Kantian View on Moral Responsibilities Regarding Animals
According to Kant’s theory, animal cruelty can be justified if it is for survival purposes but not for entertainment. However, humans and other animals are similar in their biological functions, especially in sharing basic instincts and feelings. Kant’s conclusion about ethics and morality in his deontological theory is clear – humans’ moral obligation is not to harm a living creature without a necessity. The reasons he presents in his work are irrelevant to the modern world, therefore, cannot be accepted.
For many centuries before and even now, a lot of people deny that animals have emotions and feelings. Although Kant recognizes that animals must not suffer, he still points out that humans have no moral obligation to animals. According to Kant, not only his deontology theory, but other works too, emotions, compassion, and ability to understand them is a product of mind, and only humans have it. However, some recent researches have concluded that most animals, even though they do not have the ability to think like humans, but have a broad spectrum of emotions.
The religion of Islam supports a way of slaughtering animals so their meat would be considered halal. Animals die in a peaceful and painless way, without suffering; moreover, they must be taken good care of during their lives. Only if they were calm and happy, their meat would be halal. All animals must be killed in separate places so that they do not see each other dying; thus, they do not feel fear. According to Kant’s theory, this way is morally justified since animals are killed for food and not for sports or entertainment. In this example, people do not have a moral duty, and they fulfill their ethical obligations.
However, it would be a mistake to think that animals have no fear before death. First of all, every living creature on the planet, including humans, share basic instincts. The most important one is a survival instinct, in which all of them fell in the same way. A survival instinct is a physical reaction of an organism to a direct threat to its life. It causes senses to become more durable, and it also causes fear. Moreover, because animals other than humans are more primitive, their instinct is much more advanced; therefore, they can sense a threat to their lives, even if there is no indication of it. It means that animals feel coming death at the slaughter; they fear it; thus, it is not painless. Therefore, Kant’s reasoning for the theory cannot be justified and should be adapted.
Another reason for Kant’s conclusion is that humans have an ethical obligation, but no moral duty to animals considers emotions. In his research, Kant said that animals are not capable of empathy and compassion due to their primitive and limited instincts, which means they are also not self-conscious. However, more recent studies about animal behavior in their natural environment prove the opposite. There are numerous examples of wildlife showing empathy and compassion towards their comrades. For instance, elephants, chimpanzees, wolves, and dolphins take care of sick members of their packs. Elephants and chimpanzees bring them food and water, even helping to move in some cases.
Wolves and dolphins unite to protect weak comrades from other predators. Moreover, scientists had many opportunities to observe when elephants not only bury their dead friends but mourn them as well, and even come back to the places where they buried them occasionally. There are also dolphin death rituals that include taking dead dolphins to the deep water and guarding it until the body starts to decay. These examples show that animals can not only sympathize but also make independent decisions.
There are some animals that were considered not having feelings at all for a long time. In the past, scientists believed that fish did not feel pain; moreover, it did not have memory duration any longer than thirty seconds. Therefore, according to Kant’s theory, killing fish is not morally wrong; if there is no pain, there is no cruelty. However, the latest research discovered that the duration of fish memory is far longer than half a minute, and it does not only feel pain but also has the same instincts as other animals; thus, it can be afraid. This discovery makes Kant’s reasons no longer relevant or justified.
Based on the arguments presented above, Kant’s conclusion can be justified and accepted. However, his reasons contradict the latest observations of the animal world, thus should be altered according to the needs of modern society. However, it does not mean that Kant’s idea is wrong since it answered moral and ethical questions of his time. Since time has changed, therefore the reasons must change as well in order to coexist with the current needs. It is clear that humans, as more advanced species, have moral and ethical obligations to animals. However, those obligations must be followed by admitting that animals can feel.