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The moral importance of agency Frederike Kaldewaij Philosophy Department, Utrecht University Expert Meeting Fish welfare:

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Presentation on theme: "The moral importance of agency Frederike Kaldewaij Philosophy Department, Utrecht University Expert Meeting Fish welfare:"— Presentation transcript:

1 The moral importance of agency Frederike Kaldewaij Philosophy Department, Utrecht University Expert Meeting Fish welfare: the interplay between science and ethics. November 29/30, 2010

2 The moral importance of agency The importance of agency in “Kantian practical reasoning theories” Claim: even if animals are not rational (moral) agents, we can have duties regarding animals if they pursue objects of desires

3 Requirements of practical reason Practical vs. theoretical reason: rational requirements on action Instrumental or prudential requirements of practical reason: if your end is x, you ought to do y (take the means to x)

4 Kantian vs. Hobbesian theories of practical reasoning Kantian theories contrasted with Hobbesian theories, which justify moral rules on the basis of mutual self-interest

5 Kantian theories: categorical duty Categorical (moral) duty: a rational requirement that can (even ultimately) conflict with your self-interest: All moral agents ought to do y (whatever their personal ends are or what is in their self-interest)

6 Kantian practical reasoning theories and animals Constraints in our treatment of animals (and weak humans) are not in our self- interest More than just being kind to animals: doing our duty Kantian theories might offer a possibility to justify duties to animals - BUT…

7 Possible problem for duties to animals? Duties are grounded in our practical reason (not in our desires, e.g. for happiness, or our natural dispositions, e.g. sympathy) Moral autonomy: rational self-legislation of moral requirements Animals are not autonomous (moral) agents

8 What moral duties do we have? Goal of Kantian theories: specify the content and rational justification of categorical duties Do we rationally have to accept a duty not to harm animals (without sufficient justification)?

9 Indirect duty regarding well-being moral agents Doing your moral (categorical) duty is an end in itself, not a means to another end, e.g. self-interest Respect for moral autonomy Well-being only indirectly morally relevant, because suffering may interfere with our ability to act morally

10 Indirect duty regarding well-being animals Only reason to treat animals well if being cruel to animals will lead us to be cruel to moral agents On this picture the suffering of human moral agents isn’t in itself morally relevant either

11 Direct duty regarding well-being? Perhaps we ought not interfere with our own and others’ ability to act on moral duties But what are our moral duties? Do they include a direct duty not to harm others, including animals?

12 What moral duties do we have? Moral duties: duties that all moral agents have (universality), no matter what their personal ends are (categorical) What does reason require of all moral agents, independently or regardless of their personal ends?

13 How these arguments work If an action is morally justified for me, it is justified for all moral agents We are motivated to pursue some end or any end  universalization: duties to others

14 Examples I cannot regard it as permissible to harm others because, universalizing this, others would be permitted to harm me, and I do not want to suffer Stronger claim: I cannot regard it as permissible to harm others because I cannot rationally will that others undermine my ability to fulfill any ends

15 Not prudence but rational consistency These arguments are not prudential (they do not ultimately refer to your self-interest) They are about rational consistency; avoid self-contradiction when I universalize my intention: if an action is justified for me, it is justified for all moral agents

16 The scope of our moral duties (1) Problem: I can universalize the intention never to harm anyone who is not called Frederike What characteristics are morally relevant? Why can’t we will a universal rule that harming others is permissible?

17 The scope of our moral duties (2) Because we do not want to be harmed / cannot rationally will to undermine our ability to fulfill our ends Being motivated to act on the basis of desires (sentience?) is sufficient to be the object of a duty not to harm

18 Conclusion Perhaps only human beings are moral/ prudential agents, but that just means that only we are morally/prudentially responsible It could still be that we rationally have to accept a duty not to harm animals: animals can be the objects of moral duties


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