As a brief follow-up to my post thinking about Dr. J’s view that cats are a special class of being that ought not be used in research, I would like to assert that:
Some deontological approaches may be grounded in rational arguments while others are grounded in assertions. Kant, for example, offers something like an argument that your valuing anything requires that you value the rational capacity in yourself and in others. Kant’s rational argument could provide a basis for the claim that you shouldn’t lie to others. But you could also believe that you shouldn’t lie to others because lying is wrong.
Providing a rational argument to support your ethical commitments may sway someone who doesn’t start out sharing your commitments. But it may not. Much depends on whether your argument rests on premises the other person accepts, and on whether your logic is persuasive.
If you can’t provide a rational argument to support your ethical commitments, the best you may able to do is to point to them and hope that some of the others with whom you are dealing share them. There’s nothing prima facie wrong with your having commitments that you didn’t come to through rational argument. But if you can’t provide good reasons for preferring these commitments to others (the sorts of reasons that a rational argument would lay out), you can’t really expect others to take your commitments as their own.
Then there’s the quite separate issue of which lines of empathy are enforced by society (whether through laws, other regulations, or interpersonal pressures of various sorts). It’s quite possible to have deep empathy for cats, or for babies, or for supermodels. It’s also quite possible to lack feelings of empathy for cats, or for babies, or for supermodels.
No matter what you feel, or don’t feel, for them, society will have something to say about what you may do to cats, babies, and supermodels, and what you cannot do to cats, babies, and supermodels. What society permits and what society forbids will at least roughly reflect who the members of society understand to be in their moral community — and it’s worth noting that animal welfare laws suggest that cats are seen as falling somewhere in that moral community.
In other words, your empathy (or lack of empathy) may provide grounds for your behavior, but the rules of society also provide reasons to act in certain ways.
However, if there’s too big a mismatch between your deep feelings of empathy and the societal center of empathetic gravity reflected in the rules of society, you may want to consider shopping around for a society that better reflects your values.