Fellow Creatures? Kantian and Buddhist Animal Ethics

In Finnigan, B. & Barstow, G.. (eds.) Buddhism and Animal Ethics (under review)

Buddhist scholars identify a tension in historical and contemporary Buddhist attitudes towards animals; a “cosmological” view that assumes the doctrine of karma and rebirth and ascribes animals a reduced moral standing relative to humans, and an “equality” view that ascribes all sentient beings equal moral standing relative to the capacity to suffer. I comparatively study this tension in dialogue with Kantian and neo-Kantian moral thought. I demonstrate several points of similarity between the Buddhist cosmological view and Kant’s Indirect Duty View of animals. Both views are subject to contemporary criticism. I consider the extent to which defenders of the Buddhist cosmological view might appeal to a Kantian conception of animal agency and Christine Korsgaard’s (2018) neo-Kantian modification to address some of these criticisms. I demonstrate that these strategies are both problematic and in tension with fundamental Buddhist commitments. I close by considering an apparent similarity in views about the motivating role of rationality in Kantian moral thought and an argument by Śāntideva that is often used to justify the Buddhist equality view about animals. I conclude, however, by reinforcing fundamental differences in Kantian and Buddhist moral thought.