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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophizing about animals
Mary Midgley examines the general principles that ought to guide our attitude to animals. Midgley quotes a large number of philosophers who in the past have philosophized about animals. Some of them have considered the question of what obligations, if any, we have towards animals. Their answers have depended both on what they take an animal to be and on what they consider...
Published on 6 Mar. 2005 by Ralph Blumenau

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Philosophically interesting but somewhat lacking in meat
I was expecting a lot from this book. The first few chapters were promising but as it progressed I couldn't help but get the feeling that the book had set its sights too short.

The book focuses on detailing the evolution of philosophical argument on the issue highlighting parallels between the treatment of these issues and other in history such as race and...
Published on 13 April 2009 by William Billington


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophizing about animals, 6 Mar. 2005
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Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Mary Midgley examines the general principles that ought to guide our attitude to animals. Midgley quotes a large number of philosophers who in the past have philosophized about animals. Some of them have considered the question of what obligations, if any, we have towards animals. Their answers have depended both on what they take an animal to be and on what they consider to be the cause, the nature and the range of obligations. Descartes, for example, considered that, because animals lacked souls and, more importantly, reasoning faculties, they are mere machines. Even in Descartes' day, such a conclusion must have seemed very odd to anyone who had much to do with animals: for even if one agreed that they did lack souls and reasoning faculties, any farmer or hunter could have told Descartes that relationships with animals are radically different from relationships with machines. But even writers of our own time, while not thinking of animals as machines, still deny them the capacity of thought: R.G.Frey because thought requires language and animals cannot speak; Stuart Hampshire because in the absence of language they cannot have concepts. Yet the simplest observations of how animals communicate with each other and even with humans would seem to suggest that thought, concepts and reasoning do not depend totally on a human language.
Behaviourists go even further: we cannot even be sure that animals have feelings. The denial of thought and feelings to animals serve to erect such a strong barrier between the human and the animal species that we can exclude the animal species from the obligations we feel towards our fellow human beings. One of the most striking part of Midgley's book is her demonstration how easily past generations were able to overlook even other humans as belonging to a group towards which they had obligations. Thus the Athenians, who prided themselves on civic equality, and the Americans who proclaimed that all men were created equal, simply assumed that slaves did not count as humans: indeed Aristotle described slaves as being merely "living instruments". The Chartists demanded universal suffrage for men, but either did not even think of extending that demand to women or, if they did, found some rationalization for excluding them. The excluded groups were, in Midgley's words, consigned to the outer darkness, beyond the outer periphery of a group towards the members of which certain obligations were recognized. In the 20th century, denials of full membership of the group and the discrimination which this entails have been condemned under the name of various kinds of "-isms": racism for denying membership to other races, sexism for denying it to women, ageism for denying it to the old - and now speciesism for denying it to animals. Midgley's book is a sign that the time has come to widen the periphery of our obligations to include animals.
Midgley admits that it is natural to be more concerned with those who are closest to us, and she has a diagram of concentric circles to illustrate that we are concerned most immediately with our family, then with our tribe, then with our nation, then with our species, and only then with non-human species. We often treat appallingly badly and cast into the "outer darkness" human groups that are outside the smaller circles; but any ethically sensitive person has to condemn such behaviour: charity, as the proverb has it, begins at home, but it ought not to stop there. This is the principle that should also apply when we consider the outer circle of the non-human species.
Midgley's tone is always moderate and she never takes up the position of radical or extreme zoophiles who would want us to give to all animals exactly the same rights as we give to humans. She accepts that there must be some priority of considerations and that there can be situations where it is reasonable for us to put the interests of humans before those of animals, though she says that such cases are much fewer than is often supposed. They would include, for example, dealing with locusts and other pests. She does not go into specific details about killing animals for food; but one can deduce from her text that she would accept that Eskimoes cannot be vegetarians and are therefore justified to kill for food, and that she does not condemn pastoral societies who treat their animals well prior to slaughtering them. On the other hand she clearly abhors stuffing geese to produce paté de foie gras. She states the general principle that great suffering inflicted on animals on the outer periphery ought to weigh against the minor advantage that this might bring to those within the inner circles.
One would like to think that at the end of her examination, Midgley had arrived at positions which most sensitive people would have reached without all that philosophizing, guided merely by their humanity and common sense. Most of them would understand instinctively why animals matter; but unfortunately many people give this understanding such a low priority that as citizens they do not do enough to take on the vested interests and those who are too apathetic to care very much. Perhaps this well-written and wise little book would stir them into action.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Philosophically interesting but somewhat lacking in meat, 13 April 2009
This review is from: Animals and Why They Matter (Paperback)
I was expecting a lot from this book. The first few chapters were promising but as it progressed I couldn't help but get the feeling that the book had set its sights too short.

The book focuses on detailing the evolution of philosophical argument on the issue highlighting parallels between the treatment of these issues and other in history such as race and women's rights. For most of the the book the goal seems to be making it absolutely clear that complete dismissal of animals from moral argument is not a tenable standpoint. The problem is however that having established this point rather well the book abruptly ends. The most difficult/interesting bit of the whole subject i.e. how can we approach this complicated issue in practice is outlined in the early sections of the book and then at the end casually dismissed as being outside of the books scope.

The book is called "Why animals matter" and that is exactly what you get nothing more. Whether or not this is enough, is a question that will depend very much on the taste of the individual. Personally I found this book to be very interesting from a philosophical perspective but I suspect that many people like me with an actual interest on the issue will be looking to gain a greater understanding of the subject that can in some way inform their conduct and in this respect this book teases you and then leaves you pretty much where you started.
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Animals and Why They Matter
Animals and Why They Matter by Mary Midgley (Paperback - 1 Sept. 1998)
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