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November 14, 2008


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Kimball Corson

I must say, I do react to the phrase ". . . animal, as opposed to rational, nature . ." This is the old saw used by Catholics for generations to support the susposed biblical notion that the animal world is different from us and was placed on earth for us to use and abuse as we will, and have. Many animals besides us have rational natures and do in fact reason, as many experiments have demonstrated using chimps, african greys and other animals. Our own arrogance and their lack of language has undermined their position and allowed the view I attack here to persist in some quarters longer than it should have. In truth, we are past this antiquated, unscientific view.

Kimball Corson

Note too the rejection of any reference to "other animals," as though we are not ourselves animals. This is classical Catholic doctrine. In truth, we are animals, albeit the only ones we know of that have myth creating capabilities and superior communication capacity. Much of our behavior models chimps and apes as several recent books based on empirical studies have shown -- one published by the Univ. of Chicago Press. Evolution, too, has us descended from the apes. It is nonsense pure and simple, to believe to think that we are not animals and the contrary view relects highly on our own arrogance, as we attempt to elevate ourselves and put down "other animals." Doing so is the runway for the use and abuse of other animals, historically rationalized by religious sentiment until now when it is no longer socially acceptable.

Jeremy Bendik-Keymer

Hi Kimball,

You can definitely find the dualism you mentioned in Catholicism, but it's older than the Catholic Church -so you are misleading to hang the hat there. You can find it in Plato, too. Although I find the book totally vague, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote a book trying to deconstruct the history of the split between humans and animals. His book is called The Open.

So I take it you agree with Martha and take issue with Korsgaard's Kantian ontology. Note, though, that the reason it makes more sense for Korsgaard to speak of "animality", rather than "other animals", is that she locates the split inside humans. We are both rational and animal, according to that ontology, and her theory gets up and running by generalizing the duties to self that fix on on animal nature and then being consistent with their application to other animals. At bottom, though, the duty is just about animality, period, which is split off from our rational nature in that kind of account.

Like Martha, I agree with your distaste for that kind of split. Have you read James Rachels on Darwin and that issue?

I've a question maybe you can answer: how much does that split -going back to Plato- appear in current U.S. law?

Thanks for dialoguing.


P.S. On a side note, I have always found Francis of Assisi an interesting exception to the Catholic tradition you took issue with. I don't know if you have read his few writings or read the Fioretti, but he seems to have a view that is close to the Islamic one: that all creatures, being creatures of God, deserve reverence.

Kimball Corson

I do not take the distinction between animal and rational to be the operative one. I think animals are rational and do think, as some current research I mentioned points out. The distinction, I believe, relates more to myth creating capabilities, language and the preservation of history. “Other animals” don’t appear to do these things as well as we do (probably because they don’t have the printing press as yet). However, in other regards their levels of consciousness can match or exceed our own, especially for all we know. Our arrogance and preconceptions, until recently, have interfered with our capacity for inquiry in these regards.

Legally, other animals have gotten short shrift . . . from us anyway. The law usually denies them standing to assert claims, as being non-entities, chattel or private property instead. This may not be unreasonable as their capacity for communication with counsel is limited. Also, their acts are often subject to extra-judicial summary judgments. "Other animals" tend to chew their way through disputes. Other laws, however, often criminal laws, do protect them from abuse, variously defined, and over-hunting so they are not wholly without legal consideration. The new Ecuadorian Constitution raises animals´ interests and protections to wholly new heights, going so far as to give them actual rights. Experience under this new Constitution is limited as yet, however, especially inasmuch as the Ecuadorian Supreme Court recently resigned en mass.

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