Vegetarianism, if we look at it through a modified version of Kantianism, not only denies the animal the ability to realize its highest possibility, but is also an irrational action in direct contradiction with our duty as moral beings. To understand this we first must realize that human beings, by virtue of self-consciousness, are able to separate themselves from the mere particularity of objects and experience the universal. For Kant, this takes place on cognitive, moral and aesthetic levels, with the most mundane of these being the common ability of self-consciousness to experience the universal through concepts.
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In the moral realm, humans achieve universality by basing their particular decisions on the universality of rational moral law. By acting out of duty to the law as recognized by the application of reason (i.e. acting only in such a way that one’s action could be made a universal law without logical contradiction), humans become rational moral agents. In acting based on duty rather than a desire for pleasure or other concerns, we may occasion for ourselves the free, disinterested pleasure of transcending our particularity and thereby experiencing the universal.
Humans may further overcome base physicality through the experience of the beautiful. The beautiful, for Kant, does not reside in a particular object, and thus is not enslaved to particular judgments of taste. Rather, objects are merely the occasions for the possible experience of the beautiful. The beautiful is not a quality of the object but an experience which allows us to transcend our everyday self-consciousness and gives an experience of universality.
Within this framework we may now turn to the issue of animals. Lacking self-consciousness, animals exist as pure objects. Naturally they are part of the universal but are unable to experience themselves as such, never transcending their pure particularity. When eaten, however, they may occasion a transcendent experience akin to the experience of the beautiful, an experience I will call the Delicious. Through such an experience the animal transcends its abject particularity and becomes a vehicle for the universal. Just as with humans, this transcendence of self toward the universal is the animal’s highest possibility. Unlike humans the animal cannot achieve this possibility on its own.
Animal As Abject Particularity
Animal Having Transcended Abject Particularity i.e., The Delicious
We are duty bound to make rational moral decisions that can be universalized without falling into contradiction. A theoretical world where we universalize denying beings the fulfillment of their highest possibility would be a world of logical contradiction, a world in which acting out of duty is impossible and self-consciousness obliterates itself through its action. Therefore declining to eat animals is morally wrong. Rather, we must endeavor whenever possible to make animals an occasion for the possible experience of the delicious.
This duty is what Kant calls an imperfect duty, since it is impossible to make every animal occasion an experience of the delicious, both because it’s impossible to cook every animal and because of the subjective tastes of the eaters. We are not required to make the animal become delicious, but we are required to make decisions which give it its best chance of occasioning such an experience. It is not in making it delicious that our duty lies, but in our choice to treat the animal either as merely an object or as an opportunity for transcendence.
Vegetarians thus act on a premise that cannot be universalized, denying their own will the chance to transcend its particularity. Vegetarians not only deny animals their highest possibility but also deny their own humanity, banishing themselves to the world of pure objects to which they have condemned the animals they believe they care so much about.
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