Reflection Two PHILOS 3G03 [name deleted—DH]
Since all subjective ends only possess a relative worth to the individuals who will them, they are only able to ground hypothetical imperatives. But a Categorical Imperative, which has absolute value in itself, must be grounded objectively, by a will that is an end in itself. For Kant, every rational being exists as an end in itself, and not just as a means to an end. Mankind as a rational being is able to act freely, creating and choosing their ends for the benefit of themselves. However, in acting, towards ourselves and towards others, we must consider ourselves as the means to the ends of our actions, but also as ends in ourselves. [Ak 4:46-4:48]
Beings whose existence depends upon nature, rather than their will, and who do not possess reason, only have worth as means. They are unable to act freely, unable to determine their own actions through deliberation and decision, but instead act mechanistically. Kant designates these beings ‘things’. Opposed to these are rational beings, whose nature marks them as ends in themselves, not to be used only as means. Kant designates these beings as ‘persons’. Since we are ends in ourselves, able to act freely, we are deserving of respect. Our existence does not only have worth for us; we are not subjective ends. Rather, our existence is of absolute worth; we are objective ends in ourselves.
Kant reformulates his Categorical Imperative according to this distinction: “Act so that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as means” [4:429]. In making this distinction between ‘thing’ and ‘person’, Kant deprives all non-rational beings of absolute value, and the respect that goes along with self-determination. The ‘thing’ is alienated from existence, and given worth only subjectively, only insofar as it can be used as a means to some end.
According to the Categorical Imperative, man may use himself as a means to the unnecessary, even sadistic harm of any non-rational animal, so long as he also recognizes himself as an absolute end. Consider the maxim: “whenever I come across a stray dog, I will skin it and drink its blood, in order to derive a feeling of pleasure.” According to the Categorical Imperative, if the man recognizes himself as an end while performing such an action, he is ethically justified in murdering the dog. The dog is not rational, not a ‘person’ but a ‘thing’, and is therefore only to be used as a means to any subjective end.
The practise of designating all animals, apart from humans, as mere ‘things’ – as ‘it’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ – has continued into the 21st Century, as many still believe ethical theory to be irrelevant to such non-rational beings. Referring to animals as genderless removes them even further from any instinctual feeling of affection man may possess. According to Kant’s reformulation of the principle, man is justified in the ruthless abuse of an animal. He may rightfully claim to be acting from and in accordance with his duty to the Categorical Imperative.