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Kant: Human, Animals, and Empathy Essay

Immanuel Kant remains one of the most influential thinkers in history. Part of Kant’s appeal is his ability to provide incredibly unique insights into the human condition. One of the more interesting works by Kant was his writing that looked into human interrelations with animals. From his examinations, Kant essentially shows that how humans treat animals is indicative of how they will treat other people. This ties very heavily into the notion that the human-animal relationship is linked heavily with empathy.

Kant makes a very sobering point in his analysis of human relationships with animals. Much of Kant’s analysis is realistic and this realistic insight notes the darker side of human nature. Kant understands that not all human/animal relationships are harmonious. The sad fact remains that there are those who are cruel to animals. Many sociopathic individuals display enormous cruelty to animals. Granted, the number of those individuals is limited in comparison to those who have harmonious relationships. But, these individuals do exists.

There numbers – while low – are still significant enough that there are laws on the books designed to punish their cruel behavior. Kant understands this because he looks at the relationship from a common sense perspective. After all, how could a person who tortures animals show empathy towards humans? A lack of empathy against any living this is indicative that the person possesses NO empathy. Kant also points out that a child who possesses such cruel behavior will likely develop into a cruel adult. That is the path such a malformed development of relationships will lead the child when he/she blossoms into adulthood.

Of course, not all of Kant’s writing deals with the negative aspects that can come to light when examining the relationship between humans and animals. The inverse is also presented as well. That is, the good qualities of a person become visible when examining how a person treats their loving animals. A person who cares for a dog when it is sick, gives it food when it is hungry, and provides shelter when the animal needs protection is clearly a person who understand the concept of giving to those in need. Such actions will eventually re-emerge in their relationships with other humans.

Now, does that mean that simply because a dog owner is angelic with his pet that the owner will be devoid of cruelty towards others? No, of course not; such an assessment would be absurd. However, if a person does treat an animal with kindness and respect then empathy is present. Simply put, all good treatment of animals is synonymous with empathy. You can not have one without the other. Granted, the actual volume of empathy may vary. That is, a person may show empathy towards family and friends but may possess aberrant or destructive traits as well. A person who loves his family selflessly may also possess racial animosity.

However, if one were to look at reducing or eliminating racial animosity (or any other personality aberrancy), a person with a capacity for empathy will be more than likely to repent as opposed to a sociopath who lacks empathy. Keep in mind, empathy is not a minimal “touchy-feely” emotion. Empathy goes to the core of who we are and what we are capable of. That is why it is critical to understand how beings react to others since this gives an insight into their empathic nature. A clear examination of human-animal relationships provides this insight. Or, at least, this is the hope.


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