|Gary Steiner||Home C.V. Books Columbia U.P. Critical Perpectives on Animals Links|
Animals merit moral status comparable
to that of human beings
More than fifty-three billion animals are killed worldwide for human consumption every year. That's just land animals; it doesn't include any of the sea creatures that we kill and eat. But we give little thought to the inner subjective lives of animals and the remarkable extent to which their lives are in important respects very much like our own. If we were to acknowledge the fundamental similarities between human and non-human animal life—for humans, too, are animals—it would be impossible for us to ignore the moral implications of the ways in which we use animals to satisfy our desires. The Western philosophical tradition has long argued that human beings are cognitively superior to non-human animals in virtue of possessing reason and language, and that this cognitive superiority entails a categorical moral superiority over animals. In my work on animals, I argue that capacities such as reason and language are irrelevant to considerations of moral status. The fact that animals have rich subjective lives that matter to them is sufficient by itself to confer on animals a moral status comparable to that of human beings, and it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge the extent of our moral obligations to animals.
In my first book I examined the tension between faith and reason in Descartes and argued that reason alone is insufficient to ground ethical commitments. In my books on animals, I have applied this insight to argue for the need to acknowledge the fundamental animality of humans and our felt kinship with non-human animals. My newest book is entitled Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, published by Columbia University Press. In this book I examine the limits of postmodern approaches (particularly Derrida's) in the endeavor to acknowledge the moral status of animals, and I argue for veganism as a strict ethical imperative.
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email: gsteiner –at– bucknell.edu