Issue #38 March 2021

The Magnanimity of Spirit: On the Human Consideration of Animals

William Morris - "Woodpecker Tapestry" (Detail) - (1885)

It has become popular discourse among philosophers and liberal lay people that human exploitation of Nature, particularly animals, is immoral and unethical, yet the arguments offered for this position are not exactly proper to the task of really determining what the human relationship to Nature and its flora and fauna entails and demands. All too often human projections of teleology and mentality are projected on to animals as if the values of animals and humans are on par, or abstract principles like utilitarianism are applied as if mere negative feelings of suffering (regardless of how meager they are) are enough to warrant the claim that we have duties towards Nature, e.g. a duty to not add if not reduce suffering.

The spread of consequentialism, particularly utilitarianism and its calculus of suffering and pleasure, in popular understanding has oft made arguments possible which do not distinguish between human life and animal life, and which leaves out of its questions the rest of the non-animal natural world. There are some attempts at deontological arguments for why we should not mistreat animals, but they are far less popular and far less obvious to the laity. It is deemed by almost all that if we can appeal neither to the projected humanization of animals nor to the dehumanization of humans, i.e. the flattening of value in which humans are lowered to the value of animals, then we simply cannot craft any convincing reason for moral imperatives regarding the wellbeing of animals and the nonexploitation of the Natural world. At face there is intuitive sense in this belief, for the universality of morality and ethics so naturally lends itself to the concept of reciprocity and recognition among humans, but animals cannot give such consideration to themselves nor to humans. Many kinds of monism of ancient and modern kind allow for an equalization of consideration, for in them the human and natural are on the same ontological level. This flattening of the ontological and moral status, however, is not the only possible way to deal with nature in a non-rapacious way.

Though for a large majority of “civilized” Western people the welfare of animals has hardly been considered of much importance beyond maintaining their living functions, nonetheless there were arguments offered even in ancient times for why one should not be cruel to animals not for their sake, but for ours. This certainly sounds strange (it really isn’t) and anthropocentric (it is in a sense, yet it isn’t in another), but such arguments have more reasoning behind them than the usual arguments. These are commonly known as arguments for indirect duties to animals through duties to human being, most famous today being Kant’s arguments in his Metaphysics of Morals. What shall be put forth here is an argument using Hegel’s concepts of desire, recognition, and freedom as the basis for what are indirect yet also in some ways direct duties to animals and even Nature in general. In some ways one may say that a Hegelian argument for such is a more grounded elaboration of Kant’s initially true yet incomplete notions; while similar, it is not the same. This similarity is not surprising when one looks upon the basis: for Kant it is autonomy, and for Hegel it is the freedom of the Absolute which is more than self-given law.


The Measure of Reality

Here I am jumping off from a Hegelian conception of humanity not as the biological species, but as a kind of being of a different ontological order to Nature, i.e Spirit or mind. Spirit is intelligent and self-intelligible being as thought, it is also a self-conscious community which reasons and makes its existence rational through a self-critiquing and self-corrective social process, and which can reason absolutely in reasoning about reason itself. Such being is free and seeks the realization of its freedom not as whatever it happens to will due to contingent contents of its mind filled by senses or feelings, but as what it has determined to be the absolute nature of its freedom as rational (rationality here being far more than abstract formal logic). This abstraction only provides for a distinction, however, it does not justify a higher status of the human.

What justifies the hierarchical relation of human being to animal being is the measure which is the Idea. For Hegel the Idea is a self-differentiated unity which is not determined by any externality, i.e. it is absolutely self-determining. The Idea is the purely logical content-form Truth or reason (logos), and any determinate concepts which are no longer about thought itself, but about something that appears other to thought—such as Nature—are self-determinations of abstract universal logos into concrete particulars and individuals. In Nature, particularity and externality reign, and the Idea cannot fully self-determine since something remains outside it, but in Spirit, Nature’s externality is overcome and self-determination is more complete. With the culmination of Spirit as Absolute Spirit, we find the Idea fully returned to itself in philosophy, and so, humans as thinkers of the Absolute arrive at their own measure. Though Animals are ontologically located within Spirit, particularly in Subjective Spirit, they are not capable of attaining the reality of self-externality to the degree that humans can. They do not create societies, they do not relate to themselves or each other with rights, and they do not come to universal agreement with reason.


Freedom As Essence of Human Being

The essence of humanity or Spirit, and therefore of humaneness, is freedom as self-determination. In abstraction, as immediately stated, this means virtually nothing. A full development of the argument for this concept cannot be given here, but part of it has already been developed in outline in the earlier section on the Idea and the measure of reality. Freedom cannot be understood as an abstraction and must instead be grasped systematically as a determinate whole, so a more concrete analogy may help. Human freedom involves three major domains of relevance here: psychological, sociological, and intellectual. It is in the intellectual that freedom as such makes its pure abstract appearance, and it is there where freedom can be determined as an explication and justification for the other forms of freedom.

Psychologically, no human being can be considered free that suffers from either an opposition of feelings and drives to their will, or of feelings and drives to reason. A person can intuitively experience their unfreedom within both oppositions, but with the opposition to reason it can be a state which a consciousness is simply ignorant about while feeling as if it is fine. For the first opposition, that of feelings or drives in opposition to will, we have the examples of feelings or desires which exert their craving despite a person consciously desiring to will not to actualize them, or usually more as the wish to not have such feelings or desires at all. Such a person is unfree even if they can manage to exert their will and ignore the compulsion of unwanted desires, for in such an internal state they are at war with their own psyche. Someone who is depressed suffers such unfreedom, and someone who is overwhelmed by compulsive desires and/or feelings such as anger is also under such chains. With the opposition of feelings or desires to reason, we have the typical case of the addict—not just drug addicts—who is chasing an ever vanishing high. Though the addict feel themself to be free in these high seeking actions, since this is what they consciously desire and will to desire, they truly are not on account of their ignorance of how they are unconsciously being driven hither and thither by a compulsion that does not understand that satisfaction is not truly to be found in the pursuit of such highs. No high is ever enough, every time it must be more, and every time one is left craving more once it is gone. Not only is the chase without end, it is always in essence a self-destructive pursuit that brings anything from bodily to material and social ruin. A slave to a treadmill of desire is simply not free, reason itself would reveal to the addict exactly why the problem is not that they have have not acquired the right substance or activity for peak and enduring pleasure, but that such forms of pleasure are categorically ephemeral and never satisfying to what a human truly craves: recognition, freedom, and truth. No human can be free that carries the baggage of psychological traumas, unconscious hangups, grudges, self-deprecation, etc. A humane psychological life is a healthy psychological life, one in which an individual is able to self-determine and self-mediate the oppositions that arise in their psyche in a way that they can manage their internal life to not cover over, but to heal psychological pain and to come to a mental homeostasis of peace with one’s thoughts and feelings.

Sociologically, no human can be free without rights that secure their material and social well being. The social recognition and protection of the rights to property such as self-ownership (none can own one’s body and enslave one), things (none should take or interfere with the property of one nor one with the property of others), equality under law, healthcare, family, the right of education, of conscience, of economic and political participation, and so on are all requirements for individuals to properly be free. Without these freedoms psychological freedom is essentially impossible, for the stability and opportunities which society and its institutions provide leave people in precarious social and material conditions which lead to anxieties due to the uncertainty of life be it personal health, the maintenance of property for living and enjoyment, and the peace of mind that one shall not suffer violence at the hands of others who for one reason or another do not accept one’s existence in a community.

Intellectually, no human is free that does not think. To think is to reason, but to reason is not simply to rationalize. Humans naturally and intuitively reason, but they reason from arbitrary beginnings and often in arbitrary ways if they are not made aware of what proper reasoning is and how to exercise it. Every functional human is capable of rationalizing things to themselves, and this is virtually all humans from children to adults. The arbitrary reasoning of rationalization, however, is not free reasoning. It is reasoning under the chains of unjustified and often not consciously known or understood presuppositions of dogma, and often it is reason under the chain of simple unreason, e.g. compulsions of feeling. Intellectual freedom, despite being the logically last in the developmental hierarchy of freedom, is not for that reason the last freedom of import. Even a slave who has nothing in the eyes of society, not even their body, can have the freedom of intellect, and this freedom was and will always be recognized by masters as dangerous to them, for from the freedom of thought originates the ultimate striving for the realization of freedom in the world. A human has the privilege of fighting for an idea, and this no animal has. No human is free that does not conceive itself as free, and no conception itself is free that does not comprehend its own conception. Thought itself is most peculiar, for with it human freedom is not the freedom to instrumentalize thought and use it as a mere tool for given ends, but rather the freedom of thought to think itself, to self-determine itself as thought purely through itself and not on account of any other. This independence which is truly absolute, is the nature of freedom both in its coming to be and in its choice to give new determinations to itself. For freedom there is no absolute alien other. Even as the most stark and opaque opposition appears, to reason there is always something to be recognized.

William Morris - "Peacock and Dragon" (Fabric) - (1878)


Recognition in the Hegelian lexicon is generally understood only as a concept of basic self-consciousness, but even this is misunderstood when most do not understand what self-consciousness is at its simplest. Self-consciousness or recognition as such is much simpler than most people believe it. It is intuitively there as the desire of desire that is an infant’s and mother’s love, and so it is there for every social animal.



Desire begins as a consciousness which negates what is before it either in destruction or consumption. Desire, however, being that it is consciousness itself, comes to self-destruction in its own success. We all, for example, have at some point or other experienced that boredom that comes after the elation of success. We have achieved the dream, we have consumed our desire, and we are left standing aimless at the top of the mountain. When consciousness fails to find another object to desire, it simply falls into a living death of boredom. But we also find something else in our experience and in the logic of desire: when consuming something we are momentarily satisfied only to be chained by that desire again. Addictions of all kinds are such desires which are unquenchable, and in these situations we desperately wish eventually that we didn’t desire them at all, for we are weary of the endless treadmill of seeking. Here consciousness is between a rock and a hard place: if it escapes desire it dies, but if it remains desiring it is forever unsatisfied. Our negations or consumptions of things, however, aren’t the only ways we are satisfied. We find that negations themselves satisfy, be it ours or others. What would save desire is that it find an object which would negate itself and yet sustain itself through this negation. Desire is itself such a contradiction, such a negative being that in bringing itself to pieces and falling into nothing only sustains itself anew. Desire desires desire’s desire. As this self-negating and self-constituting being, desire is self-determining—it is free. So, the highest desire and satisfaction is freedom itself, but here it is not a singular and lone freedom, but a freedom relating to another freedom freely.


The Irrationality or Unfreedom of Cruelty

Desire, the consciousness of abstract negating through consumption or destruction, is in its one-sidedness the purely negative form we call cruelty when it turns its activity against a consciousness with the abstract desire for its destruction, and the process of this destruction itself. Its pleasure is in the actualization of the process of the destruction of consciousness, a process and state we otherwise call pain. Its satisfaction is in the process of negation alone, and it takes itself as absolute. A cruel consciousness does not only negate its object immediately, it takes pleasure in the drawn out process of bringing its object to death. Cruelty, a purely finite and self-interested destructive activity driven by an errant pleasure in the pain of others, is not rational whether directed at humans or animals. The irrationality of cruelty is in 1) its alienated character, 2) in its self-destructive character, and 3) cruelty simply does not provide the satisfaction it intends.


Animal Rights: The Ethical Desert of Nature

Though it has become common lingo and discourse now to speak of ‘animal rights,’ this discourse about rights and animals is confused. First, because much discourse on rights conceives them in antiquated notions of natural rights, i.e. as duties owed to beings on mere account of their being without any requirements for claims to be made or for any institutions to enforce such claims. With natural rights we have the peculiarity of right which exists where no claim is made, and where no enforcement actualizes right. Second because even notions of rights as being constituted socially and only through social frameworks consider rights only as stipulated givens which have no true moral force. In this case there is no notion of right beyond what contingencies people agree to convene on, yet these have no binding power at a universal level.

In Hegelian conception, a right is in essence a social phenomenon of recognition of will established in and through an enforcing institution. It is not grounded in a transcendental God’s judgment, nor is it grounded in the subjective conscience of another, nor is it grounded in mere existent immediacy. It is no mere agreement, and though it is a convention it is no mere convention; it is a very special kind of convention which determines limits on abstract freedom, which claims all for the self, for the express purpose of securing freedom in this very limitation. In foregoing our clashing claims to all we secure our claim to some and as such carve out a space of things, relations, and activities in the world for ourselves to securely act with and move within in full consciousness that within these limitations we achieve peace of mind and a springboard onto other areas of life not possible if we are busy worrying about the constant war of all against all to claim the entire world. Rights as such become the actuality of freedom in a social world, they are the form of freedom in which our determinate choices and activities are particular and individual contents. Right’s mutual limitation and enabling carries within itself its correlate, duty, and as such every right we claim turns to determine us as having a duty to respect and protect the same right of others.1placeholder

Because animals cannot reason they cannot make rational claims to us nor can we make such to them regarding the creation of spheres of limited but assured freedom; therefore, they a priori cannot enjoy any rights in the proper sense, and as such the very concept of animal rights is nonsensical from a Hegelian standpoint. If right cannot be the basis of claims that humans ought to consider and in some senses care for the welfare of non-humans (animals primarily), and as such no one can claim humans have duties owed to such beings, on what basis could it be said that humans can conceive the requirement to not negatively impact if not care for the welfare of such beings? First, let us look at some common conceptions on why we should.


On The Moral Consideration of Consciousness

It is a common thought these days that we should have empathy towards animals, particularly ones displaying higher emotional and cognitive capacities, on the basis that we can infer their consciousness is akin to ours and therefore we should afford them equal consideration. Though we may recognize animals as feeling pleasure, pain, affection and hate, this on its own means very little to animals themselves and to each other. From the standpoint of animals themselves there simply is no moral or ethical reality.

Animals are inhuman and relate to each other and us inhumanely even as they approach human likeness in their relations and actions. They cannot appreciate the universal moral dimension of the cruelty, evil, happiness, or good of their existence and world, and they make no moral judgments about it. Animals experience joy and suffering, but they do not draw or make judgments from this about a normative or moral dimension to their experience in the world. As Thomas Hobbes says of the state of nature, it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” To an animal this is no calamity of evil, let alone of injustice, but the mere fact of life. If humans destroy, torture, and kill them to extinction it is to them only a mere fact of life and they live accordingly even if life becomes nothing but endless anxiety and stress. Even with the highest of non-conceptual intelligence, animals simply cannot rise to the knowledge of morality or ethics, and any actions they take which seem to present such intuitions are just that: complex intuitions, but not conceptions.

But what of the claim that life in itself is valuable? The animal values life because it is part of its natural drive to live at all cost despite the seemingly most intolerable and forsaken conditions. Animals value life because they feel it, but there is no rational judgment of the quality of this life. No animal can judge life’s value based on something like happiness and unhappiness (not to be confused with pleasure and pain), let alone concepts like honor, shame, dreams, or disillusionment with what one believed the world to be. To be sure, it is empirically observed that animals can form bonds so strong that the loss of their companions is accompanied with the loss of the will to live just as one sees it in human beings, but unlike humans they cannot reason about this immediacy of feeling. A human lives for conscious reasons and is willing to die for conscious reasons. Not only that, a human being is willing to reason about the value of the lives of others despite the other’s immediate feelings, e.g. the duty to deny others the freedom to self-destruct. In animals this presents itself not as a battle of reason over feelings, but of one feeling against feeling.

Given these realities there is no reason that humans should value the conscious experience of animals any more than animals value it themselves. This, of course, sounds like it can excuse what we call cruelty. It is commonly believed that if animals have no claims to right that we have any duties to uphold, and any laws that may govern such relations to provide protection are essentially arbitrary, then we can make no rational case against neglect, abuse, or cruelty against animals, for they are to be treated only as objects subject to the will of human wanderers and owners. This seems to be a very dark yet valid conclusion. Any claim that these are immoral actions on account of the animal’s life quality or of their conscious experience is making the normative claim that animals should live without such problems, yet this is begging a question (both as assumption and as requiring a following question): from where are we drawing this conclusion of what animal life should be?

Anyone who looks upon Nature’s realm knows well that exceedingly few animals have the luxury of living a life free of the anxiety of an existence wherein every new smell, every sound, and every new sight is to be taken as the potential of the end of life in the shape of a hungry (or sometimes bloodily playful) predator. This is what Natural life is like, and by the very concept of Nature it is what it should be as what it is. In Nature there is no sanctity of individual life and freedom. The law of life is the endless cycle of life and death both at hands of life and at hands of its environment within and without. One being is consumed by another in a roundabout circle such that Nature ultimately is the Ouroboros devouring itself. We humans, we as Spirit, despair at the death of a species and a world, but Nature does not. Nonetheless, there is a normative argument to be made which, despite not ceding the question of rights, does impose certain necessities on ethical life and even demands a duty of the human towards the animal not for the animal’s sake, but for the sake of the human subject’s actualization and freedom. Human beings have moral duties to their self which demand their developing of the qualities of humaneness towards animals even if these are not ethical duties to animals as such. Here it cannot be denied that the path of argument begins looking very close to Immanuel Kant’s.

William Morris - "Snakeshead" (Printed Textile) - (1876)

Reason Against Animal Cruelty: The Morality of Magnanimity

Without a moral principle which is indifferent to the quality of mental being and is simply categorical, or of a hierarchy of determinations of the principle itself (such as higher pleasures vs lower ones), or of an ontological doctrine which equalizes all conscious beings and sets humans as equal to or even less than animals, the only remaining moral relation to animals can be that of a human duty to human being which concerns the treatment of animals. It must be kept in mind that human being is not human biological being.


Kant’s Argument Against Cruelty

Immanuel Kant is perhaps the last well known philosopher to make the case for duties to animals through duties to human being, and it is a common belief even among philosophers that he gave a weak argument against cruelty towards animals on the basis that it might lead someone to become cruel to other humans by habituation.2placeholder Kant does not make this his only point of argument, it is simply his most well known, and this interpretation is not truly the most charitable. This now has a significant basis in psychology, specifically criminal psychology, where there is a very significant correlation between cruelty towards animals in childhood and cruelty towards fellow human beings later on. This makes a contingent case for a consideration of animal suffering, but it allows for the possibility of it being acceptable and an amoral consideration if it were the case that such cruelty did not transfer to human beings. Such an argument, however, would make Kant to be a consequentialist, which he is not.

Here I borrow from Patrick Kain’s essay, Duties Regarding Animals, for an exposition of Kant’s major argument here.3placeholder First, for Kant human beings alone are ends in themselves due to their autonomous rational nature, and so must regard themselves and other humans as ends and not means. The recognition of this confers to such beings a dignity (intrinsic value) which commands the respect of any moral agent, and dignity alone commands moral duty. Another requirement is, of course, that the agent that obligates us is an object of experience, or what we normally would call a natural being. Animals clearly have no  rational autonomy, so no dignity, and we have no direct duties to them in this regard. Interestingly, however, animals and humans alike are natural beings, and here Kant makes some connections. We can validly infer from our scientific as well as intuitive dispositions that animals are much like us even if they are not properly rational, and this awakens in us sympathy and empathy due to our recognition of animal being as ‘analogous’ to certain key characteristics of human rational and moral being. This recognition gives animals a standing for moral consideration that is beyond dead objects. Cruelty towards animals is not denied because of its consequences, but because of its intrinsic contradiction to what Kant considers to be human, particularly the duty to be human which Kant conceives as perfect and imperfect duties to self. Perfect duties are ones that prohibit actions contrary to the moral nature of humanity, and imperfect duties oblige one to act to develop or perfect one’s human being. Cruelty is a violation of perfect duties, for in it we violate the very conditions of morality which are our capacities for love and sympathy, or more generally the feelings and intuitions which necessarily are part of our moral nature.


A Hegelian Advance On Kant

Kant makes a good case, but it is not as solid as reason demands. First, Kant’s conception of autonomy is lacking in explication and justification, and so his conception of human being is not fully adequate when brought under skeptical scrutiny. Second, the appeal to an underdeveloped theory of human psychology’s relation to moral rationality is not compelling enough. Hegelianism agrees with Kant’s points, but the conception of the issue can be made differently. First, the conception of human essence as Spirit (existent Idea) is more determinate than autonomy as the self-legislation of the moral law as well as reason’s drive to avoid self-undermining contradiction to achieve genuine universality. Second, while it was not and shall not be carried out here, Hegel manages to properly develop the freedom of subjects as embodied and as necessitating moral feelings, but as worked out above in the section on desire, the link of feeling and animal moral standing is found with far more entailed. Recognition proper entails everything Kant could dream up for moral intuitions: everything from sympathy, empathy, love, desire, pity, and freedom are bound up with the basic dynamic of recognition taken to its full development in absolute knowing, the fullness of self-consciousness that knows itself as thinking that thinks itself. Third, because Hegel does not face the problem of Kant’s duality of phenomena and noumena, which locks us out of fully asserting with certainty the reality of animal consciousness and freedom, his thinking about the issue is not constrained with appeals to mere analogies. We can state with no ambivalence that we share a nature with Nature via the Idea as Spirit, and further, that though this shared nature is only partial in the animal, its partiality’s presence is itself to the satisfaction of Spirit’s highest desire.


Magnanimity: The Relation of Unequals

To refresh a bit on the Idea as Spirit: thought not only is freedom as self-determination, but thinking self-consciousness which desires its own freedom in that which is its object. To do so, however, is to let our finite individual whims fall away and to simply let something be what it is in and for itself. This seems to place us as thinkers in a relation of opposition to things, as if their freedom is an imposition that we must bear. However, this is not logically nor experientially so. For example, in letting thought be itself we find the experience that its freedom is our supreme joy because that thought is our own inmost thinking. Though it is true that few ever experience this seemingly strange joy of free thought, many experience something which is more common and a concrete instance of it. It is now a not uncommon thought that ‘if you love someone, you should set them free.’ This common and often half-thought intuition embodies the unreflective truth of that high form of recognition which is the desire for the other’s desire to be free. With equals this is the recognition of love as friendship, but with the relation to animals this is the recognition of magnanimity.


Rational Recognition: Universality and Partiality

The notion that recognition is only valid towards equals is common even when set forth by self styled Hegelians. Hegel himself holds this view in which Nature and animals are to us as if mere nothings, as purely instrumental objects for our use, and for which there need be neither respect nor moral, let alone ethical, consideration. This view is itself a one-sided view which looks upon animals only in their defect, and looks upon the relation of spirit and Nature as only negative and dominating. The recognition of Spirit is beyond self-consciousness: it is the recognition of the self in otherness in total, not only in the realm of self-consciousness. Spirit as thought recognizes itself everywhere and in everything even if that other is only a partial realization of the Idea’s freedom. Nature indeed is not Spirit, but this it is not in absolute opposition to it, for it is sublated in it and so is a necessary moment or part of humane being. Spirit in its comprehension of pure thought through thought itself—which is capable of enacting its own otherness and recollecting it—recognizes in Nature its own partiality as Spirit, freedom, and thought, and in that recognizes the implicit and latent advent of its own being. This affords to it the capacity of recognizing beings which are only a fraction of itself, and here we also are afforded the judgments on this partiality both as positive and negative recognition. Of particular interest here is the partiality not of human being as species, nor as self-consciousness, nor as consciousness, but of freedom.


The Half-Full Glass of Animal Being

When it is said in common thought that we can recognize the ‘humanity’ of animals, that is, that we can speak of how human they are, it is often said with an unspoken projection of humanity onto them. With Spirit that comprehends itself, however, there is no need to project humanity, for humanity is there in animal being; it is simply partial. However, this as commonly understood is not the reason for animal moral consideration, i.e. that the primary reason is our sympathy or empathy for their human-like consciousness and feeling. This would be the appeal to the inner life quality of consciousness and would bring us back into the orbit of utilitarian pleasure calculus. No, what we recognize in animals is precisely the partiality of human essence: freedom. A free individual, one capable of recognition, desires to see freedom in the social and Natural world around them.

There is a phenomenon which is unfortunately not common enough, yet is quite common among pet owners and animal enthusiasts, and that is the unique pleasure of simply seeing animals be. One may retort that this is to expected of people who love and so desire to recognize animals in the first place, and that this is only their contingent and subjective point of view, one that has no normative binding on anyone else. The response to this objection is simple: nowhere in the rational development of freedom does it ever make sense to put oneself in a relation of absolute dominion or absolute antagonism towards not just anyone, but of anything whatsoever. The fully free individual has no desire to dominate another for the sake of domination, not even animals, and instead enjoys not only the freedom of recognition, but the recognition of freedom. Just as one enjoys a beautiful landscape as it is and with no desire to exert one’s will over it, so too it is possible to enjoy animal life. Even in a relation of domination like that of domestication, it is not an absolute opposition which one experiences towards animals, it is not a relation which brings them to the nullity of mere objects.

To give an example: I have a dog, and what I find most pleasing about him is not that they belong to me, or that he is cute (he certainly is), but that he shows me that he is his own individuality. Strangely, I find it most endearing when he is most stubborn and asserts his will. This presents to me in no uncertain terms that I am faced not with a dead object, a mere appendage to my will, but with a being which, limited as it may be, has a measure of freedom that cannot be ignored if I want it to relate to me freely. Were I to look upon him as a mere tool, a means, I certainly would not enjoy his oppositional antics. Now one may ask: Why should I desire animals to relate freely to myself? There are a myriad of utilitarian reasons why one would want to work with animals, and Nature in general, by letting them be. As the famous phrase goes, “You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.” One can be a cruel master to Nature, to literally break it into compliance, yet it is at the end of the historical day much easier to let Nature do its own thing with a nudge here and there from us. These utilitarian reasons are, of course, not moral reasons. The answer to that is much the same as one would tell an old school racist who asks why they should want the ‘inferior’ race to relate to them freely: Because if one is truly free, one cannot help but recognize freedom and desire its actuality.

Human being entails magnanimity towards animals because animals do not deserve the consideration, yet it is afforded because it is the humane thing to do, and this is concretely no mere abstract dictate of reason, but is fully felt by an actualized human being who recognizes at the highest degree. Fully actualized Spirit desires to see freedom realized, and it takes satisfaction in its reality even if that reality is the reality of a being which cannot measure up to Spirit. Certainly, this reality is limited both for the animal and for ourselves. We cannot pretend animals are equal to us ontologically, and our relation cannot be based on a hypothetical analogy (projection of humanity, or what we would do if they were totally human). No animal is equal to the value of a human being, so in any question of welfare or of life even the most vile human being is above the worth of any animal on account that in principle human being is capable of moral improvement and the raising of self-consciousness, and this is all on account that human being is in essence reasonable and capable fo self-determination.

The serving of social necessity with animal labor power and products, which is not the necessity of biological survival, but of servicing human desires, is not precluded by magnanimity. There is, for example, no contradiction between enjoying the sight of cows enjoying a free ranged farm life, and the use of those same cows as a subordinate source of power to pull a plow, or as a source of milk and meat. How could this be? Because one understands that the only freedom they innately have is the freedom to be animals, and we as humans can give them space to actualize this freedom while not confusing it for something else. We can treat animals humanely as they live and work under us, and we can also actualize them as a resource humanely and with no guilt. This does not mean that our relationships with animals in closer degrees, such as that which pets, should be overridden by a cold logic which deems animals to only ever be mere animals in relation to us. Here there is a proper neutrality towards Nature as a whole, which makes something like vegetarianism or veganism a non-default position. We have no prior given reason to deign ourselves the saviors of Nature, and we have no compelling reason up to now as for why we should. It is a common notion that if we do not have to use animals for production or for consumption, then we should not, but with magnanimity as the only necessary relation there isn’t a reason for why biological necessity has any bearing. The issue is, for now, neutral. There simply is no reason on the moral level itself for why we should eat animal products and meat just as there is no reason for why we should not even if we could. As social consciousness and life develops, the concrete conditions will shape in a significant manner the conditional utilitarian reasons for why we can or should shift social expectations one way or the other. There are many ways in which our total relation to Nature could greatly improve all the while we maintain our carnivorous ways, and there are ways in which they could improve differently and change drastically if we cease eating animals and their products (vegetarianism faces its own ecological problems).4placeholder

At the level of animal being there is no justification other than brute power, and the essence of mere biological life is the self-consumption of Nature in its various forms. We need not justify ourselves to animals, but in an ethical community we must justify ourselves to our fellow humans and to our reason itself. As the social consciousness of modernity has come to confluence on the recognition that, though animals are unequal to human beings, they are nonetheless partially human, we have seen that we have opted to extend to them the privilege of protection within law itself, an objective ethical relation which is most interestingly done mostly out of a concern for the inhumanity of the deed and not for the quality of life of animals. What is not yet recognized in this privilege is its nature as linked to freedom, i.e. not as based on mere immediate sympathy or empathy for animal feelings of suffering or joy, or even out of a vague sense that one who does such things is wrong because the community feels it so, but as based on the fact that for us—free beings—freedom is of value everywhere, and the fostering of this freedom is our greatest mission both in the human and animal world. It is because a cruel human being is not free, that an animal should be free from human originated cruelty.

Antonio Wolf is a former philosophy student, and continuing autodidact. Currently he’s focusing on Hegel. He authors a blog, the Empyrean Trail, which tries to expound Hegel’s philosophy to make it accessible without watering it down.

Works Cited

Kain, Patrick. Ms. Duties Regarding Animals.  Accessed February 27, 2021.

Kant, Immanuel, and Mary Gregor. In The Metaphysics of Morals, 238. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Winfield, Richard Dien. Essay. In Reason and Justice, §8.1.1. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988.


Winfield, Richard Dien. Essay. In Reason and Justice, §8.1.1. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988.


Kant, Immanuel, and Mary Gregor. In The Metaphysics of Morals, 238. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.


Kain, Patrick. Ms. Duties Regarding Animals.  Accessed February 27, 2021.


To give an example: the Zimbabwean ecologist Alan Savory learned through terrible experience that despite modern calls against large animal herds on the basis of a theory that savannas and grasslands were being overgrazed, the faithful execution of the culling of herd animals had the exactly opposite effect to the one intended. Not only was it the case that prior there had not been enough herd animals, but that even with the wild and domestic herd animals combined we need orders of magnitude more to bring back the savannas and grasslands to their natural rhythm. Savory proved his concept through the application of planned grazing with dense herd populations, and through this performed what would appear as ecological restorative miracles merely by this hypergrazing order.

This case illustrates in miniature how vegan and vegetarian lifestyles for society as a whole, though put forth for noble ideals, nonetheless must reckon with the ways in which the restoration of Nature is itself no longer to be left as a merely Natural process. To return the herds to a ‘wild’ state involves a massive change not only in ways of life, but in entire infrastructures which have immense reverberations on the rest of seemingly disconnected society. Such a call for change, therefore, cannot be understood only in abstraction, and must be itself weighed with the consequences not only on humans, but on animals themselves when our immediate ecological assets may be massive populations of domesticated animals which have not been wild for centuries.


March 2021


Windowmancy and the New Poverty

by Trent Portigal

The Magnanimity of Spirit: On the Human Consideration of Animals

by Antonio Wolf

The Gig Economy, Flexibility, and Workplace Freedom

by Robert Donoghue

Once Upon a Gaze: On a missing column at the Acropolis of Athens

by Konstantinos Poulis