Bioethics Blogs

Christine Korsgaard on our Moral Obligations to Animals [Uehiro Lecture 2]

by Karamvir Chadha

 What are our moral obligations to animals? This was the subject of Christine Korsgaard’s Uehiro lecture on 2 December 2014, the second of a three-lecture series on the moral and legal standing of animals. (To listen to the lecture follow this link)

Korsgaard argued for the conclusion that animals have moral standing. Her argument for this conclusion was characteristically Korsgaardian: it was both extremely ambitious and grounded in a distinctive interpretation of Kant.

Korsgaard began by explaining why there’s such a thing as value in the world at all. Value, she argued, is explained in terms of the existence of valuing, which occurs necessarily in valuing beings like us.


So why is there value in the world at all? According to Korsgaard, humans have a special form of self-consciousness – rationality – that makes us aware of the motives on which we act, and capable of evaluating those motives as good or bad reasons. As rational beings we need to justify our actions. To do this, we must suppose that some ends are really worth pursuing – that they are absolutely good. Without metaphysical insight into the realm of intrinsic values, all we have to go on is that some things are good or bad for us. We take our ends to matter absolutely because we take ourselves to matter absolutely. ‘Ourselves’ here cannot just mean ourselves qua rational beings. For many of the things we take to be valuable – our love of sex, food, and freedom from terror – we value not in virtue of our rationality, but rather our animality.


Korsgaard went on to argue that we value ourselves as ‘ends in ourselves’ not just as rational beings, but as beings for whom things can be good or bad.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.