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  • Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals by Christine M. Korsgaard
  • Jennifer Marra
KORSGAARD, Christine M. Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals, New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. pp. 252. Cloth, $24.95

Christine Korsgaard's text is a thorough, articulate, and nuanced argument from a Kantian perspective that human beings have moral duties to animals. Part I of this text (comprising the first four chapters) argues against the notion that human beings are superior to animals in any morally significant way. Methodologically, she rejects the theological notions of Kant and argues instead from the teleological perspective of Aristotle (chapter 2). Insofar as life or goodness can matter to a creature as a necessary part of its functional nature, that creature ought to be considered an end-in-itself. Human beings matter because they matter to us, and animals matter because they matter to themselves. There is no reason, she argues, that we should posit our mattering to ourselves as any more morally significant than the ways that animals matter to themselves.

Part II (chapters 5–9) introduces what is a (perhaps underappreciated) highly consequential feature of her account, which is the claim of atemporal moral standing for all living creatures. That is, once a creation exists, its life matters to it; but its life cannot matter to it if it never existed. Thus, it is worse to have bred a pig for slaughter than for that pig not to have existed at all. This is how the atemporality of creatures exists in the "backward-looking" sense. In the "forward-looking" sense, Korsgaard argues that once a creature exists, the quality of its life matters to it and it can be harmed. It can also be harmed after its death by virtue of taking from it the potential good life it could have had, which would have certainly mattered to it. This is one reason why she argues that Kant is [End Page 372] wrong when he says that the designation as end-in-themselves do not include nonhuman creatures (chapter 5). Another reason, Korsgaard argues in chapter 8, is that there are two senses of "end-in-itself" at work in Kant, an active and a passive sense. Kant mistakenly focuses on the active sense only, which would include human beings as actors, and not on the passive sense. These creatures cannot "actively" legislate morality, but they do "passively" understand good for them as good absolutely and therefore they are ends-in-themselves, just in a way that Kant did not see.

In part III (chapters 10–12) Korsgaard tackles the problematic contradictions of animal ethics that she calls the Animal Antinomies—like those of Kant, she claims these premises often produce contradictory logical conclusions regarding what human beings ought to do for, with, and/or to animals. These chapters are meant to address contemporary arguments in animal ethics and offer practical implications of the theory she has laid out, though it has a chance of making a concerned reader question an otherwise sympathetic thesis. It is here that earlier hints of privileged assertions are reinforced and detailed, such as the uncomfortable claim that women of limited means have a duty to abort should they get pregnant, a duty which she argues is like that of any creator who is unable or unwilling to provide its creation with a good life.

In a cunning bit of argumentation, Korsgaard argues, like Kant, that the antinomy disappears when reconsidered—in her case, we must consider each in terms of "what we ought to do and what we can do," respectively. We must distinguish between ought and can, reject the idea that ought implies can, and understand that we have a duty to do only what we can. We are not obligated, she argues, to do that which we cannot. One example of this conclusion is that we are obligated not to harm animals by testing on them, but we are not obligated to eliminate predation in the natural world as doing so would only be the duty of their creator, not their fellow creations. Korsgaard concludes with discussions of the abolitionist and apartheid movements in animal...


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pp. 372-373
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