Facing Animals: A Relational, Other-Oriented Approach to Moral Standing
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In this essay we reflect critically on how animal ethics, and in particular thinking about moral standing, is currently configured. Starting from the work of two influential “analytic” thinkers in this field, Peter Singer and Tom Regan, we examine some basic assumptions shared by these positions and demonstrate their conceptual failings—ones that have, despite efforts to the contrary, the general effect of marginalizing and excluding others. Inspired by the so-called “continental” philosophical tradition (in particular Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida), we then argue that what is needed is a change in the rules of the game, a change of the question. We alter the (pre-) normative question from “What properties does the animal have?” to “What are the conditions under which an entity becomes a moral subject?” This leads us to consider the role of language, personal relations, and material-technological contexts. What is needed then in response to the moral standing problem, is not more of the same—yet another, more refined criterion and argumentation concerning moral standing, or a “final” rational argumentation that would be able to settle the animal question once and for all—but a turning or transformation in both our thinking about and our relations to animals, through language, through technology, and through the various place-ordering practices in which we participate.
KeywordsAnimal ethics Moral standing Levinas Moral language Technology Place
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