Pets, People, and Pragmatism

Pets, People, and Pragmatism

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 264
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    Pets, People, and Pragmatism
    Book Description:

    Pets, People, and Pragmatism examines human relationships with pets without assuming that such relations are either benign or unnatural and to be avoided. The book addresses a lack of respect in pet-people relationships; for respectful relationships to be a real possibility, however, humans must make the effort to understand the beings with whom we live, work, and play. American pragmatism understands that humans and other animal beings have been interacting and transforming each other for thousands of years. There is nothing "unnatural" about the human domestication of other animal beings, though domestication does raise specific practical and ethical questions. A pragmatist account of our relationship with those animal beings commonly considered as pets does not prohibit the use of these beings in research, entertainment, competition, or work. It does, however, find abuse and neglect unethical. Since abuse can occur in any use of other animal beings, this pragmatist account takes up the abusive practices in research, entertainment, competition, and work without arguing that research, entertainment, competition, and work are inherently abusive. Some of the sources of abuse have been addressed by utilitarian and deontological accounts, but a pragmatist evolutionary perspective offers unique insights and results in some surprising conclusions: for instance, there may be an ethical obligation to let a horse race, a dog show, or a cat compete in agility. Pets, People, and Pragmatism embarks on a philosophical journey that will captivate scholars and pet enthusiasts alike. It provides an important contribution to longstanding debates in the area of animal issues and strengthens the idea of multiple approaches to non-human beings. It also opens space for approaches that challenge some of the assumptions in the field of philosophy that have resulted in a dualistic and hierarchical approach to metaphysics and ethics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5116-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Problem with Pets
    (pp. 1-17)

    How does a vegetarian animal advocate justify “owning” three dogs, two horses, and living with two indoor cats? Worse yet, how does she justify training the dogs, herding sheep with the dogs, and training and competing with the horses? How does she object to factory farming but participate in stabling horses? Isn’t it just a difference in degree of confinement? How does she object to eating meat (including lamb) for reasons of environmental harm and animal suffering, yet pay a stock fee so she can train her dogs to herd sheep?¹ The sheep are used so her dogs can have...

    (pp. 18-42)

    As philosopher Mary Midgley says, “Man does not naturally exist in species isolation.” Human beings live in multiple-species communities and one of our special powers “is to draw in, domesticate and live with a great variety of other creatures” (“The Significance of Species” 135). This may even be a need. She says, “The point is not just that most human beings have in fact been acquainted with other creatures early in life, and have therefore received some non-human imprinting. It is also that children who are not offered this experience often actively seek it. Animals, like song and dance, are...

  6. TWO HORSES: Respecting Power and Personality
    (pp. 43-98)

    While not the most common pet in the United States (only 4 percent of the population owns a horse), horses play an important role in how human beings understand themselves and their relationships with other animal beings. Long used as a source of power and transportation, the domesticated horse very literally transformed human society and transformed the human sense of place, purpose, and power. Mounted societies were considered fierce, bold, aggressive, proud, defiant, and possessed an increased sense of self-worth. Cavalries have long intimidated foes (Lawrence 97–99, 102). Horses have also been (and are) sources of food in many...

  7. THREE AMERICAN PRAGMATISM: The Continuity of Critters
    (pp. 99-133)

    Now that we have seen the kind of discussion that might occur if we used American Pragmatism to guide the discussion of the relations among humans and other animal beings I turn to a longer discussion of the philosophical perspective itself. Many readers may never have heard of the philosophical tradition of American Pragmatism. For those who know something about American Pragmatism (or neo-pragmatism), it may seem an odd philosophy to choose in order to develop a discussion of respectful relationships between human beings and other animal beings.¹ There are some reasons for this possible confusion.

    First, a superficial understanding...

  8. FOUR DOGS: Respecting Perception and Personality
    (pp. 134-183)

    Now I turn to animal beings with whom many people have relationships. One estimate says that there are almost as many cats and dogs in households as televisions (Serpell,Company of Animals19). In 1986 there were an estimated 48 million dogs in the United States, and today that number is roughly 74.8 million (xxi 9). As they do with horses, some animal advocates see human relationships with dogs as a kind of slavery. But, this interpretation seems flawed. Of all the animal species on the planet, only about a dozen have been domesticated. And dogs and humans may have...

  9. FIVE CATS: Respecting Playfulness and Personality
    (pp. 184-216)

    Cats have a complicated history. They have been vilified as instruments of the devil, been blamed for the plague, and been considered in many superstitious beliefs as harbingers of bad luck. Yet, they are popular pets. In the United States in particular, cats have gone from being a witch’s companion to being the most numerous pet. Nevertheless, their past still haunts them. Shelters report that it is harder to find homes for black cats. Cats are often targets of choice for those who want to torture other animal beings. In general, cats are seen as expendable and so not worth...

    (pp. 217-232)

    So far I have examined a variety of relationships between human beings and some other animal beings commonly considered as pets. I have examined some practices and activities that can be harmful for these other animal beings. This harm is very real and very possible for individual horses, dogs, and cats. They have some legal protections, but they are ultimately dependent on the good will of the humans with whom they are involved. Even if we strengthen the legal protections for them, human good will remains the defining framework of their lives. So, I have tried to argue for a...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-242)
  12. Index
    (pp. 243-248)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)