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Being Animal

Being Animal: Beasts and Boundaries in Nature Ethics

Anna L. Peterson
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  • Book Info
    Being Animal
    Book Description:

    For most people, animals are the most significant aspects of the nonhuman world. They symbolize nature in our imaginations, in popular media and culture, and in campaigns to preserve wilderness, yet scholars habitually treat animals and the environment as mutually exclusive objects of concern. Conducting the first examination of animals' place in popular and scholarly thinking about nature, Anna L. Peterson builds a nature ethic that conceives of nonhuman animals as active subjects who are simultaneously parts of both nature and human society.

    Peterson explores the tensions between humans and animals, nature and culture, animals and nature, and domesticity and wildness. She uses our intimate connections with companion animals to examine nature more broadly. Companion animals are liminal creatures straddling the boundary between human society and wilderness, revealing much about the mutually constitutive relationships binding humans and nature together. Through her paradigm-shifting reflections, Peterson disrupts the artificial boundaries between two seemingly distinct categories, underscoring their fluid and continuous character.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53426-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction: Animals and Nature
    (pp. 1-17)

    This book began with questions about what my dogs and my academic field, environmental ethics, might have to do with each other. According to everything I read, these two important parts of my life were entirely separate. In scholarly writing on the environment, mentions of companion animals are scarce and usually negative: domesticated animals in general are seen as human constructs separate from and opposed to wild nature. The scorn about domesticated animals is embedded within a larger lack of interest in nonhuman animals generally among environmental philosophers and other people who think seriously about nature. People who pay attention...

  5. 2 Animals in Environmental Perspective
    (pp. 18-42)

    Nature means mountains, swamps, oceans, and the night sky, but it also means animals of all sorts. Recognizing their symbolic and emotional power, environmental advocates often use images of wild animals in order to raise both consciousness and money. While wolves in Yellowstone serve as proud symbols of a wilderness that deserves protection, oil-soaked pelicans on Gulf Coast beaches provide concrete images of human destructiveness. However, nature also means more homely animals who live in our backyards, city parks, and even within our houses. Familiar creatures—an owl hooting in a suburban tree, deer paused on the roadside at dusk—...

  6. 3 Animal Ethics
    (pp. 43-64)

    Although animals receive little attention in environmental thought, a growing literature addresses the moral status of nonhuman animals. Like environmental philosophy, animal ethics encompasses diverse theoretical models, including not only rights-based but also Utilitarian, virtue, feminist, and religious frameworks. Animal ethics also identifies a wide range of qualities as the source of value in nonhuman animals, from life itself to sentience, intelligence, sociability, or relations with humans. Almost all animal ethicists, however, agree that nonhuman animals have intrinsic value and should be protected on that basis.

    The assertion of intrinsic value and the concomitant conviction that humans have failed to...

  7. 4 Wild Animals
    (pp. 65-88)

    The distinction between wild and domesticated animals is fundamental to both environmental and animal ethics. Philosophers in both camps often take this distinction for granted and use it as the basis for their respective evaluations of the moral status of different animals and human obligations toward them. However, few if any have reflected on the meanings of wildness and domestication or the relationship between them. They take the polarity of wild and domestic as the starting point for evaluating human duties to different animals. I approach it, instead, as a problem to be examined. From this perspective, wildness and domestication...

  8. 5 Domesticated Animals
    (pp. 89-116)

    People have domesticated animals for a variety of reasons, including companionship, food, protection, and assistance with tasks such as hunting, farming, and pest control. Domestic animals provide stable sources of high-quality protein as well as leather, wool, horn, and fur. They are much better than humans at many tasks, such as pulling a plow, killing rats, or locating and catching fast-moving or well-hidden prey. Because of the advantages of domestication, over the past several thousand years humans have tried to domesticate hundreds of species. Most of these attempts failed, including efforts with species, such as zebras, that are closely related...

  9. 6 The Debate Between Environmentalism and Animal Advocacy
    (pp. 117-140)

    The relationship between environmentalism and animal advocacy is usually seen, as the only book on the topic puts it, as “The Animal Rights/Environmental Ethics Debate.” The title reflects two widespread assumptions. First, there are two parties involved, which can be described as “animal rights” and “environmental ethics,” each with a singular perspective. Second, there is an ongoing argument between the two fields. Although the book is over fifteen years old, no subsequent volumes have appeared to update or revise the state of the debate, and the problems and positions elaborated in this volume remain central to contemporary discussions.

    The book’s...

  10. 7 Between Animals and Nature: Finding Common Ground
    (pp. 141-160)

    In both theory and practice, the conflict between concern for animals and concern for the environment as a whole seems to be unavoidable and perhaps permanent. The theoretical dimensions of this split rest in dominant ways of thinking about nature and culture, animals and humans, wildness and domesticity, and individuals and wholes. All these pairs resist efforts at reconciliation because the elements are defined as mutually exclusive rather than constitutive. As long as we think about nature, animals, and humans in terms of these conceptual oppositions, integration of the different values at stake will remain impossible. We will continue to...

  11. 8 Being Animal
    (pp. 161-186)

    To develop an alternative nature ethic, we need to challenge the usual ways of thinking not just about animals and the environment but also about ethics. Mainstream moral theory assumes that wrong ideas cause destructive practices and, therefore, that changed ideas will lead directly to changed practices. This framework permeates environmental ethics, reflecting the endemic idealism of Western social thought, in which ideas always precede action. According to this “linear model of action,” new knowledge leads to different attitudes, and those attitudes, in turn, cause shifts in behavior.² In reality, however, the connections between values and practices are more complicated...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-204)
    (pp. 205-218)
  14. Index
    (pp. 219-222)