Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism

Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism

Gary Steiner
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    Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism
    Book Description:

    While postmodern approaches to politics and ethics have offered some intriguing and influential insights in philosophy and theory, Gary Steiner illuminates the fundamental inability of these approaches to arrive at viable ethical and political principles. Ethics require notions of self, agency, and value that are not available to postmodernists. Therefore much of what is published under the rubric of theory lacks a proper basis for a systematic engagement with ethics.

    Steiner provocatively critiques postmodernist approaches to the moral status of animals against the background of a broader indictment of postmodern thought and its inability to establish clear principles for action. He revisits the work of Derrida, Foucault, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, together with recent work by their American interpreters, and shows that the basic terms of postmodern thought are incompatible with any definitive claims about the moral status or rights of animals -- and humans. Steiner acknowledges the failures of liberal humanist thought regarding the moral status of animals; but instead of following postmodern thinkers who reject humanist thought outright, he argues for the need to rethink humanist notions in a way that avoids the anthropocentric limitations of traditional humanist thought. Drawing on the achievements of the Stoics and Kant, Steiner builds on his earlier work, developing his ideas of cosmic holism and non-anthropocentric cosmopolitanism in order to arrive at a more concrete foundation for animal rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52729-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-6)

    In recent years there has been a great profusion of scholarly writing about the mental capacities and the moral status of nonhuman animals. While much of this writing has come from ethologists, historians, and philosophers writing under the influence of traditional humanistic thought, an increasingly large proportion of it has come from postmodern thinkers who see in humanism a fundamental obstacle to the prospect of doing justice to the experiential capacities and the moral worth of animals.¹ A key prejudice of traditional humanistic thought is that there is an essential divide between human beings and nonhuman animals: only human beings...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Use and Disadvantages of Nietzsche for Life
    (pp. 7-42)

    The possibility of declaring veganism a fundamental moral principle depends, like the possibility of declaring any principle whatsoever, on the identification of a stable and enduring foundation upon which the principle can be justified. If veganism is to be considered a moral obligation, then it must be possible to derive it from a set of guiding convictions about the way things are and ought to be. This in turn, as trivial as it might seem, depends on there being something like “the way things are and ought to be.” But are we any longer entitled to speak of things like...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Postmodernism and Justice
    (pp. 43-76)

    If justice is about anything, it is about affirming a sense of responsibility to others. Hesiod saw this when he asserted that the law of justice requires us to practice nonharm toward others who are reciprocally required to practice nonharm toward us. Epicurus was committed to a similar conception of justice and added the characterization, embraced in our own time by John Rawls, that justice is at least implicitly a contractual arrangement between parties who can recognize both what they get and what they give when they enter into mutual agreements of nonharm. In its classical formulation, justice is a...

  7. CHAPTER THREE “Later here signifies never”: Derrida on Animals
    (pp. 77-132)

    At the beginning of the previous chapter, I noted a basic difference between traditional (particularly liberal) and postmodern thinkers on questions such as whether it is permissible to kill and eat animals: the former tend to be willing to give a relatively straightforward “yes” or “no” answer to such questions, whereas the latter call for the infinite deferral of any determinate answers. This is not to say that postmodern thinkers of the kind I have been discussing—here I am thinking of Derrida and those thinkers who follow in his path—defer anyresponseto such questions, but rather that...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Animal Rights and the Evasions of Postmodernism
    (pp. 133-166)

    Do animals have a right not to be eaten by human beings? Do they have a right not to be used as instrumentalities by humans? If they do have such rights, are these part of a larger constellation of rights such as the right to procreate freely without the interference of human beings? If animals have rights, what is the basis for their possession of rights? Do all or only some animals have rights? Do those animals that have rights all have the same rights, or do different animals have different rights? Is the very idea of rights “metaphysical,” hence...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Toward a Nonanthropocentric Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 167-194)

    The ideal of civil society that prevails today owes a direct debt to Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant, who sought to articulate the importance of notions such as autonomy, equality, reciprocity, and mutual respect for any viable system of political decision making. But our contemporary ideal owes an equal if indirect debt to an ancient cosmopolitan ideal according to which human beings are morally superior to all other natural beings and hence enjoy a natural prerogative to use nonhuman beings to satisfy human needs and desires. Kant does not invent the cosmopolitan ideal but simply modifies it in accordance with...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Cosmopolitanism and Veganism
    (pp. 195-232)

    The ideal of cosmic justice, of duties of justice not simply to our fellow human beings but to all sentient life, finds its ground in a cosmic holism according to which we are bound in an essential kinship relation with all beings that suffer and struggle to realize their natural potential.¹ The revision of the Stoic doctrine ofoikeiosisthat I proposed in the previous chapter is a corollary of cosmic holism and an essential precondition for asserting duties of justice toward animals. The Stoics recognized that all sentient beings have a natural affinity for their own kind—first for...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 233-272)
    (pp. 273-286)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 287-292)