German Immanual Kant was the most important philosopher of the Enlightment Era. In 1724 he was born in Königsberg - now Kaliningrad, Russia. He lived there all his life and died in 1804. The biggest part of his life he spend on analyzing nature, origin and reach of consciousness and knowledge.

The main question in this article is how Kant's findings can contribute to the human understanding of what's best for animals. We'll make an effort to transpose Kant's study based on his description about human nature.

Kant didn't think animals were morally interesting, because according to him they are no rationally thinking creatures. This does not make his views less appropriate, especially because Kant argued that people who cause suffering to animals are likely to use this behaviour on other people also, and bring about a degree of harshness towards other human beings.

In his theory of knowledge, Kant distinguishes the categorical and hypothetical imperative. The hypothetical imperative is the mainly realistic instruction which can be used in practice. This instruction can be linked to the present; for instance in the case of stray pets, that can be danger to themselves as well as to others. The best thing one can do is to call in the animal ambulance. The categorical imperative is defined by Kant to mean the guideline of moral awareness: being aware of ones own freedom as a human being as well as the ethical freedom of others. Apart from that, living up to this guideline should be separate from any conception about the practical goal to be reached (because according to Kant that is the idea of the hypothetical imperative). In Kant's opinion this all concerns a pure image and not a practical one. You should treat others the way you would like to be treated. This is also the message of the (Ten Commandments in the) Bible and the Qur'an. Although Kant denies that in a logical sense, religion and God can exist, he does link the existence of God to the categorical imperative. People have a more ethical conscience and because of his moral freedom, man can overcome the world of senses and participate in a higher, moral world. According to Kant, mankind should never solely serve as a purpose on itself, but at the same time should always be considered the target.

Centrally located in Kant's ethics is moral sense and central within moral sense is 'good will'. It is impossible to think of something that can be as good without restrictions, in this world and beyond, other than good will; the categorical imperative. It concerns not the matter of the act and what should follow, but the shape and the principle from which it sprouts. And the essential good of it exists in the inclination, whatever the result may be. In other words you could say that anything that enlarges your own freedom as well as that of others, is good. One could also be trapped in too much freedom. For instance a person with a heavy mental illness, living on his own in a normal district. It is very likely that this person will feel very lonely. Regarding to animals, take a mink that has been kept in a cage for all his life. If it regains freedom at once there is little chance of it surviving in nature.

Most people are full of good will where animals are concerned. Also many farmers show this tendency and want to combine keeping animals with earning their daily bread. This also reflects on the idea of 'good will'. Not all human acts with regard to the wellbeing of animals turn out right. To capture an animal to make use of it in a circus act is totally wrong. To provide shelter for a wounded or sick animal in order to help it survive is a good thing, on the condition that it will be set free eventually. It makes no difference if the freed animal has a bigger chance to be killed prematurely in freedom than in captivity. The result is all that matters: the act to support the freedom of the animal. That's the difference between an animal liberator and a good animal protector: the first is only focussed on freeing the animal from captivity, whilst the goal of the other is to totally set it free. This should also apply to our choice of food: we should learn to cook and eat mostly vegetable food. The production of dairy and meat products is limiting the freedom of too many animals; not only cattle but also wild animals, because their habitat is reducing rapidly to be used for cultivation of soy products for cattle food.
The carnivore human being has the freedom to eat meat and to decide for himself if this is a burden to his conscience or not. And it's the freedom of the animal protector to talk to the carnivore about his behaviour.

Stock keepers can be bona fide and of good will regarding the design of their company and be totally focussed on guarding the minimal boundaries in animal welfare. Where on the other hand the sector is mainly interested in enlarging consumption of animals inland and abroad, they have crossed the boundary of what's right into the mala fide area.

We cannot be sure completely about the correct wellbeing for humans and animals. For both species you can say that it would be best to let each individual find out for himself what's right. This can only be possible if the individual knows what it means to have (and gain) freedom to a certain extent.

Freedom is not only the absence of constraining unfulfilled fundamental needs, but also the possibility to develop.

For Kant, respect for our fellow man was really important. The other person is also a human being with needs and wishes. One should give the other space to pursue his personal goals. For animals, this means they should have enough space to perform their natural behaviour. Whatever the animal ultimately does with his freedom, does really not matter, in Kant's theory of knowledge (the categorical imperative).

It may sometimes seem as though his theory has some contradictions, but that only appears to be so. You could call it the paradox of freedom. One should always take the freedom of other living beings into account, this is one of few imperatives that applies always and on every culture.  This does not limit ones own freedom, because consideration with each others boundaries should be mutual for humans and animals. When one is also inclined to enlarge ones inner freedom, one is really part of a higher, moral world.