A philosopher’s walk through “animal ethics”
The relation between humanities (philosophy in particular) and animal studies (animal ethics in particular) is becoming more and more relevant in modern research. In 2012, the New York Times commented on this increasing interest in a very insightful article (“Animal Studies Cross Campus to Lecture Hall“). And, well, if a mass-medium feels it necessary to comment on an “academic trend”, it means that the latter is all over the place and can no longer be ignored. Provided that the whole article is worth reading (also because it collects opinions from important representatives of animal studies such as Marc Bekoff, Dale Jamieson and Kari Weil), an insight to the incipit of the text may give an idea of the quasi-epic tones of the announcement:
Once, animals at the university were the province of science. Rats ran through mazes in the psychology lab, cows mooed in the veterinary barns, the monkeys of neuroscience chattered in their cages. And on the dissecting tables of undergraduates, preserved frogs kept a deathly silence. On the other side of campus, in the seminar rooms and lecture halls of the liberal arts and social sciences, where monkey chow is never served and all the mazes are made of words, the attention of scholars was firmly fixed on humans. No longer.
In the recent past, I have been member of the Academic Advisory Board of Minding Animals, an organization which is exactly part of this trend, and I was both proud and intimidated to share the board membership with some of my personal heroes in various fields: Peter Singer, Marc Bekoff himself, John Maxwell Coetzee and Jane Goodall. That is, a philosopher, an ethologist, a Nobel laureate writer, and a primatologist. This means that both scientists and humanists have welcomed this trend with sympathy, and authentic celebrities in these fields are ready to put their face to support it.
As posthuman philosopher Francesca Ferrando has correctly noticed, we entered in a age of “post-anthropocentrism”, which is “post to the concept of the human and to the historical occurrence of humanism, both based (…) on hierarchical social constructs and humancentric assumptions”. However encouraging such overcoming sounds, many open questions and many challenges remain. Humanism is a philosophical practice that espouses reason, ethics and justice as its main values. How does a “human” science discuss the subject of “non human” animals – and: is that a “humanist” discussion? And what about natural sciences? Do they have something to say also in the philosophical/ethical area?
You can take virtual philosopher’s walk in animal ethics with access to free articles here. The idea is to show the richness, the controversiality and the interdisciplinarity of this discussion. I isolated a few of the many areas covered by the ongoing (or anyway recent) debates, hoping to give an idea of literally how much is going on and how much will still go on in the near future.
I have prepared the walk in five stages (plus a warm-up at the beginning) corresponding to five areas of discussion: in each of them, the readers will find suggestions for five readings, one book and four articles, plus a quotation that encompasses the spirit of that particular discussion.
Animal studies, and animal ethics in particular, have now “walked” from the campus to the lecture hall, as the New York Times announced: I am now happy to invite the readers to walk through a few more places, real and virtual… before concluding the stroll in some nice restaurant – one with vegan options of course.