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Sasha Newton (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne)

February 13 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

“The Moral Law is Not Originally the Law of a Species”


It is often thought that whereas Kant’s theoretical philosophy is concerned with being, or with what is, in the most general sense, practical philosophy is concerned with a region of being – namely, with our being as practical and moral agents. Theoretical philosophy studies the most fundamental, universal principles and laws of what is. Practical philosophy, by contrast, turns to the moral law, understood as the normative law governing a kind of being within a wider genus of what is.

I will call the view implicit in these readings of Kant ‘speciesism’. All versions of speciesism maintain that the moral law is the law of and for a species or category or kind of being. It doesn’t matter for this general notion of speciesism how narrow or broad, concrete or abstract this kind is – whether it includes martians and angels or excludes them. It just matters that the moral law is originally thought of as a law of a kind of being, distinct from other kinds. Naturalist speciesism views the moral law as the law of a species within the kingdom of animalitas, while non-naturalist speciesism views it as the law of a non-natural category of being, of which ‘rational human animal’ and ‘rational martian’ are species. I will argue that naturalist and even non-naturalist versions of speciesism model the grammar of talk about the ‘law of our life and action’ – the moral law – to varying degrees on the grammar of judgments about the normative-teleological laws that structure the life and action of non-human, natural organisms. I shall try to show why this model, which derives from Kant’s Aristotelian analysis of ‘teleological judgments’ about organic nature, fails to apply to moral agents. The law of morality, for Kant, is the law of pure practical reason, and not originally the law of a species or region of being at all, whether natural or non-natural.


February 13
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


INTS 1111