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25 TWO Facing Animals PeterAtterton If I have a duty...toward the other, wouldn’t it then also be toward the animal, which is still more other than the other human, my brother or my neighbor? —Derrida,TheAnimalThatThereforeIAm It is true to say that Levinas, like so many philosophers before him, attached no great ethical importance to animals other than humans (hereafter simply, “animals”). For over four decades, Levinas developed a theory of ethics he called a “humanism of the other man”1 that viewed animals as little more than things or cases, the interests of which count for little in comparison with those of human beings. In this respect, Levinas’s thinking is a classic example of “speciesism,” a term popularized by the animal liberation philosopher Peter Singer, who defines it as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.”2 I am convinced, however, that the logic of Levinas’s own arguments concerning absolute otherness militates against interpreting ethics exclusively in terms of human interests and values, and, furthermore, that Levinas’s phenomenological description of the face justifies extending moral considerability to animals that can suffer and are capable of expressing that suffering to me. My goal in this essay is to demonstrate this. In the process I hope to show that what Levinas said about the victims of anti-Semitism, racism, and totalitarianism, 26 Peter Atterton which in the dedication to Otherwise than Being Levinas describes as “victims of the same hatred of the other man,” also applies to the victims of speciesism, animals whose interests have hitherto been sacrificed, neglected, or discounted because they are members of a species other than man.3 AUTRUI AND ANIMALS The central core of Levinas’s ethics is the notion of the Other (Autrui) for whom we are all responsible (but where I am responsible most of all). But who is the Other? This is of immediate relevance to us because of its bearing on the question of whether the Other could ever be other than human. Levinas will say at the beginning of his reflections—and other than pointing out the Other’s needy character, this is perhaps all one can say in the abstract—“The Other as Other is not only an alter ego: the Other is what I myself am not” (TO 83; see also EE 98). By this Levinas does not mean that the Other is in any way dependent on my identity, which is Derrida’s objection,4 since then the Other would not be truly other. By “what I myself am not” Levinas means that the Other is sui generis. Hence, in Totality and Infinity Levinas can say, “the alterity of the Other does not depend on any quality that would distinguish him from me, for a distinction of this nature would precisely imply between us that community of genus which already nullifies alterity” (TI 194). What this means is that the Other is not equivalent to another ego as conceived by me, or to a human being. For this would make the Other in essence the same as me, distinguishable only in terms of some inessential or “accidental ” properties (height, skin color, and the like); whereas “I who have no concept in common with the Stranger am, like him [lui], without genus” (39). There are thus no conceptual grounds to support the idea that the Other and humanity are synonymous. Absolute alterity is one thing; humanity is quite another. In Otherwise than Being, Levinas puts it this way: “before being an individuation of the genus man, a rational animal, a free will, or any essence whatsoever, [the Other] is the persecuted one for whom I am responsible” (OB 59). From first to last, then, Levinas’s analyses are predicated on the idea that I cannot know a priori who (or “what,” qui) the Other is in Facing Animals 27 advance of the ethical encounter. I cannot know prior to experience that the Other will be a member of the genus Homo—or an animal rationale, or what Kant calls a “person”—unless I have already made it a stipulation that all potential encounters with the Other will consist of encounters with human beings. But in that case, the otherness of the Other will have been nullified, for the Other will have been identified as a being that is essentially the same as me. Now, all...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820705842
Print ISBN
9780820704531
MARC Record
OCLC
830023035
Pages
384
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-16
Language
English
Open Access
N
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