The discussion isn’t showing any signs of slowing down at the Hypatia Symposium, so we’re extending the comment period for another week, until July 20th. Perhaps even longer if there are still fruitful discussions to be had.
Below, we’ve cherry picked one or two comments ‘overheard’ in the discussion threads of the symposium pieces to give you a quick flavour of discussion taking place. Your voice is welcome.
20th century Philosophy saw a burgeoning interest in modalities of sensory perception un-enjoyed by humans. And the interest is well-deserved; for it is by looking to the physiognomy of bats and dogfish that we can best test our intuitions on whether or not adequate knowledge of an organism’s physical structure can ever tell us everything that we can know about what it is like to be that organism. However, philosophers tend to gravitate towards sonar and perceptual sensitivity to magnetic fields without paying attention to whether any lessons might be learned in less weird perceptual modes. Are non-human sensory modes like sonar always wholly unimaginable, or are some such modes more imaginable than others? If we can’t imagine what it is like to perceive through sonar, for instance, can we imagine what it is like to tell an object’s shape by our whiskers?
As the Economist reports, tremendous advances have recently been made in understanding how seals detect and perceive prey whilst swimming in murky water. When an object moves about under water, it creates a signature wake that carries information about the object. This information is lost on humans; a wake is a wake so far as our sensory systems are concerned. But a series of tests on a trained seal have shown that seals are able to discriminate objects whose width vary by as little as 2.8 cm, and can also distinguish objects of a similar width yet different shape.
This ability probably falls under the realm of good old-fashioned tactile perception, yet try as I might, I cannot imagine being able to distinguish the wake of a round object from that of a square one. At the same time, however, I feel inclined to contend that we can more easily imagine what it is like to have seal whiskers than what it is to perceive via sonar or disturbances in the magnetic field. Can seals help us to better understand the conceptual barriers that seem to arise in the more extreme cases of experience? Or might we even find that spending an afternoon in the pool after not shaving for a few months uncovers unknown sensory powers in our sideburns?
Last month the New York Times Magazine ran a gut-wrenching article exploring the relationship between animal cruelty and human-on-human violence. A taste:
The link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence is becoming so well established that many U.S. communities now cross-train social-service and animal-control agencies in how to recognize signs of animal abuse as possible indicators of other abusive behaviors. In Illinois and several other states, new laws mandate that veterinarians notify the police if their suspicions are aroused by the condition of the animals they treat. The state of California recently added Humane Society and animal-control officers to the list of professionals bound by law to report suspected child abuse and is now Continue reading “Torturing animals is bad”
Are you an animal lover if you dote on your cat but then happily tuck into a plate of chicken or pig? Do horses and apes have equal rights to humans? We spoke with Jean Kazez author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animalsabout her exploration into the ethical tensions between animals and humans.
The Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Animalkind?
Jean Kazez: I got the idea to write this book when I was working on my first book, The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life (Blackwell 2007). There are a few pages in there about what it is for animals to live good lives. I wanted to write more about that–“The Good Life for Dogs,” maybe? As I got started, the subject gradually changed. The truth is, billions of animals in the world are living very bad lives as a result of human decisions. I wound up writing a book that’s about animal lives, but also about our decisions. Continue reading “Interview: Animalkind – What We Owe to Animals”
My reaction is horror. What kind of person looks at the suffering in controlled animal feeding operations and thinks: you know how we could fix this? By genetically engineering the animals not to care! Continue reading “Painless meat”
When your dog makes a mess on the carpet, or the family cat scratches at the arms of the sofa, we might regard this as irritating, and scold the animal, but we do so without really considering the animal as a moral agent: one who chose to misbehave.* Recently, there were reports across media outlets of a most interesting piece of animal behaviour, which might make us re-evaluate our attitude towards animals as moral agents. Continue reading “The (Im)moral Chimp?”
In ‘The Animal that Therefore I am,’ Jacques Derrida invites readers to reconsider the classical distinction between ‘animal’ and ‘human.’ His critique includes a playful account of nudity – a meditation on the experience of being naked in the presence of one’s pet. The investigation suggests that Mr. Fluffy’s ability to make me ‘feel naked’ (i.e., to ‘shame’ me) calls into question the ‘difference’ between us.
Recent headlines offer a unique twist to this dynamic. As the summer months warm, families across the States are struggling to decide how old is too old for their children to play in the nude. Justifications and concerns vary, but many mark the cut-off at the moment when childhood innocence dissolves into adult (or adult-like) awareness – when the child begins to ‘feel naked.’