On Ethical Animals
Thomas Nagel, “What We Owe a Rabbit,” - nybooks.com/articles/2019/03/21/christine-korsgaard-what-we-owe-a-rabbit/. Very insightful review of Christine Korsgaard’s latest, Fellow Creatures: What We Owe to Other Animals. Korsgaard rehabilitates key features of Kant’s project with reference to ethical treatment of animals that is grounded in our own rationality and not the reduction of suffering as such, as in utilitarianism. While more individualistic, Korsgaard’s approach circumvents the need to measure suffering or capacity to suffer. Rather, it draws upon our intellectual empathy and the need to reflect upon our own ethical maxims. Persistent acts of cruelty reflect cruelty in us, or as Kant would have it that we have adopted a cruel maxim for ourselves. While utilitarian arguments have taken us a long way towards adopting laws that reduce animal suffering, Korsgaard’s approach puts the burden much more firmly upon us. Key to her argument is the distinction between passive and active membership of an ethical community. It strikes me that active members cannot shirk their responsibility to passive members by debating their levels of suffering or intellectual abilities across species. Rather, Korsgaard gives grounds to return to the ethical basis to say that cruelty is wrong, full stop.