Recently there has been a somewhat surprising interest among Kantian theorists in the moral standing of animals, coupled with a no less surprising optimism among these theorists about the prospect of incorporating animal moral standing into Kantian theory without contorting its other attractive features. These theorists contend in particular that animal standing can be incorporated into Kantian moral theory without abandoning its logocentrism: the claim that everything that is valuable depends for its value on its relation to rationality. In this essay I raise doubts about the prospects for accommodating animal moral standing within a logocentric Kantianism. I argue instead that the best way to incorporate animal moral standing into Kantian theory is to admit more radical departures from Kant’s position by maintaining that consciousness is a locus of moral standing independent from rationality.
I propose that we should attribute moral standing to all conscious animals because the capacity of consciousness is the criterion distinguishing individuals whose well-being generates reasons from individuals whose well-being fails to do so. We need such a criterion because we speak of the well-being of things, such as artifacts and meteorological phenomena, which clearly lack moral standing. Having already argued against the Kantian view that the criterion of moral standing is rationality, I proceed to argue that consciousness is also superior to its other principal rival for the criterion of moral standing: life.
On the view that emerges from this discussion, we have obligations to show concern for conscious individuals by treating their well-being as providing us with reasons for action; the view thus endorses the criterion of moral standing typically advanced by utilitarians. On this view we also have a distinct class of obligations to show respect for conscious rational individuals; the view thus endorses the Kantian claim that persons have a distinctive (and a higher) moral status in virtue of their possession of rational capacities. In this essay thus begin to show how a principal insight of each leading approach to modern moral theory may be captured in a unified theory.