Debates about the ethical treatment of animals have been receding from public conversation since 9/11. But the issues emerging in these debates nevertheless continue to affect the health, happiness, economic circumstances, and behavior of everyone involved in the food chain. Animal Pragmatism:Rethinking Human-nonhuman Relationships brings together a collection of essays that call on classical pragmatism for tools to rework the standard debates.
Erin McKenna and Andrew Light have arranged twelve essays in three sections. The first set of essays develop and critique ideas from Emerson, James, Royce, Peirce, and Dewey, suggesting philosophical attitudes that would lead to greater attention to animal life. James Albrecht, for example, in his opening essay, "'What Does Rome Know of Rat and Lizard?,'" extracts texts from Emerson, James, Royce, and Dewey that, woven together, deny our alienation from nature and urge the necessity of reflection on experiences beyond our own. Albrecht's essay would have been helpful to me in a recent English/philosophy collaboration in which we asked students to read and interpret nature poems by Mary Oliver. Students reported the inability to understand "what she was writing about if the ferns and turtles and things don't stand for something in our world." Albrecht's essay would be an effective antidote to the limits of imagination, which, left alone, preclude any consideration of the lives of animals or any "others." Quoting Royce's admonition that "Pain is pain and joy is joy, everywhere, even as in thee" (27), Albrecht leads readers to his conclusion, which sets out directly or by implication many of the claims and debates in the essays to follow. "Pragmatism," he writes, "suggests that the question of what moral weight we ought to give to animals' interests will never be settled once and for all by a rational argument. It will instead be a matter of choosing to grant animals greater moral consideration, and of reshaping existing social conditions to make this possible, in the hope that such a choice will produce results that we will approve as more inclusively and richly satisfying the demands of the beings, human and non human, with whom we share the planet" (30).
Stephen Fesmire then picks up on what is a recurring issue in succeeding essays, claiming that a pragmatic sensibility toward animal welfare is a result of an anthropocentric desire to be "better planetary stewards for future generations" [End Page 56] (55). Another perspective is suggested by Phillip McReynolds, Douglas Anderson, and Erin McKenna, who emphasize recognition of our continuity and connectedness to animals as motivating increased concern for nonhuman life. Essays by McReynolds and Anderson, leaning on Dewey and Peirce, approach ethical obligations to animals by focusing on shared meanings and interspecies communication. McReynolds claims that individuals engaged in social interaction have "a shared horizon of meaning." Once engaged in social negotiations, "moral standing enters the field of play." Thus McReynolds claims, "I no longer treat you as a 'mere object' but relate to you in terms of your subjectivity" (76). Here, McReynolds' examples—the slave and her master, or a dog and his master—are a bit disconcerting, for in neither case is it clear that moral standing is mutually recognized. McReynolds hopes that the concept of shared horizons will make possible "a non-anthropocentric model of moral standing based on networks of social negotiation." It is true that negotiation, even with "Mrs. Cardinal" who is importuning me to fill the bird feeder at 8 AM, requires a certain recognition of an external desire, even on both sides, and that this might be thought of as communication. But I am not sure that either she or I is necessarily led to a recognition of moral standing, though of particular agency, perhaps so.
Douglas Anderson explicates Peirce's notion of agapism, a "loving attentiveness to the world's own possibilities for growth" (92). Peirce, on the basis of observations of animal use and interpretation of signs, "acknowledges the...