- The Animal Inside: Essays at the Intersection of Philosophical Anthropology and Animal Studies ed. by Geoffrey Dierckxsens, Rudmer Biljlsma, Michael Begun, and Thomas Kiefer
The Animal Inside is billed as a work of philosophical anthropology. This is somewhat misleading, as the volume might be better considered as a combination of philosophy, literary analysis, and animal studies. To be in any way comparable to anthropology, it would have to include the experiences of human and nonhuman animals, which are largely absent. Indeed, the most prevalent animals in The Animal Inside are both particularly well-known species: the dead white cis-male philosopher and his close corollary, the dead white cis-male writer. While even living philosophers make only occasional appearances, both the authors and the nonhuman animals they purport to be so concerned with are largely absent. Despite repeated assertions that the human-animal binary is problematic, the text does not bear out this ambition. Indeed, several authors seem to have found a novel loophole to skirt [End Page 234] around this aim—the use of "anthropological" as a synonym for human. Putting aside my own disciplinary background in anthropology and social science, this is also egregious as an ethicist. What is the ethical value of a weak commitment to deconstruction and a general lack of dedication to creating new insights, paradigms, and approaches?
All this is not to say that the individual essays are without interest or merit. The book is split into two parts: "General Explorations" and "Aspects" of human and animal nature. The chapters are primarily concerned with modern and early modern philosophy and literature, although there are a few chapters on areas such as ancient cultures, postmodernism, and neuroscience. Generally, the contributions are strong, but I found them far from impactful as a nonphilosopher and ethicist.
The standout chapter to my mind is Lantz Fleming Miller's measured take on human superiority. His approach is broad and technical without indulging in the impenetrability that sometimes characterizes philosophical texts. In a similar vein, he actively engages with a wide spread of theorists, including classical or canonical philosophers as well as proponents of deep ecology and post-humanism. Miller systematically outlines and critiques a range of proposed reasons for human superiority: morality, rationality, adaptiveness, and experience. This detailed treatment is followed by an explicitly ethical discussion of the sociopolitical and epistemological consequences of retaining a false "action-affecting belief" (p. 116). For Miller, while the "human-superiority hypothesis" is pernicious, it is still possible to envision a moral human stewardship over other species that does not necessitate a position of superiority (p. 117). He concludes these ideas with regard to the death of great ape persons for "human benefit" (p. 117).
Another strong chapter is Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei's contribution on Rilke, Kafka, and embodied cognition. She considers how "imagined animal perspectives" in modernist literature explore both "human self-understanding" and a hypothetical conception of nonhuman subjectivity that can be considered in light of later discoveries by cognitive scientists (pp. 123, 130, 134). By focusing on Rilke's Der Panther and Duineser Elegien, Gosetti-Ferencei draws out two ethically loaded yet interesting ideas: that nonhuman animals might "recognize us as the ones who are not at home in nature" and that "the silence of the animal" might allow "an unobstructed relation to being itself" (pp. 135–136). After relating these ideas to the work of Kafka, the final section of the chapter focuses on the concept of mimesis. She contextualizes the character of Red Peter (an ape who learns to talk and reason by imitating humans) by engaging with Aristotle's characterization of imitation as part of human nature as well as recent research on nonhuman language and mirror neurons. However, it seems odd that a chapter concerned with mimesis and otherness in a book on philosophical anthropology would make no reference to Michael Taussig's seminal work Mimesis and Alterity (1993). A discussion...