We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Pets, People, and Pragmatism

Erin McKenna

Publication Year: 2013

Pets, People, and Pragmatism examines human relationships with pets without assuming that such relations are either benign or unnatural and to be avoided. The book addresses a lack of respect in pet-people relationships; for respectful relationships to be a real possibility, however, humans must make the effort to understand the beings with whom we live, work, and play. American pragmatism understands that humans and other animal beings have been interacting and transforming each other for thousands of years. There is nothing "unnatural" about the human domestication of other animal beings, though domestication does raise specific practical and ethical questions. A pragmatist account of our relationship with those animal beings commonly considered as pets does not prohibit the use of these beings in research, entertainment, competition, or work. It does, however, find abuse and neglect unethical. Since abuse can occur in any use of other animal beings, this pragmatist account takes up the abusive practices in research, entertainment, competition, and work without arguing that research, entertainment, competition, and work are inherently abusive. Some of the sources of abuse have been addressed by utilitarian and deontological accounts, but a pragmatist evolutionary perspective offers unique insights and results in some surprising conclusions: for instance, there may be an ethical obligation to let a horse race, a dog show, or a cat compete in agility.Pets, People, and Pragmatism embarks on a philosophical journey that will captivate scholars and pet enthusiasts alike. It provides an important contribution to longstanding debates in the area of animal issues and strengthens the idea of multiple approaches to non-human beings. It also opens space for approaches that challenge some of the assumptions in the field of philosophy that have resulted in a dualistic and hierarchical approach to metaphysics and ethics.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: American Philosophy

Title Page, Series Information, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (102.0 KB)
pp. 1-8


pdf iconDownload PDF (93.1 KB)
pp. ix-10


pdf iconDownload PDF (109.5 KB)
pp. xi-xii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (167.2 KB)
pp. 1-17

How does a vegetarian animal advocate justify “owning” three dogs, two horses, and living with two indoor cats? Worse yet, how does she justify training the dogs, herding sheep with the dogs, and training and competing with the horses? How does she object to factory farming but participate in stabling horses? Isn’t it just a difference in degree of...

read more

1. Understanding Domestication and Various Philosophical Views: The Legacy with Which We Live

pdf iconDownload PDF (195.4 KB)
pp. 18-42

As philosopher Mary Midgley says, “Man does not naturally exist in species isolation.” Human beings live in multiple-species communities and one of our special powers “is to draw in, domesticate and live with a great variety of other creatures” (“The Significance of Species” 135). This may even be a need. She says, “The point is not just that most human beings have in fact been acquainted with other creatures early ...

read more

2. Horses: Respecting Power and Personality

pdf iconDownload PDF (6.1 MB)
pp. 43-98

While not the most common pet in the United States (only 4 percent of the population owns a horse), horses play an important role in how human beings understand themselves and their relationships with other animal beings. Long used as a source of power and transportation, the domesticated horse very literally transformed human society Mounted societies were considered fierce, bold, aggressive, proud, ....

read more

3. American Pragmatism: The Continuity of Critters

pdf iconDownload PDF (224.0 KB)
pp. 99-133

Now that we have seen the kind of discussion that might occur if we used American Pragmatism to guide the discussion of the relations among humans and other animal beings I turn to a longer discussion of the philosophical perspective itself. Many readers may never have heard of the philosophical tradition of American Pragmatism. For those who know something about American Pragmatism (or neo-pragmatism), it ...

read more

4. Dogs: Respecting Perception and Personality

pdf iconDownload PDF (4.2 MB)
pp. 134-183

Now I turn to animal beings with whom many people have relation-ships. One estimate says that there are almost as many cats and dogs in households as televisions (Serpell, Company of Animals 19). In 1986 there were an estimated 48 million dogs in the United States, and today that number is roughly 74.8 million (xxi 9). As they do with horses, some animal advocates see human relationships with dogs as a kind of slavery. ...

read more

5. Cats: Respecting Playfulness and Personality

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.6 MB)
pp. 184-216

Cats have a complicated history. They have been vilified as instruments of the devil, been blamed for the plague, and been considered in many superstitious beliefs as harbingers of bad luck. Yet, they are popular pets. In the United States in particular, cats have gone from being a witch’s companion to being the most numerous pet. Nevertheless, their past still haunts them. Shelters report that it is harder to find homes for ...

read more

Conclusion: Making Things Better

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.7 MB)
pp. 217-232

So far I have examined a variety of relationships between human beings and some other animal beings commonly considered as pets. I have examined some practices and activities that can be harmful for these other animal beings. This harm is very real and very possible for individual horses, dogs, and cats. They have some legal protections, but they are ultimately dependent on the good will of the humans with whom they ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (479.1 KB)
pp. 233-242


pdf iconDownload PDF (116.7 KB)
pp. 243-247

American Philosophy

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.0 KB)
pp. 263-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780823251162
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823251148
Print-ISBN-10: 0823251144

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 15 b/w
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth
Series Title: American Philosophy