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Animal Pragmatism: Rethinking Human-Nonhuman Relationships available in Paperback
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- Indiana University Press
What does American pragmatism contribute to contemporary debates about human-animal relationships? Does it acknowledge our connections to all living things? Does it bring us closer to an ethical treatment of all animals? What about hunting, vegetarianism, animal experimentation, and the welfare of farm animals? While questions about human relations with animals have been with us for millennia, there has been a marked rise in public awareness about animal issueseven McDonald’s advertises that they use humanely treated animals as food sources. In Animal Pragmatism, 12 lively and provocative essays address concerns at the intersection of pragmatist philosophy and animal welfare. Topics cover a broad range of issues, including moral consideration of animals, the ethics of animal experimentation, institutional animal care, environmental protection of animal habitat, farm animal welfare, animal communication, and animal morals. Readers who interact with animals, whether as pets or on a plate, will find a robust and fascinating exploration of human-nonhuman relationships.
Contributors are James M. Albrecht, Douglas R. Anderson, Steven Fesmire, Glenn Kuehn, Todd Lekan, Andrew Light, John J. McDermott, Erin McKenna, Phillip McReynolds, Ben Minteer, Matthew Pamental, Paul Thompson, and Jennifer Welchman.
|Publisher:||Indiana University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Rethinking Human-Nonhuman Relationships
By Erin McKenna, Andrew Light
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2004 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
"What Does Rome Know of Rat and Lizard?": Pragmatic Mandates for Considering Animals in Emerson, James, and Dewey
James M. Albrecht
We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.
— Aldo Leopold, "The Land Ethic"
In their search for intellectual ancestors in the tradition of American transcendentalism, environmentalists have understandably focused not on Ralph Waldo Emerson but on Henry David Thoreau. As Lawrence Buell has argued, horeau's writings evince an emerging interest in "defining nature's structure, bothspiritual and material, for its own sake," while Emerson's works, though representing a "great stride" toward a "more audaciously secularized" and naturalistic view of nature's "philosophic, or at least theologic" significance, remain committed to an anthropocentric consideration of "how nature might subserve humanity" (118, 117). Yet for those who believe that American pragmatism offers a distinctive contribution to the present debate on the moral status of animals, the line of influence between Emerson and his pragmatic descendants William James and John Dewey constitutes another important genealogy in the American environmental imagination. Specifically, though Emerson celebrates human intelligence — including our language, concepts, and technology — as a powerful extension and augmentation of nature's creative energies, he is also acutely concerned with the ways that our individual acts, and the cultural constructs that empower and focus them, blind us to aspects of the living and changing world of which we are a part. This Emersonian apprehension takes on, in the works of James, an explicitly ethical significance, an obligation to attend sympathetically to the significance of other beings' experiences, to their desires and demands. Nonhuman animals tellingly emerge as examples in both Emerson's and James's prose when they pursue this line of ethical concern, but neither thinker explicitly pursues the possible consequences for the moral status of animals. Just how this concern might support a pragmatic argument for increasing the moral consideration we grant animals becomes clearer in light of Dewey's analysis of ethics — specifically, as Dewey's analysis enables a critique of the two dominant positions shaping the animal rights debate, the utilitarian approach of Peter Singer and the rights-based approach of Tom Regan.
While pragmatism has clear affinities with the utilitarian approach, one significant difference is pragmatism's emphasis on the legitimate and indeed necessary role that emotions or sympathy play in moral reflection and choice. For Dewey, emotionally felt obligations to other beings are a fundamental, naturally occurring aspect of our associated existence as human beings; as such they are legitimate starting points in the moral dissatisfactions that trigger the process of moral reflection, action, and change. Emotional dispositions also shape and determine our ability to perceive consequences that should be included in moral reflection. Last, emotions are an unavoidable determinant in moral decisions, which, both James and Dewey argue, involve not only quantitative calculations about future consequences but also our desires and choices about the quality of happiness to be found, and the quality of character to be cultivated, in striving to achieve different ends. From a pragmatic perspective, extending the moral consideration we grant to animals is such a choice, and thus cannot be settled merely by rational arguments — whether of the Singer or Regan variety — about why the mental status of animals entitles them to greater consideration. Within this process of moral inquiry, a greater openness toward the diversity of experience and the diverse experience of others, such as Emerson and James urge us to cultivate, can encourage a pragmatic choice to grant animals greater moral consideration.
But why start with Emerson, since these arguments, admittedly, could be made with reference only to James and Dewey? First, if the pragmatic tradition does have something distinctive to offer to the animal rights debate, our understanding of that contribution will be stronger, richer, and more historically accurate if we appreciate its origins and development. Moreover, there is a practical political value in seeing this tradition as a developing one, for though the relevance that pragmatic concerns have for the status of animals becomes increasingly clear as one proceeds from Emerson to James to Dewey, none of these thinkers — including Dewey, who, for instance, argued strongly in favor of experimenting on animals (in "Ethics of Animal Experimentation") — articulated this relevance. That task remains for us; and seeing the pragmatic view of animals as an evolving one can encourage us, in good pragmatic fashion, to appropriate the ideas of the classic pragmatists and revise them to meet the demands of our social circumstances and ethical commitments. Finally, while beginning with Emerson can illuminate the evolution of a pragmatist position on animals, it can, conversely, also illuminate the status of "nature" in Emerson's thought and the significance of his contribution to American ethical and environmental thinking.
* * *
Emerson's attitudes toward nature are characterized by many of the tensions evident in other Romantic thinkers; for instance, he on the one hand views nature as a source of organic integrity that provides an antidote to the alienations and fragmentations of culture, while, on the other hand, he celebrates cultural technologies such as the steam engine or railroad as products of a human creativity that finds its roots in nature. Though Buell is correct in noting Emerson's primary stress on the human uses of nature, Emerson increasingly moved toward a naturalistic vision that decentered humankind's position. Even in his first book, Nature (1836), which retains clear vestiges of an idealist metaphysics, Emerson's assertion that nature finds its highest meaning in the aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual uses that humans make of it is balanced by his rejection of any intellectualization that would deny or degrade the substantial reality of nature or the emotional intimacy of our connection to it. In later essays, such as "Nature" (1844) and "Fate" (1860), Emerson moves further toward a vision of the human self as wholly implicated in the physical processes of nature, as driven by natural impulses for growth and self-expression and limited by the "tyrannizing" forms of our physical embodiment ("Fate" 946). "The craft with which the world is made," he writes, the "calculated profusion" and "exaggeration" which casts a "prodigality of seeds" so that "if thousands perish," "tens may live to maturity" and reproduce, "runs also into the mind and character of men" ("Nature" 550). Emerson's resulting ethics, which urge us to pursue the limited yet sufficient opportunities for power and knowledge that exist within the "mixed instrumentalities" of nature ("Fate" 772), are frankly melioristic, and directly anticipate the melioristic ethics of both James and Dewey.
Emerson's Romantic naturalism can also be seen as in significant ways a precursor of pragmatism's naturalistic view of human intelligence and of the relation between the ideal and actual aspects of experience. In Nature, Emerson describes human intelligence — such as our development of language and technologies — as emerging from nature, anticipating the Deweyan view that human arts constitute an extension and augmentation of experience's natural processes of growth and consummation. "Nature, in its ministry to man," Emerson writes, "is not only the material but is also the process and result," and "the useful arts are reproductions or combinations by the wit of man, of these same natural benefactors" (12), and he cites the steam engine and railroad as such technological extensions of nature:
He no longer waits for favoring gales, but by means of steam, he realizes the fable of Æolus's bag, and carries the two and thirty winds in the boiler of his boat. To diminish friction, he paves the road with iron bars, and mounting a coach with a ship-load of men, animals, and merchandise behind him, he darts through the country, from town to town, like an eagle or a swallow through the air. By the aggregate of these aids, how is the face of the world changed, from the era of Noah to that of Napoleon! (12–13)
As this passage shows, Emerson, like the pragmatists after him, celebrates the unique power of human intelligence to reshape the environment so as to extend and secure our enjoyment of the goods of experience. Our cultural intelligence — making available the full range of human languages, tools, ideas, and artifacts — provides individuals with incredible powers: "[W]e wish for a thousand heads, a thousand bodies," Emerson notes, and "in good faith, we are multiplied by our proxies. How easily we adopt their labors! Every ship that comes to America got its chart from Columbus. Every novel is a debtor to Homer. Every carpenter who shaves with a foreplane borrows the genius of a forgotten inventor" ("Uses of Great Men" 620).
Even as Emerson affirms the power of human ideas to empower us, his writings also express an enduring anxiety that our concepts, misused, can enervate and impoverish us. While he shares James's and Dewey's view that the proper function of human ideas is to facilitate action that will enrich experience, he also anticipates their criticism that ideas too often are treated more as ends than as means to continued activity and growth. An over-reliance on the ready-made ideas and tools that culture provides us, Emerson argues, can prevent us from seeking the more primary good of actively expressing and cultivating our own capacities: "What the former age has epitomized into a formula or rule for manipular convenience, [the mind] will lose all good of verifying for itself, by means of the wall of that rule. Somewhere, sometime, it will demand and find compensation for that loss by doing the work itself " ("History" 240). A second, and related, concern focuses on the ways our existing concepts may prevent us from perceiving and engaging aspects of our environment that might elicit novel experiences, activities, and results. The self depends on interaction with its environment — both cultural and natural — to elicit its potential powers: "No man can antedate his experience, or guess what faculty or feeling a new object shall unlock," Emerson observes, "any more than he can draw today the face of a person whom he shall see to-morrow for the first time" ("History" 255). Cultural objects and influences provide one powerful resource for unfolding such discovery, but Emerson is deeply concerned that the actions they motivate, and the products which result from such actions, threaten to obscure other aspects of experience. As he argues in his essay "Circles," each set of human actions, practices, and ideas that defines a new perception of reality — a new "circle," in Emerson's metaphor — becomes in turn an obstacle to further creative acts and novel perceptions. The antidote, Emerson suggests, lies in a continual effort to move beyond the results, satisfactions, and certainties of each completed act by commencing new acts: "Power," he insists in a famous passage from "Self-Reliance," "ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim" (271). This ethos of abandonment and transition can open our perception to aspects of experience that lie beyond what is already conceptualized or humanized, such perception being necessary to growth and change: "When good is near you," Emerson asserts, "it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name[.] ... You take the way from man, not to man" ("Self-Reliance" 271).
There are not, given Emerson's interest in nature, a large number of references to animals in his writings, nor any sustained attention to the quality or value of animal experience. One tantalizing comment does appear in an 1867 lecture; reflecting on the ways modern science has undermined the anthropocentrism of traditional worldviews, Emerson voices a naturalistic assertion of the essential continuity of human and animal intelligence: "The study of animals disclosed the same intellect as in man, only initial, only working to humble ends, but, as far as it went, identical in aim with his: full of good sense, baffling him sometimes, by showing a more fertile good sense in the animal, than in the hunter; but everywhere intelligent to us, because like ours" ("Rule of Life" 378). Such direct reflection on the quality of animal experience is rare in Emerson. Yet even if he himself did not recognize it, one possible implication of the ethical concerns outlined above is a mandate to extend a more sympathetic attention to the nonhuman aspects of nature. George Kateb, for instance, has described Emersonian self-reliance as an intellectual method that strives to move beyond the constraints of any particular perspective, a method that cultivates an "indefinite receptivity" and openness to the intrinsic value of the particulars of our world; this ethos, Kateb concludes, might be enlisted in a "preservative politics" that fights to maintain the world in all its diverse particularity (33–34). These potential implications of Emerson's thought become most apparent, as I hope to show, in the larger context of a pragmatic perspective on our obligations to animals. But I would like to explore one striking instance in Emerson's writings where the issue of extending our moral consideration of animals does emerge explicitly.
This instance is the conclusion to Emerson's essay "History." The bulk of the essay explores how history — considered broadly as the entire collection of human artifacts resulting from the acts of previous individuals and societies — provides a rich record of human possibility that individuals can use to discover and unlock their own latent capacities and to interpret their present historical moments. Yet the essay ultimately betrays the tension, outlined above, between this confidence in the power of culture and Emerson's contrasting fear that culture's tools will obscure our perception of the living world around us. This tension becomes clear when Emerson, having focused on the "civil and metaphysical history of man," acknowledges in the essay's final section that "another history goes daily forward, — that of the external world, — in which he is not less strictly implicated" (253–54):
He is the compend of time; he is also the correlative of nature. His power consists in the multitude of his affinities, in the fact that his life is intertwined with the whole chain of organic and inorganic being. In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east and west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of the eagle presuppose the air. He cannot live without a world. (254)
This passage initially appears to be a confident assertion of the power of our cultural intelligence to connect us to the natural world and bring it under human control. Yet the clash in Emerson's metaphors reveals a tension in this relationship: the organic tropes place humankind, like fish and eagles, in the natural world, describing the world as the "flower and fruitage" of human faculties, while the imperialistic trope of Rome places humankind as a foreign conqueror extending military and economic "dominion" over nature. The danger here seems clear: if humankind "cannot live without a world," if we depend on our environment to call forth the latent possibilities of our human nature, and if our power indeed "consists in the multitude of [our] affinities" to the "whole chain of organic and inorganic being," then the violence of our culturally mediated relation to nature threatens to obscure as much as it reveals. The imperial "highways" of human intelligence, paved in our headlong rush to secure certain goods, will lead us to trample on other aspects of the world we inhabit.
Excerpted from Animal Pragmatism by Erin McKenna, Andrew Light. Copyright © 2004 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword John J. McDermott
Introduction: Why Pragmatism? Erin McKenna and Andrew Light
Part 1. Pragmatism Considering Animals
1. "What Does Rome Know of Rat and Lizard?": Pragmatic Mandates for Considering Animals in Emerson, James and Dewey James M. Albrecht
2. Dewey and Animal Ethics Steven Fesmire
3. Overlapping Horizons of Meaning: A Deweyan Approach to the Moral Standing of Nonhuman Animals Phillip McReynolds
4. Peirce's Horse: A Sympathetic Bond Douglas. R. Anderson
Part 2. Pragmatism, the Environment, Hunting, and Farming
5. Beyond Considerability: The Environmental Ethics-Animal Rights Debate as a Problematic Situation Ben Minteer
6. Methodological Pragmatism, Animal Welfare, and Hunting Andrew Light
7. Getting Pragmatic About Farm Animal Welfare Paul Thompson
8. Pragmatism and the Production of Livestock Erin McKenna
Part 3. Pragmatism on Animals as Cures, Companions, and Calories
9. Dewey on Animal Experimentation Jennifer Welchman
10. Pragmatism and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees Todd Lekan
11. Pragmatism and Pets Matthew Pamental
12. Dining on Fido: Death, Identity, and the Dilemma of Eating Animals Glenn Kuehn