intrinsic and extrinsic value are arguably controversial. Particularly, what does “value” mean? “Useful”? If so, to whom and for what? And consequently does this make it then “instrumental” or even “relative” and is “instrumental” or “relative” consistent with “intrinsic”? Maybe “value” does not mean “useful,” but something else…

  3. Hi Betty,
    Perhaps my question was not clear. So please let me try to clarify:-
    1. My question is not about Kant’s ethics. It is about what you yourself think.
    2. My question is not about extrinsic or intrinsic values, it is simply about value.

    So please tell me that what do you think that what does it mean to say that A has more value than B? Please give some examples. Thank you.

    1. Hmm…well, I suppose I would go back to questioning what exactly is meant by “value.” It seems to me to say that an object (say this computer I am using right now) has more value than another object (say the blanket covering my legs) would be to say the computer is more useful to me at this moment, which perhaps also makes it more monetarily valuable. However, if I were outside camping in an area with no electricity nor WIFI, and it was very cold, then the blanket would have more value (i.e. utility) than the computer. Also, one blanket may have more value than another blanket if it is better as being a blanket (e.g. warmer) than the other blanket and what is needed at the time is a warm blanket. So, in this sense the utility of the objects give them value, but that value is entirely extrinsic and instrumental – thus, it is entirely subjective and relative. But, I would argue, when it comes to beings, the term itself and the question of what does it mean to say one *being* has more value than another already assumes a hierarchical structure – a structure that itself ought to be questioned. While hierarchical structures might be fine for objects, the application of hierarchical structures to living, thinking, feeling, and acting beings is a point of ethical concern. In other words, it seems to me the value of objects is subjective and relative, constructed by external (environmental, individual, social, and/or political) circumstances. But, when it comes to living, thinking, feeling, and acting beings, I reject the question of value because the question presupposes a hierarchical structure of life – a structure that needs to be further examined. Wow…that was a super long response. What do you think? Axiology and ontology go hand and hand, yes?

  4. Hi Betty,
    Thank you for your reply. It is indeed a pleasure to converse with you.
    I do agree with you that the value of a blanket (or any object) will vary according to different situations. This value also will always depend upon the question “value to whom?” Some thing which is of great value to one person may be of little or no value to another person. If there is one pound piece of gold it may be of much value to all humans but of no value to a tiger, the tiger may prefer to rather have one pound of meat. A piece of one pound of fools gold may be much valued by a person who thinks that it is gold (he may be ready to fight to death for it) but not by a gold smith who knows that it is not gold.

    The value of any object is not in the object but is only in the mind of the valuer (the subject).

    So, I do not understand that how can any object have intrinsic value. May be I am missing something? What do you think?

  5. Hello O.R. It is my pleasure to converse with you.

    I like your example of gold to a tiger. Gold is an excellent example of something that is relatively valuable. Regarding your other point, well, I am open to being wrong about this, but the value of an object being relative to the circumstance and individual seems to be consistent with the idea of extrinsic value – if extrinsic value is meant as value derived from outside of the object.

    But, I think you are right about intrinsic value. Intrinsic value seems problematic – if value is taken as “useful” – because then there would be something (someone) that (who) is “useful for its (their) own sake” – which seems contradictory. But, one may respond that this is merely a semantic complication, not a conceptual complication.

    Conceptually, there is nothing contradictory about saying that something (someone) ought to be respected, preserved, and/or sought after, simply for what it (they) is (are). But, the problem with saying such a thing is that we are then inclined to question what exactly the quality is that ought to be respected, preserved, and/or sought after. And,when we do this, we set up value hierarchies. And, value hierarchies mistake difference as justification for unequal ethical treatment, often in question-begging ways.

    Have you checked out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy? They have a couple of articles on this topic that offer different perspectives:

  6. Based on what we said before, to be consistent, the answer would be: it depends. It depends on the subject and the situation – it would seem. However, the caveat I would add, would be that the “meat” represents a life. Some being had to die for there to be “meat.” From the human perspective, and the moral perspective I would like to advocate, that being that had to die should not be considered an object whose extrinsic value fluctuates based on subject and situation. Whether or not the notion of “intrinsic value” makes sense, thinking, feeling, and acting life ought to be respected in and of itself.

  7. I could be wrong but I think that value, like beauty, resides in the eye(mind) of the beholder and NOT IN THE OBJECT.
    That is why I feel that it is not quite right to say that objects can have extrinsic value. If all the philosophy books and all the learned professors disagree with it, that does not matter.

    Let me try to clarify my meaning by giving a parallel case. I suppose that you know that when you see an apple and you perceive the color of the apple as red , then in reality the red color is not in the apple but is being supplied by you; the same apple will look blue to a dog and of some other color to a different species ( in case you do not know this, you can check any article on “color perception in different species” ).
    So in this case what is the true color of that apple? The answer is that the apple has no color, so it can not have any true color or false color at all. To say that the apple has no intrinsic color but only extrinsic color does not seem right. A change in perspective from the object to the subject is required.

    What do you think?

    Truth springs from argument among friends!

    1. Hmm…I wonder if we are equivocating on the definition of “extrinsic value.” Perhaps we disagree on what the definition is. I am taking extrinsic value to mean that the value of an object is not due to any properties the item has, but due to external (subjective) factors. What do you take extrinsic value to mean?

  8. Sorry for the late reply. By extrinsic value I mean what you mean, I think. I have not given as much thought to this question as you have.

    From this link which you had provided, I have cut out a part which comes close to my objections to the concept of ‘extrinsic value’. Specially the first paragraph below. In the second paragraph, “The answer can only be that we just do say that certain things are good, and others bad,” this is no justification at all.

    “Two questions arise. The first is whether so-called extrinsic value is really a type of value at all. There would seem to be a sense in which it is not, for it does not add to or detract from the value in the world. Consider some long chain of derivation. Suppose that the extrinsic value of A can be traced to the intrinsic value of Z by way of B, C, D… Thus A is good (for example) because of B, which is good because of C, and so on, until we get to Y’s being good because of Z; when it comes to Z, however, we have something that is good, not because of something else, but “because of itself,” i.e., for its own sake. In this sort of case, the values of A, B, …, Y are all parasitic on the value of Z. It is Z’s value that contributes to the value there is in the world; A, B, …, Y contribute no value of their own. (As long as the value of Z is the only intrinsic value at stake, no change of value would be effected in or imparted to the world if a shorter route from A to Z were discovered, one that bypassed some letters in the middle of the alphabet.)

    Why talk of “extrinsic value” at all, then? The answer can only be that we just do say that certain things are good, and others bad, not for their own sake but for the sake of something else to which they are related in some way. To say that these things are good and bad only in a derivative sense, that their value is merely parasitic on or reflective of the value of something else, is one thing; to deny that they are good or bad in any respectable sense is quite another. The former claim is accurate; hence the latter would appear unwarranted.”

    But more than this, I have some sort of other unconscious objection to the validity of the concept of extrinsic value, which I am unable to articulate at this stage of my understanding. It has perhaps some thing to do with my epistemology and my worldview. But of course that I can not claim to be an argument.
    Are you interested in Kantian epistemology?
    It is a pleasure to argue with you.

  9. No need to apologize. We get busy at times.

    Hmm…yes…It seems that the excerpt is claiming that, in a sense, extrinsic value really doesn’t exist because all that really exists is the intrinsic value of that in which value originates. But, then the excerpt tries to say, almost, “well, it’s just convention that we say objects have extrinsic value” – which, I agree with you, really doesn’t seem like justification at all.

    I am interested in Kantian epistemology. I have researched a bit of Andrew Chignell’s work in that very topic. I would be interested in hearing more about your views on the subject.

  10. I want to understand Kant’s so called Copernican revolution in thought better. Do you yourself think that there are two worlds existing, one the noumenal world and the other the phenomenal world or do you think that there is only one world existing i.e. the noumenal world?

  11. Hi O.R. I hope you are well. I am sorry for the delay in responding. I have been very busy with TAing, presentations, researching for a database, and grad school stuff.

    Regarding Kant’s noumenal and phenomenal worlds, I find his argument interesting. On the one hand, I am a skeptic about the distinction between the world as it is and the world as we know it – we can’t ever really *know* if the noumenal world exists or in what way it exists because we can’t access it. Kant really only gives a transcendental argument for the phenomenal world – saying for beings similarly cognitively situated like us, there must be categories that allow for us to experience the world as we do. The closest he gives to giving an argument for the noumenal world is that there *must be something* the subjective consciousness processes. But, he really can’t go much further than that before risking making metaphysical claims about the noumenal world that go beyond the synthetic unity of apperception of human conscious experience. So, ultimately, maybe the noumenal world doesn’t exist or exists exactly as the phenomenal world – we really can’t know for sure.

    But, on the other hand, we can say that there is *probably* a noumenal world and it exists as something foreign to how we phenomenally perceive it. I am adding to Kant’s argument here with my own to support his argument. The argument is inferential. We have strong evidence that suggests that the way other species experience the world is much different from the way we experience the world, for example dogs use smell, bats, dolphins and whales use echolocation, elephants use seismic waves, sharks use electroreception to sense the world. Moreover – Kant was way before his time on this one – neurological and psychological evidence strongly suggests our minds do filter/shape objects of experience in humanly unique ways. Optical illusions as well as evidence that our brains fill in missing information regarding objects in our experience in order to make sense of the experience support this claim, but there is also other evidence as well here (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/decoding-space-and-time-in-the-brain/).

  12. Hi Betty, good to hear from my sparring partner.

    You wrote, “On the one hand, I am a skeptic about the distinction between the world as it is and the world as we know it”
    Is the world as today’s physics knows it to be or is the world as the physics of a hundred years ago knew it, or is it as the physics of a hundred years in future will know it to be?


    1. Hmm…I was thinking about the noumena and phenomena from the perspective of cognitive science, but my clever interlocutor has to throw in physics! 😉 So, are you thinking of the distinction between the quantum physics world and the Einsteinian physics, or even the Newtonian physics, world? I could see that being a good argument for the noumenal world vs. the phenomenal world, because it could be argued the quantum physics world is the world as it is, but we certainly do not experience the world in quantum states (for example, where contradictions can exist). But, as the skeptic, I wonder if it could still be argued, along the lines of the observational effect, that our observation of the quantum world skews how it appears. In the sense of not just the instruments we use skewing the appearance of quantum events, but our minds (going along with cognitive science) imports its own adjustments into the observation. In that case, we can’t know for sure the noumenal world – what it is and how it behaves.

  13. “In that case, we can’t know for sure the noumenal world – what it is and how it behaves.”
    This is the point. I agree with you that quantum physics does not show the noumenal world.

    So, then how can you be a skeptic about it as you wrote:- “On the one hand, I am a skeptic about the distinction between the world as it is and the world as we know it”. I am not sure what you are saying. May be I am not understanding you?

    1. I am skeptical because we can say neither that the quantum physics does nor does not show the noumenal world. We can’t say either. In Pyrrhonian skepticism, we have hit an equipollence. A strong, rational, argument could be given for either case. Plus, as soon as we start saying that quantum physics does not show the noumenal world, we are going beyond what we can phenomenally access.

  14. I still don’t understand.

    Which of these three is the noumenal world?

    I. The world as today’s physics knows it to be.

    2. The world as the physics of a hundred years ago knew it to be.

    3. The world as the physics of a hundred years in future will know it to be.

    Truth springs from argument among friends!


    1. I have to reject the question. The question assumes we can know which of the three physics scenarios is the noumenal world. I’d have to say, we don’t know which of three scenarios are of the noumenal world nor could we know. There is the issue of whether Kant is concerned with knowledge per se or if he is concerned with how we experience the world to be able to say we have knowledge (i.e. consciousness). I tend to agree that Kant is more concerned with consciousness and not knowledge per se. The question posed seems to imply a reading of Kant that has Kant concerned with knowledge per se.

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