Animal Lessons

How They Teach Us to Be Human

Kelly Oliver

Columbia University Press

Animal Lessons

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Pub Date: October 2009

ISBN: 9780231147279

376 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $33.00£25.00

Pub Date: October 2009

ISBN: 9780231147262

376 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $95.00£70.00

Pub Date: October 2009

ISBN: 9780231520492

376 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $32.99£25.00

Animal Lessons

How They Teach Us to Be Human

Kelly Oliver

Columbia University Press

Philosophy reads humanity against animality, arguing that "man" is man because he is separate from beast. Deftly challenging this position, Kelly Oliver proves that, in fact, it is the animal that teaches us to be human. Through their sex, their habits, and our perception of their purpose, animals show us how not to be them.

This kinship plays out in a number of ways. We sacrifice animals to establish human kinship, but without the animal, the bonds of "brotherhood" fall apart. Either kinship with animals is possible or kinship with humans is impossible. Philosophy holds that humans and animals are distinct, but in defending this position, the discipline depends on a discourse that relies on the animal for its very definition of the human. Through these and other examples, Oliver does more than just establish an animal ethics. She transforms ethics by showing how its very origin is dependent upon the animal. Examining for the first time the treatment of the animal in the work of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Agamben, Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva, among others, Animal Lessons argues that the animal bites back, thereby reopening the question of the animal for philosophy.

Animal Lessons is the most comprehensive overview of the 'continental' discourse on animals, and it is very original. The urgency of the ideas propels the reader from chapter to chapter. This is truly a philosophy book worthy of its name.

Leonard Lawlor, author of This Is Not Sufficient: An Essay on Animality and Human Nature in Derrida

Analytic philosophers have been discussing animals and their rights for decades. However, it is a relatively new theme for continental philosophers. Oliver's book will be the gold standard for this work to which subsequent efforts will have to refer.

Fred Evans, author of The Multivoiced Body: Society and Communication in the Age of Diversity

While there is a vibrant and important scholarship on this fundamental question of philosophy and human life, for after all we are the animal that most needs to be educated, Oliver's book is neither a duplicate nor supplementary. It is written in a most playful way, without betraying or sacrificing philosophical rigor and depth. This is clearly an outstanding work, which will win a wide and immediate readership.

Eduardo Mendieta, SUNY-Stony Brook

A valuable resource within continental philosophy and animal studies.

Brett Buchanan, Environmental Philosophy

Oliver has made a convincing argument that the animal/human divide is much more complex than a simple dichotomy, and that our relationship with animals should be based on commonality, rather than what divides us.

Anthony J. Dellureficio, Quarterly Review of Biology

There is, indeed, a philosophical counter-tradition dawning in the contemporary posthuman zeitgeist, and Oliver's book clears the decks in preparation for a new enlightenment.

Randy Malamud, Journal of Animal Ethics
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About the Author

Kelly Oliver is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. Her many books include Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media (2007), Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human (2009), Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films (2012), and Earth and World: Philosophy After the Apollo Missions (2015).