By Cary Wolfe
In Animal Rites, Cary Wolfe examines modern notions of humanism and ethics by means of reconstructing a bit identified yet an important underground culture of theorizing the animal from Wittgenstein, Cavell, and Lyotard to Lévinas, Derrida, Žižek, Maturana, and Varela. via precise readings of the way discourses of race, sexuality, colonialism, and animality engage in twentieth-century American tradition, Wolfe explores what it capacity, in thought and important perform, to take heavily "the query of the animal."
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Additional resources for Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory
As Slicer argues, rights theories “reduce individuals to that atomistic bundle of interests that the justice tradition recognizes as the basis for moral considerableness. In effect, animals are represented as beings with the kind of capacity that human beings most fully possess and deem valuable for living a full human life” (111). Stephen Zak captures the problem particularly well: Lives don’t have to be the same to be worthy of equal respect. One’s perception that another life has value comes as much from an appreciation of its uniqueness as from the recognition that it has characteristics that are shared by one’s own life.
With “whoever ﬁts the particular prejudices and bigotries of a particular society,”21 then how do we also avoid what seems like the only viable alternative: to locate a noncontingent natural ground (Singer’s “suffering,” say) that is outside—and not properly subject to—the contingency of the social contract? 22 Such an approach (in line with the pragmatist tradition generally) declares out of bounds any representationalist account of how we might “ground” the ethical standing of being X in some more empirically “true” understanding of its actual nature.
The only answer, Singer argues, is that we are not really using the subject’s actual capacities to decide the matter of ethical consideration here, but instead are adjudicating the matter solely based on species. And to do that is to indulge in speciesism, which—like its cognates racism, sexism, and classism—discriminates against an other based only on a generic description and not on what we actually know about its needs, interests, and capabilities. 15 Nor does it mean (as Mary Midgley perceptively notes) that all nonhumans necessarily have the same rights.