by James A. Serpell Marie A. Moore Professor of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare Director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals & Society (CIAS) School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Although meat is said to be the most highly prized category of food in the majority of human cultures, it is also, according to a recent ethnographic survey, “vastly more likely to be the target of food taboos,” than any other type of edible substance. People throughout the world display strong aversions to killing and
by Vigdis Broch-Due Professor of Social Anthropology and International Poverty Research at the University of Bergen, Norway
Professor Vigdis Broch-Due
It is a commonplace that East African pastoralists like Turkana of Northern Kenya identify themselves with their animals. However it really goes far beyond that. To grasp not just the emotional intensity of Turkana bonds with their cattle but the ways in which their life projects are intertwined, is to feel the
Though conditions of captivity vary considerably for humans and for other animals, two of the central philosophical issues that emerge in discussions of human imprisonment prove instructive in thinking through the ethical issues raised by captivity for non-humans — autonomy and dignity. When captives have their physical and immediate psychological needs met and are free from suffering, so they are not being harmed in those ways, we can we still ask if there something wrong with holding them captive.
Some nonhuman animals resemble normal humans in morally relevant ways. In particular, they bring the mystery of a unified psychological presence to the world. Like us, they possess a variety of sensory, cognitive, conative, and volitional capacities. They see and hear, believe and desire, remember and anticipate, plan and intend. Moreover, what happens to them matters to them. Physical pleasure and pain—these they share with us. But also fear and contentment, anger and loneliness, frustration and satisfaction, cunning and imprudence.
When it comes to birds, difference looms in classifications of “things that fly”—in particular at the most inclusive levels termed in scientific biological classification the class, order, and family. But might the nature of particular birds bring them into the spotlight for attention regardless of culture, setting them up for similar conception (discrimination, naming, specificity in taxonomy), even if perception inevitably is fundamentally cultural?
The apparent differences between humans and apes are not biologically fixed, but they are biologically and culturally instantiated. Differences in maternal care patterns, which human and bonobo infants experience from the moment of birth forward, are responsible for the many of the behavioral distinctions that later emerge between the species. They are culturally instantiated and are open to change at any time. From these caregiver patterns emerge the different styles of human/ape consciousness.
A trans-species perspective is an all-encompassing stance towards nature that embraces the continuity and comparability of all species’ lives. It shapes the way we view ourselves in relation to other animals and involves changing our current model of those relationships from one of separation and condescension to one of communalism and respect. Given the mass extinctions, global destruction of habitat, environmental degradation, and continued mass exploitation of other animals, nothing short of a shift in human psychological perspective is needed to turn things around.
Symbols, metaphors, analogies, parables, synecdoche, figures of speech. And we understand them. We understand that a captain wants more than just hands when he orders all of them on deck. We grasp that the right piece of cloth can represent a nation and its values, and that setting fire to such a flag is a highly charged act. We can learn that a certain combination of sounds put together by Tchaikovsky represents Napoleon getting his ass kicked just outside Moscow. And that the name “Napoleon,” in this case, represents thousands and thousands of soldiers dying cold and hungry, far from home. Where did this expertise with symbolism come from?
by Jeff McMahan, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University
Would the controlled extinction of carnivorous species be a good thing?
Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their
Our Forum is for scholars in the humanities and sciences to share their ideas and research. The Forum offers specialists as well as members of the public the opportunity to engage experts on questions concerning the meaning and significance, if any, of human life, especially at its edges. Read more...
alex rosenberg: I'm glad to be taken to task by Geoffrey Harpham in so indulgent and learned a manner. Pleasure, enjoyment, enrichment, the rewards of reading, listening, watching and looking, are...
Bill Benzon: Well, it's one thing to argue that, for example, the newer psychologies and other developments are relevant to humanistic inquiry and ought to be taken into account. It's something rather...
Charels T. Wolverton: The essence of Frank Williams' Popper quote seems to be that determinism implies that decision making is an illusion. To which I can only reply "doh!". For a somewhat more...
The word “culture” is sometimes recruited as a proxy for “race” in common parlance, and the familiar story of race predisposes us to understand the differences between European and Asian populations in biological, rather than cultural, terms. Culture is a significant shaper of human cognition, motivation, and emotion. The story of race as a biologi...