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Kant on Duties Regarding Nonrational Nature: Onora O’Neill

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Kant’s ethics, like others, has unavoidable anthropocentric starting points: only humans, or other ‘rational natures’, can hold obligations. Seemingly this should not make speciesist conclusions unavoidable: might not rational natures have obligations to the non-rational? However, Kant’s argument for the unconditional value of rational natures cannot readily be extended to show that all non-human animals have unconditional value, or rights. Nevertheless Kant’s speciesism is not thoroughgoing. He does not view non-rational animals as mere items for use. He allows for indirect duties ‘with regard to’ them which afford welfare but not rights, and can allow for indirect duties ‘with regard to’ abstract and dispersed aspects of nature, such as biodiversity, species and habitats.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Newnham College, Cambridge

Publication date: June 1, 1998


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