Flesh and Finitude: Thinking Animals in (Post)Humanist Philosophy


In what follows, I want to suggest that a good deal of confusion about “animal studies” has stemmed from our inability to locate the question properly.1 More specifically, if philosophical work that takes the moral status of non-human animals seriously is, in some obvious sense, posthumanist (i.e., challenging the ontological and ethical divide between humans and non-humans that is a linchpin of philosophical humanism), such work may still be quite humanist on an internal theoretical and methodological level that recontains and even undermines an otherwise admirable philosophical project. My aim here is to map a kind of philosophical or theoretical spectrum that moves from humanist approaches to posthumanism (or anti-anthropocentrism) to posthumanist approaches to posthumanism, moving from a cluster that includes Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian “capabilities approach,” Peter Singer’s utilitarianism, and Tom Regan’s post-Kantian animal rights philosophy at one end, through the post-Wittgensteinian work of philosopher Cora Diamond (itself inflected by Stanley Cavell’s writings on philosophical skepticism), to, finally, the later work of Jacques Derrida on “the question of the animal.” My point will not be to pursue a kind of “more-posthumanist-than-thou” sweepstakes, but rather to try to bring out how the very admirable impulses behind any variety of philosophy that challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism (impulses that I respect wherever they may be found) demand a certain reconfiguration of what philosophy (or “theory”) is and how it can (and cannot) respond to the challenge that all of these figures want to engage: the challenge of sharing the planet with non-human subjects.

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