Animals and the Moral Community

Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship

Gary Steiner

Columbia University Press

Animals and the Moral Community

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Pub Date: September 2008

ISBN: 9780231142342

232 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£50.00

Pub Date: September 2008

ISBN: 9780231512602

232 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£50.00

Animals and the Moral Community

Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship

Gary Steiner

Columbia University Press

Gary Steiner argues that ethologists and philosophers in the analytic and continental traditions have largely failed to advance an adequate explanation of animal behavior. Critically engaging the positions of Marc Hauser, Daniel Dennett, Donald Davidson, John Searle, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, among others, Steiner shows how the Western philosophical tradition has forced animals into human experiential categories in order to make sense of their cognitive abilities and moral status and how desperately we need a new approach to animal rights.

Steiner rejects the traditional assumption that a lack of formal rationality confers an inferior moral status on animals vis-à-vis human beings. Instead, he offers an associationist view of animal cognition in which animals grasp and adapt to their environments without employing concepts or intentionality. Steiner challenges the standard assumption of liberal individualism according to which humans have no obligations of justice toward animals. Instead, he advocates a "cosmic holism" that attributes a moral status to animals equivalent to that of people. Arguing for a relationship of justice between humans and nature, Steiner emphasizes our kinship with animals and the fundamental moral obligations entailed by this kinship.

Animals and the Moral Community is a stimulating and comprehensive philosophical inquiry into animal cognition and sentience and the bearing of what we learn about animal minds on how we treat them. Although Gary Steiner argues that animals are unable to make rational inferences, his notions of cosmic holism and cosmic justice demand nonviolence toward animals and that we value their moral status as we value our own. A radical shift in how we treat animals will have a positive effect not only on their lives but also on ours, and I hope that the principle of cosmic justice will be adopted globally.

Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, and, with Jessica Pierce, the forthcoming Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals

In this marvelously clear and accessible book, Gary Steiner presents an innovative theory of animal cognition that does not depend on nonhuman animals having conceptual or predicative abilities in order for us to explain their behavior. He defends the view that only sentience is required for full membership in the moral community, but he maintains that we must go beyond the liberal tradition if we want to achieve the recognition of moral personhood for nonhuman animals. The solution he proposes is a theory of cosmic holism that recognizes our kinship with other animals but that includes the liberal values of rationality, justice, and fairness. This is an important book that will fundamentally restructure our discourse about animal cognition. Steiner's theory of cosmic holism is one of the most important developments in animal ethics in recent years.

Gary L. Francione, Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University, and author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation

Even those who disagree with Gary Steiner's vegan end point will appreciate the thoroughness with which he surveys two and a half millenia of Western philosophical thought about the minds and moral status of animals. Steiner argues that although animals are incapable of rational thinking, what matters morally is that they are intelligent, sentient beings, whose lives should matter to us because their lives matter to them.

Colin Allen, professor of history and philosophy of science, professor of cognitive science, Indiana University, Bloomington

Highly recommended.

Choice

The book is interesting, stimulating, and well worth reading for anyone interested in animals' cognition and/or moral status.

Julia Tanner, Journal of Applied Philosophy

Steiner weaves his narrative through a great deal of material, and in the end proposes a theory of kinship that is sure both to provoke and delight.

Brett Buchanan, Society & Animals
Preface
Acknowledgments
1. Arguments Against Rationality in Animals
2. Arguments for Rationality in Animals
3. An Associationist Model of Animal Cognition
4. Liberal Individualism and the Problem of Animal Rights
5. The Ideal of Cosmic Holism
6. "Cosmo-Politics": Grounding Liberal Individualism in Cosmic Holism
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Web Features:

About the Author

Gary Steiner is John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University. He is the author of Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism and Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy.