In these lectures I will raise some fundamental questions about the moral and legal standing of the other animals: the basis of our moral obligations to them, and whether it makes sense to think that animals might have legal rights.
Human attitudes towards the other animals exhibit a curious instability. Nearly everyone thinks we have some obligations with respect to the other animals – that whenever possible, we should treat them “humanely.” Yet human beings have traditionally regarded nearly any reason we might have for overriding this obligation, short of malicious enjoyment of their suffering, as a sufficient reason. We kill or hurt animals in order to eat them, in order to make useful or desirable products out of them, because we can learn from experimenting on them, because they are interfering with our own agricultural projects, or even for sport. Could it really be true that animals have moral standing, but that it never has any force against human interests? In this lecture I will present an account of why animals have moral standing, based in Kant’s moral philosophy, according to which the answer to this question is no. Our duties to animals are more stringent than our current practices reflect.