Course Syllabus




  • Fall 2022
  • Tuesday 4:10-6:00 p.m.
  • The Dennes Room (234 Moses Hall)


R. Jay Wallace

  • Office: 134 Moses Hall
  • Phone/Email: 394-3309/
  • Office Hours: Thursday 2:30-4:00 p.m.
    (other times by appointment)


(A pdf of the syllabus may be downloaded here)



The question of the moral standing of non-human animals has long exercised philosophers. On the one hand, it seems obtuse to insist that animals have no moral standing in themselves, as Kant notoriously did, and that our only obligations with respect to them derive from moral duties we have to ourselves. On the other hand, the consequentialist insistence that pain is bad wherever it might be instantiated appears unable to do full justice to our thought that rational agents have a significance for moral thought that does not extend fully to non-rational animals.

This seminar is organized around a close reading of two important recent treatments of this topic. The first of them is Shelly Kagan’s book How to Count Animals, More or Less. Kagan defends and develops the apparently intuitive view that while animals clearly have moral standing in themselves, their moral status is not fully equal to that of human persons. There is a hierarchy of moral statuses, and how a given individual’s interests should be treated depends on where in the hierarchy of statuses that individual falls. Kagan’s own philosophical sympathies are consequentialist in their tendency, but he pushes back against the familiar consequentialist assumption that “pain is pain” (and hence equally bad wherever it might be instantiated). He also explores the implications of his hierarchical approach for deontological conceptions of morality and for the ethics of self-defense.

The second main focus of the seminar will be Christine Korsgaard’s book Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals. Korsgaard has a very different philosophical outlook from Kagan, one that is inspired by Kant’s practical philosophy. Her constructive conception of normativity anchors practical principles in the deliberative perspective of the agent. But she has long been concerned to show that principles that are in this way grounded in the structure of practical reason might have application to non-rational individuals as well as human persons, defining duties that we owe specifically to them. Fellow Creatures is the culmination of decades of reflection about this topic, and it is one of the most impressive and original treatments of it that I have encountered.

Korsgaard traces the moral standing of animals not to the fact that they are bearers of good and bad experiences, but to the attitudes they take toward themselves. They are important to themselves in very much the way that rational agents are, and it follows from this that they are to be treated as ends in themselves. In developing this position, however, Korsgaard argues that it doesn’t so much as make sense to think that non-rational animals matter less than rational humans do; she thus appears to close the door on the idea that there might be a hierarchy of different moral statuses.

Agency is a significant theme in both books. It (rather than sentience) is the basis of moral standing for Kagan, and one of Korsgaard’s most interesting lines of argument appeals to the attitudes rational agents take toward their own desires and inclinations. For this reason, I thought it might be interesting to end the seminar by taking a quick look at another recent book, by Tamar Schapiro: Feeling Like It: A Theory of Inclination and Will. This is not a treatment of the moral standing of animals, but it explores a topic that is important for understanding both the similarities and the differences between non-rational and rational agents. (I’m open to other suggestions about how we might make use of the final meetings of the seminar, so this part of the syllabus should be regarded as provisional.)

The seminar does not aspire to offer a systematic survey of the contemporary literature on animal ethics. Rather it is an example of the genre of graduate seminar that looks selectively at important recent work on a general topic. Having said that, I think the books by Kagan and Korsgaard are sufficiently wide-ranging in their scope that our close reading of them should provide a pretty good introduction to the most important philosophical questions in this general area.



This is a graduate seminar in the Department of Philosophy; the intended audience is graduate students in the philosophy Ph.D. program at Berkeley. Those who are not graduate students in philosophy (including graduate students in other departments, advanced undergraduate students, and visitors) may enroll in or audit the course only with the express permission of the instructor.

Those taking the seminar for credit must submit a term paper, of about 18 pages (5,000-5,500 words), by Friday, December 16. Regular participation in seminar discussions should also be regarded as a requirement of the course.


Schedule of Readings

Note: Electronic copies of the readings are posted to the "Files" section of the bCourses site for this seminar.

Aug. 30            Introductory Session

  1. Shelly Kagan, How to Count Animals, More or Less

Sept. 6             How to Count Animals, introduction, chaps. 1-2

Sept. 13           How to Count Animals, chaps. 3-4

Sept. 20           How to Count Animals, chaps. 5-6

Sept. 27           [No class meeting]

Oct. 4               How to Count Animals, chaps. 5-6 (cont.)

Oct. 11             How to Count Animals, chaps. 7-9

Oct. 18             How to Count Animals, chaps. 10-11

  1. Christine M. Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals

Oct. 25             Fellow Creatures, preface, chaps. 1-2

Nov. 1               Fellow Creatures, chaps. 3-4

Nov. 8               Fellow Creatures, chaps. 5-7

Nov. 15             Fellow Creatures, chaps. 6-8; Tamar Schapiro, "Animal Nature Within and Without"

Nov. 22             Fellow Creatures, chaps. 9-11

Nov. 29             Fellow Creatures, chap. 12; PPR Symposium




Course Summary:

Date Details Due