From Aristotle to Agamben: how philosophy is changing its tune on animal life.
One of the defining characteristics of our age is the radical breakdown of the human/animal distinction. In both the popular media and in scholarly scientific literature, we are shown almost weekly new pieces of evidence suggesting that the barriers separating humans from animals are not as impermeable as we once thought them to be. Behaviors and capacities widely believed to be unique among human beings are increasingly being discovered in varying forms and to varying degrees among a wide number of animal species.
The fundamental breakdown in the effort to delimit sharply human beings from animals has been an important intellectual and scientific development for philosophers and theorists, ranging from Aristotle to Agamben.
While philosophy’s historical reputation for being a leading voice of critical thought is often wholly deserved, on the issue of the distinction between humans and animals and the ethical worth of animals, it has unfortunately and frequently failed to live up to its more admirable ideals. In fact, in many ways, philosophy in the Western tradition has been one of the chief architects in constructing the traditional philosophical and ethical dogmas we have inherited concerning animals.