Kant, Guyer, and Tomasello on the Capacity to Recognize the Humanity of Others

In Kate A. Moran (ed.), Kant on Freedom and Spontaneity. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 107-136 (2018)
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On the surface Kant himself seems quite clear about who is deserving of respect: The morally relevant others are all “rational, free beings” or all “human beings.” It is clear, however, that Kant does not want to identify “human beings” in this sense with members of a particular biological species, for he is explicitly open to the idea that there might be non-biologically human rational beings. Thus, for example he is explicitly open to the possibility of extraterrestrial rational beings, who would not be members of the same biological species as us, but who would, presumably be worthy of respect. And it would seem possible that there are members of our biological species who are not “human” in the morally relevant sense. Given these facts, a Kantian needs to give some account of how we are to recognize who or what counts as “human” in the morally relevant sense. I argue that to be “human” in the morally relevant sense is to have the capacity for morality, and that this involves: (a) the capacity to recognize others as ends rather than merely as means and (b) the capacity to enter into relations of ethical community with us. I defend a position I name moral reliabilism. According to this position: (a) We have a quasi-perceptual capacity to directly ascribe moral status to various bits of the world around us. I will argue that this capacity is best thought of in Gibsonian terms as a capacity to pick up on certain types of social affordances; morally relevant others have the capacity to engage in ethical interaction with us, and recognizing the humanity of others involves picking up on this capacity. Those beings who are “human” in the morally relevant sense, then, afford interaction based on mutual respect. (b) We should assume as a postulate of practical reason that this capacity is reliable (although fallible).

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Lucas Thorpe
Bogazici University


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