A Philosophy of the Insect

Jean-Marc Drouin. Translated by Anne Trager.

Columbia University Press

A Philosophy of the Insect

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Pub Date: October 2019

ISBN: 9780231175791

240 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $28.00£22.00

Pub Date: October 2019

ISBN: 9780231175784

240 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $85.00£66.00

Pub Date: October 2019

ISBN: 9780231540728

240 Pages

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A Philosophy of the Insect

Jean-Marc Drouin. Translated by Anne Trager.

Columbia University Press

The world of insects is at once beneath our feet and unfathomably alien. Small and innumerable, insects surround and disrupt us even as we scarcely pay them any mind. Insects confront us with the limits of what is imaginable, while at the same time being essential to the everyday functioning of all terrestrial ecosystems.

In this book, the philosopher and historian of science Jean-Marc Drouin contends that insects pose a fundamental challenge to philosophy. Exploring the questions of what insects are and what scientific, aesthetic, ethical, and historical relationships they have with humanity, he argues that they force us to reconsider our ideas of the animal and the social. He traces the role that insects have played in language, mythology, literature, entomology, sociobiology, and taxonomy over the centuries. Drouin emphasizes the links between humanistic and scientific approaches—how we have projected human roles onto insects and seen ourselves in insect form. Caught between the animal and plant kingdoms, insects force us to confront and reevaluate our notions of gender, family, society, struggle, the division of labor, social organization, and individual and collective intelligence. A remarkably original and thought-provoking work, A Philosophy of the Insect is an important book for animal studies, environmental ethics, and the history and philosophy of science.
A Philosophy of the Insect offers a meditation on insects' status in nature. With a writing style rich with mythological, literary, and entomological references, the author demonstrates how these tiny beings, champions of animal diversity and prosperity, play a large role in the natural balance. Colette Bitsch, Paul Sabatier University
With an erudition as vast as the world of insects, Jean-Marc Drouin explores the numberless ways in which scholars and commentators have reflected on our interactions with these wonderful and often bothersome animals. Because of the easy anthropomorphizing of their sociopolitical ways, bees and ants often take center stage, but it is the whole insect world that inspires Drouin’s intense and often surprising meditations. Pietro Corsi, author of The Age of Lamarck: Evolutionary Theories in France, 1790–1830
A Philosophy of the Insect is a work of profound insight into humanity's encounter with the insect world. Analyzing a long history of human fascination and repulsion with creatures remote from us in size and structure, it invites us to reflect on the ethics of our relations with the wider animal world and even our own status as social beings. Elegantly and persuasively, it breaks fascinating new ground at the interface between history and the pressing ecological concerns of today. Robert Fox, University of Oxford
As erudite as it is philosophically stimulating, Drouin's incredible book takes us through the world of insects. A Philosophy of the Insect is replete with innumerable surprises: imagining giant fleas taking part in high jump tournaments, analyzing the perfect geometry of bee cells, and studying the terrible wars of ants. Drouin's insects are both fascinating and repulsive: a real-life version of how science-fiction aliens might look. Thierry Hoquet, Université Paris Nanterre
A Philosophy of the Insect is, among other things, an excellent, indispensable, and urgently needed tool for assessing the ethics of an insect-based diet. It is an insightful synthesis of multifaceted constructions of insects in the life sciences (particularly, in entomology), literature, philosophy, and political thought. As such, the book carries forth, with an inviting style and in an innovative manner, the current decentering of the human with reference to other forms of life, often drastically different from us. Michael Marder, author of Political Categories: Thinking Beyond Concepts
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Tiny Giants
2. An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles
3. An Entomologist’s Point of View
4. Insect Politics
5. Individual Instinct and Collective Intelligence
6. Battles and Alliances
7. Model Insects
8. Worlds and Environments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Jean-Marc Drouin is a retired professor of philosophy and the history of science at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and a member of the Centre Alexandre Koyré. His works include L’Écologie et son histoire (1993) and L’Herbier des philosophes (2008).

Anne Trager is a translator and editor based in France. She is the founder of Le French Book, an independent press publishing English translations of French fiction and providing translation and cross-cultural services.