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Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy

Overview

Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents is the first-ever comprehensive examination of views of animals in the history of Western philosophy, from Homeric Greece to the twentieth century.

In recent decades, increased interest in this area has been accompanied by scholars’ willingness to conceive of animal experience in terms of human mental capacities: consciousness, self-awareness, intention, deliberation, and in some instances, at least limited moral agency.  This conception...

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Overview

Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents is the first-ever comprehensive examination of views of animals in the history of Western philosophy, from Homeric Greece to the twentieth century.

In recent decades, increased interest in this area has been accompanied by scholars’ willingness to conceive of animal experience in terms of human mental capacities: consciousness, self-awareness, intention, deliberation, and in some instances, at least limited moral agency.  This conception has been facilitated by a shift from behavioral to cognitive ethology (the science of animal behavior), and by attempts to affirm the essential similarities between the psychophysical makeup of human beings and animals.

Gary Steiner sketches the terms of the current debates about animals and relates these to their historical antecedents, focusing on both the dominant anthropocentric voices and those recurring voices that instead assert a fundamental kinship relation between human beings and animals.  He concludes with a discussion of the problem of balancing the need to recognize a human indebtedness to animals and the natural world with the need to preserve a sense of the uniqueness and dignity of the human individual.

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What People Are Saying

Daniel A. Dombrowski
Steiner has written a clear and detailed history of philosophical views of nonhuman animals. His book is unique because the perspective he brings to the history of Western philosophy is informed by the thought of Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida. Both animal rightists and opponents to animal rights can benefit from a reading of this book. (Seattle University)
Richard Watson
This major and original contribution to the history of anthropocentrism in Western culture fills a long-standing need for critical and illuminating analyses of the meaning and influence of this concept. Everyone interested in animal rights and the general field of environmental ethics should own this book for reference and reading pleasure. (Washington University in St. Louis)
Gary L. Francione
Steiner presents an engaging and most accessible historical review of the moral status of nonhuman animals in the Western philosophical tradition. This well-researched and clearly written book is a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion about the moral significance of animal interests, and it will serve as an important reference work for others working in the area. (Rutgers University School of Law)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822961192
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 1,428,776
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Steiner is John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University. He is the author of Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship, and Descartes as a Moral Thinker: Christianity, Technology, Nihilism. He is also the translator of Prauss’s Knowing and Doing in Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and Löwith’s Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism.

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Table of Contents

1 Contemporary debates on the status of animals 4
2 Epic and pre-Socratic thought 38
3 Aristotle and the stoics : the evolution of a cosmic principle 53
4 Classical defenses of animals : Plutarch and Porphyry 93
5 The status of animals in medieval Christianity 112
6 Descartes on the moral status of animals 132
7 The empiricists, the utilitarians, and Kant 153
8 Conceptions of continuity : Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Schweitzer 172
9 Postmodern conceptions of the human-animal boundary 202
10 Rethinking the moral status of animals 223
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