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Reviewed by:
  • Kant and Animals ed. by John J. Callanan and Lucy Allais
  • Gary Steiner
John J. Callanan and Lucy Allais, editors. Kant and Animals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Pp. xii + 258. Cloth, $80.00.

A well-known Kant scholar once said to me, "You know, I love to study Kant because I think he's right about everything!" While it may be unlikely that that or any other Kant scholar really believes that Kant was "right about everything," the statement reminds us that, roughly speaking, there are two kinds of philosopher: those who are fully invested in vindicating as much of Kant's thought as humanly possible, and those who are concerned that Kant's thought is in many respects the culmination of a historical line of thought that is based on some deeply troubling premises. The authors of this volume seek to span this divide but ultimately fall heavily into the former camp. This, however, does not keep this volume from being unusually informative and thought provoking. Perhaps the highest praise I can offer of it is that while I disagree with almost all of the major conclusions presented by the contributors, I nonetheless learned a great deal and gained inspiration for my own continuing work on Kant's views about nonhuman animals from reading this volume.

Attention to language can prove to be highly revealing. Arthur Ripstein and Sergio Tenenbaum present a defense of Kant's indirect duties view in which there are numerous [End Page 517] references to "the brutes" (e.g. 150, 152). One might be inclined to accept these as a benign, conventional way of referring to nonhuman animals, or one might not even take notice of such references given their ubiquity in our historical discourse about nonhuman animals. Similarly, the contributors follow the convention of distinguishing "human beings" from "animals," with the obligatory footnote indicating that, yes, human beings are animals as well, but that the human-animal shorthand is simply intended to serve the interest of linguistic economy. Near the beginning of her essay on moral responsibility for nonhuman animals, Helga Varden invokes "the obvious, assumed presumption … that humans are a kind of animal" as the rationale for the prevailing shorthand (157n1). I myself used to do this when writing about the moral status of nonhuman animals, but decided to stop doing so when I realized that this abbreviated nomenclature simply reinforces the sense that we humans are not "really" animals after all, even though we insist that we indeed are. References such as "brute" and "human versus animal" prove to be highly instructive symptoms of a global set of presuppositions about the categorical superiority of human beings over nonhuman animals that have persisted in the Western philosophical tradition since Greek antiquity. This global set of presuppositions is one embraced not only by many of the contributors to this volume, but more importantly by Kant himself. The detailed display of this set of presuppositions puts readers of this volume in a position to take their own critical stand on them as well as on the specific commitments to which they lead Kant.

In her essay on moral responsibility for animals, Varden acknowledges that moral duties are "anthropocentric in a certain sense" (160), but she maintains that the specific sense of anthropocentrism is eminently defensible inasmuch as nonhuman animals lack the rationally informed freedom requisite for being a member of the moral community (164). To the extent that nonhuman animals lack this capacity, Varden suggests, "moral duties are always directed at moral agents" (165). In this connection, Varden acknowledges Peter Singer's and Tom Regan's "anti-speciesist" efforts to challenge Kant's views, but she rejects these efforts on the grounds that the "supplied intuitions" are misguided (166). Varden devotes only a single sentence to a specific consideration of Singer's and Regan's views, so it does not become as clear as it might what these supplied intuitions are supposed to be.

Here this reader wishes the author had gone a bit deeper than Regan's "subject-of-alife" criterion to address explicitly his powerful concept of the moral patient—a notion that squarely challenges the account of the...


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