- Corporal Compassion: Animal Ethics and Philosophy of Body by Ralph R. Acampora
One thing we share with nonhuman animal life is embodiment. Can this be the basis for [End Page 229] an ethical attitude toward animals that is not merely the application of a theory, but the lived expression of a sensibility: An ethos?
Ralph Acampora answers in the affirmative. In this rich, well-researched book, he offers a compelling account of the way in which attention to our embodied life brings us into significant relationship with forms of life and being across the species line. He explicitly distances himself from any attempt to provide an absolute metaphysical foundation for ethics. Instead, drawing critically but deeply upon the tradition of phenomenology, he argues for an ethic that emerges from the lived reality of shared life-worlds, mediated by our embodied connection with the environments we inhabit.
The book is divided into an introduction and six main chapters. The first chapter offers a critical engagement with phenomenology, a way of doing philosophy, which brackets questions of ultimate truth and reference to focus on the way the world is lived and experienced from a first-person point of view. For Acampora, the fruitfulness of this approach lies in the way that it bypasses detached metaphysical speculation. Positively, it invites us to an engaged type of thinking, in which we are always already embedded in a world alongside others.
At the same time, the book is critical of the human-centered focus of much classic phenomenology (Heidegger and Sartre are key reference points). The work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty offers a more fruitful stepping-off point, with its affirmation of fleshly life and the way this involves us from the start in intricate webs of relationship.
From here, Acampora develops his constructive account of interspecies relationships in the second chapter. Without wishing to collapse these relationships into sameness, or cling on to a human-centered worldview, he does insist that there are genuine experiential grounds for trusting that there is overlap—or better, a felt, dynamic interaction—between the way different species are in the world. From human experiences of being with wolves in their natural state to the more apparently mundane instance of sharing a park with squirrels, we do not live in hermetically sealed bubbles. There is an interspecies "conviviality" which we experience at a visceral level. This is helpfully brought out by the way the book draws on authors, such as Watsuji, to emphasize themes of residence and climate as integral dimensions of our existence. In the process, we are freed from some of the more straitened versions of phenomenology.
The third and fourth chapters build on this work. Our interactions with different species are understood through the lens of "related otherness," rather than a "deviant similitude," which judges the other as lacking or perverse. This enables an ethic of appreciation for the animal's embodied life and self-expression. To signal that this is not merely sympathy—which continues to imply a distance and even superiority on the part of the one sympathizing—Acampora coins the term "symphysis," underlining the embodied nature of this relatedness.
An important aspect of the book is that it does not shy away from "application" of this ethic to concrete situations, such as the animal experimentation lab and the zoo (Chapter 5). However, the approach complements, or corrects, standard accounts of applied ethics. It concentrates on the way ethics emerges from an embodied connection, the organization of shared spaces, looks, and gestures. Acampora's conclusions might accord with some more familiar animal ethical approaches to these scenarios, but he succeeds in adding an essential depth to them, whereby body and emotion are not arbitrarily excluded from the philosophical enterprise. The final chapter offers a concluding summary [End Page 230] and development of the implications of the approach explored.
As indicated, this is a valuable piece of work, impressive in its richness and research. It makes good critical use of...