The issue of human beings’ and animals’ moral rights has been a timely one for many centuries. Although numerous researches were provided by different outstanding philosophers, humanity has not yet come to one common and generally accepted view. As an example, one should pay attention to works of the well-known philosophers, among which Kant and Singer stand out with their different and contradictory views on the value of humans versus sentient animals. Kant insists that human beings hold a unique value, which actually is an unconditional value of dignity predetermined by their possession of humanity. In addition, he defines this value as unconditional capacity for rational-moral agency peculiar for only human beings. At the same time, Singer states that the mere difference in species cannot be the only criterion for the moral status determination. Generally, the rational thinking, self-consciousness and ability to feel and suffer can be regarded as the main characteristics of a high moral status of human and non-human beings. Consequently, although both views have rational point, in order to come to the most deliberate conclusion, it is important to regard Kant’s and Singer’s works in more details. It is important to combine their insights in a coherent picture of what criteria can define the moral status of living beings and to what extent the affiliation to this or that specie should influence the decision.
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It is important that Kant’s morality doctrine has probably got the greatest amount of followers, who supported it for centuries. He was the first philosopher, who has marked out humans as rational beings possessing “intrinsic moral worth” (Kant 45). In result, will and dignity, which should be regarded as the main criteria of defining the moral status, are peculiar characteristics only for human beings, not animals. According to Kant’s explanation, the desires and motivation of human beings, the pleasure they get by means of effects from actions make them exist as ends in themselves, “not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used” (Kant 31). Kant’s morality doctrine also includes a division of beings into “things” and “persons” according to dependence of their existence on nature. Obviously, such division emphasizes that human beings are not only more rational, but also not restricted in their freedom and “possess absolute worth” (Kant 32). Therefore, putting emphasis on the rationality of human beings and minimal dependence of their will and actions on nature is an important argument for humans’ higher moral status in comparison to animals. However, many additional facts are neglected.
Furthermore, one should not forget that the priority, according to various criteria, means responsibility. Hence it is important to highlight that humans have some responsibilities towards animals, which are “merely indirect duties towards humanity” (Kant 32). Such close interrelation between human and non-human beings should contribute to the harmony in nature and in human existence. According to Kant, awareness of human duties and services to animals, mankind and the whole world leads to another important characteristic, which distinguishes humans from animals – dignity and sense of duty. However, if “human beings are ends in themselves” and have worth and dignity while animals are not self-conscious and are “means to an end,” it is essential to regard the notion of duties, which people have (Feinberg 243). Considering Feinberg’s work, it becomes interesting to pay attention to the notion of rights and duties. The motivation of human beings is of great importance and can divide all actions into benevolent and malevolent. In such a way, the actions of humans get “moral worth” only when they are required by duty, which generally is a benevolent drive (Feinberg 244). Nevertheless, in Kant’s case, the logical correlation between rights and duties is neglected. The fact that a human has duties towards animals should mean that animals have rights (Feinberg 245). To sum it up, one can agree that Kant’s doctrine about higher rationality, freedom and will level, the sense of duty and dignity are the most essential characteristics for the morality status of human or non-human beings. Moreover, the interconnection of all kinds of beings is an important factor for discussing numerous philosophic issues. However, there are some challenges, which Kant has missed, and Singer has later developed. Such issues are mainly related to the rights of animals and the level of cognitive abilities of some humans.
According to Singer’s view, the main challenge to moral philosophy is cognitive disability of some humans (Singer 35). In order to prove his arguments, it is necessary to regard the evidences from his work A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation. Considering the examples of cognitive abilities of great apes, dogs, grey parrots it becomes obvious that, in contrast to humans with mental retardation, their cognitive abilities and IQ level is higher (Singer 38). Nevertheless, not only the fact that many non-human beings are above the human category of cognitively disabled people is important, but also humans’ attitude towards this issue and the value of human life plays a great role for the moral status determination. Therefore, the comparison of humans with animals is unavoidable to clarify its basis. Singer also regards the religious views about absolute equality of people and lower position of animals as not justified by any proofs (as cited in Steinbock 248). The claims that the animals are not made on the image of God, humans have dominion over animals, and that only humans’ souls are immortal are not enough for the philosophical science to accept these as truth. In fact, such an assumption is quite logical, but can hardly be accepted by the religious people. Consequently, Singer’s arguments lead people to the idea that moral status should be based on some other criterion rather than “speciesism,” as such division makes the judgments close to racist or sexist ones. “Biological commonality” cannot entitle human beings to “superior status” as the liberation movement, which was modern to Singer who demanded the expansion of the moral horizons and “reinterpretation of the moral principle of equality” (Singer 36). In result, it is essential to note that equality should be wise and should consider different rights and treatment of different beings according to the generally accepted meaningful moral norms and rules.
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If the difference between the moral statuses of beings is not dependent on the “speciesims,” both theories overlap on understanding the rational arguments and language as the abilities that make people superior to animals. Therefore, according to such arguments, “intellectual aliens,” who do not belong to the human class, would be superior as well. In result, such idea sounds as logical, many humans would accept it. However, cognitive disability of some people would make them equal to animals and vice versa, some extremely intelligent animals would be equaled to humans. Such position contradicts the religious views and generally accepted moral norms of the human society. Therefore, it is necessary to find some more criteria for the morality status definition and search for the possible alternative views.
The main point of Kant’s morality is that humans are “capable of reasoning autonomous beings” (Kant 45). Consequently, the beings, who are not self-aware and self-conscious, are not morally high, and he would agree that not all human beings are superior to animals. Being guided by Kant’s and Singer’s arguments while dealing with morality one should consider the overlap between some human beings and animals. In result, two points of view are possible: excluding mentally retarded people from the number of those, who are superior to animals or add some animals to the number of superior beings (Steinbock 250). Anyway, while the cognitive ability can be regarded as an important criterion for morally superior status, one should remember about humans’ ability to feel and to suffer. The idea of paying attention to such characteristic as the ability to suffer is closely connected with the racist movements. For instance, Williams, whose ideas Singer followed in his works, emphasized the moral membership or equality with such unique human capacities as feeling the pain and feeling the affection (Steinbock 249). Consequently, the main moral and logical mistake of a racist can be defined as the ability to acknowledge that all human beings regardless their nationalities are capable to suffer. This ability should also be considered when comparing the living beings and their morality. Furthermore, the ability to feel affection and enjoy the well-being is also peculiar only to morally higher beings. In fact, the ability to sympathize or enjoy the happiness of others is an attribute of even superior beings as even not people possess such quality.
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Analyzing and comparing Kant’s and Singer’s doctrines, it is important to point out that all human and non-human beings are closely interconnected, as they have rights and moral status. In addition, the moral duties of those beings that are superior make them morally worth and less restricted by numerous outer factors. However, the division according to species or classes is more likely to have nothing in common with the morality of the live beings except for the religious views and Kantian position that each human is an end in itself regardless any factors. As criticism and skepticism are the main generators for searches of truth, one should not pin faith on the ideas, which are not supported by any evidences. Therefore, to my mind, regarding such criteria as rational thinking, will, dignity, sense of duty, self-consciousness, self-awareness and, finally, the ability to feel, suffer and sympathize as definitive for the moral status evaluation is the best alternative, which can be traced through the coherent picture of the doctrines of Singer and Kant. In such a case, one cannot state that humans and animals are morally equal or even that all people are morally equal. The moral status of any living being should be defined according to the above mentioned characteristics and regardless their affiliation to sex, nationality, class, and environment.