Animal Rights: A Historical Anthology, by Andrew Linzey

1248409“There is no impersonal reason for regarding the interests of human beings as more important than those of animals. We can destroy animals more easily than they can destroy us; that is the only solid basis of our claim to superiority. We value art and science and literature, because these are things in which we excel. But whales might value spouting, and donkeys might maintain that a good bray is more exquisite than the music of Bach. We cannot prove them wrong except by the exercise of arbitrary power. All ethical systems, in the last analysis, depend on weapons of war.” Betrand Russell, “If animals could talk.”

“There is no day nor hour, in which in some regions of the many-peopled globe, thousands of men, and millions of animals, are not tortured to the utmost extend that organized life will afford.” William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

“it has been observed that those who are most forward to disallow the rights of others, and to argue that suffering and subjection are the natural lot of all living things, are usually themselves exempt from the operation of this beneficent law.” Henry Salt, Animals’ Rights

“Ethics are responsibility without limit towards all that lives.” Albert Schweitzer,Civilisation and Ethics

WARNING: This is a cheaply produced reprint of the 1990 anthology, Political Theory and Animal Rights. Columbia UP didn’t even bother to change the page headers to reflect the collection’s new title…Andrew Linzey’s new introduction is, because of its defensiveness, pretty weak tea. Its opponent, a caricature of animal rights theory, would not merit consideration except for its source: another Oxford academic. Linzey aims to distinguish true animal rights thinkers from false (read: violent activists), but this kind of taxonomic hairsplitting–say, between false and true Xians–has always seemed suspect to me. If Linzey wants to argue against violence in defense of others, he is welcome to do so, but it seems inapposite in the introduction to this volume. Given that the new introduction dates from 2004, he would have done better to consider the rise in “continental” treatments of the animal question, represented in this volume only by Nietzsche and Horkheimer. He would have done better, in short, to consider the assault on rights-based approaches to the animal.

Sadly, it is no surprise that the Middle Ages–and, for that matter, philosophers outside the Greek/Latin/German/French/English traditions–are barely represented at all. As is usual, it cites only Augustine and Aquinas. Only one is necessary, as Aquinas’s animal theory only refines Augustine (instructors: do not shy away from the sloppiness of Aquinas’s treatment of animals: note how he mangles scripture by, for example, omitting human vegetarianism in Eden, or, in his explanation that plants are for animals and animals for humans, his inability to deal with carnivorous animals). Had Linzey and Clarke consulted a medievalist, they might have provided another view of animals: perhaps Ambrose’s treatment of animal morals from his Hexaemeron, Adelard of Bath’s argument for the immortality of animal souls (by which he counters common ignorance, and on which point he might be linked to Leibniz on spiritual indestructability), or, better yet, something from narrative, especially given the central place of narrative in Montaigne’s famous passages on animals. At the least, John of Salisbury’s thoughts on hunting in Policraticus belong in the original version of this anthology!

Nonetheless, the volume is essential reading for any animals thinker. The appalling continuity of anthropocentric thought is immediately apparent. We see here arguments for indirect rights (which is roughly the same in Kant as it is in Aquinas), the denial of abstraction and thus a denial of the true capacity to die (which is the same in Schopenhauer–“indeed the brutes do not properly speaking feel death” and “between the brute and the external world there is nothing, but between us and the external world there is always our thought about it”–as it is in Heidegger), the denial of the animal ability to respond rather than merely react (which is the same in, well, you name it (Rousseau, Lacan, e.g.), as it is in Albertus Magnus and other proponents of the sensus aestimativa), the argument from human posture (for which see Ovid, William of St Thierry, inter alia, repeated by Johann Herder, and countered directly by Montaigne’s citation of ostriches and camels), and the argument for the minimal suffering of animals owing to their lack of development (Shopenhauer, akin to medieval explanations of Jesus’s exquisite–because divinely perfected body–suffering).

It’s not all horrifying, however. Many thinkers merit praise. Had he known or remembered them, they would have mollified Derrida’s dismissal of virtually the whole ‘Western’ philosophic tradition. While Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and–although he is unrepresented in this volume–Heidegger rearticulate the same positions in their own particular vocabulary, there were nevertheless a few proponents for animals in the early period apart from Montaigne and Bentham (and his particular inheritors): Hume (whose characterization of reason as a “wonderful and unintelligible instinct” certainly speaks to Derrida’s confounding of Lacan’s distinction between animal reaction and human response), Alexander Pope (who writes, “I know nothing more shocking or horrid, than the prospect of one of their kitchens cover’d with blood, and filled with the cries of creatures expiring in tortures. It gives one an image of a giant’s den in a romance, bestrow’d with scattered heads and mangled limbs of those who were slain by his cruelty”), Kropotkin (who–happily!–argues for the superiority of sociability in evolutionary development) , and, above all, Humphry Primatt, whose eighteenth-century Dissertation of the Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals might be the first sustained argument for justice towards animals since Porphyry (pace Montaigne), and whose attack on the “therefore” (animals lack, therefore…) anticipates Cora Diamond