Monday, December 20, 2010

Three More Books

Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (The Tanner Lectures on Human Values) by Martha C. Nussbaum
Theories of social justice are necessarily abstract, reaching beyond the particular and the immediate to the general and the timeless. Yet such theories, addressing the world and its problems, must respond to the real and changing dilemmas of the day. A brilliant work of practical philosophy, Frontiers of Justice is dedicated to this proposition. Taking up three urgent problems of social justice neglected by current theories and thus harder to tackle in practical terms and everyday life, Martha Nussbaum seeks a theory of social justice that can guide us to a richer, more responsive approach to social cooperation.
The idea of the social contract--especially as developed in the work of John Rawls--is one of the most powerful approaches to social justice in the Western tradition. But as Nussbaum demonstrates, even Rawls's theory, suggesting a contract for mutual advantage among approximate equals, cannot address questions of social justice posed by unequal parties. How, for instance, can we extend the equal rights of citizenship--education, health care, political rights and liberties--to those with physical and mental disabilities? How can we extend justice and dignified life conditions to all citizens of the world? And how, finally, can we bring our treatment of nonhuman animals into our notions of social justice? Exploring the limitations of the social contract in these three areas, Nussbaum devises an alternative theory based on the idea of "capabilities." She helps us to think more clearly about the purposes of political cooperation and the nature of political principles--and to look to a future of greater justice for all.

Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Animals
by Barbara Noske

Beyond Boundaries steps out into hitherto unknown territory in taking an interdisciplinary approach to the subject of animals: the author criticizes the biological determinism characteristic of many biologists as well as the anthropocentrism of many environmentalists and 'greens' who fail to see domestic animals or even humans as part of 'nature.'

Vast in its scope and vision, this book synthesizes an array of disparate research and scholarship and in doing so exposes the tensions and inconsistencies in the view of animals in different areas of Western thought. A project of such breadth is unprecedented and there is no existing conceptual structure for a work of this kind: it is certain to spark a furore of philosophical debate.

The Death of the Animal: A Dialogue
by Paola Cavalieri, Foreword by Peter Singer

While moral perfectionists rank conscious beings according to their cognitive abilities, Paola Cavalieri launches a more inclusive defense of all forms of subjectivity. In concert with Peter Singer, J. M. Coetzee, Harlan B. Miller, and other leading animal studies scholars, she expands our understanding of the nonhuman in such a way that the derogatory category of "the animal" becomes meaningless. In so doing, she presents a nonhierachical approach to ethics that better respects the value of the conscious self.
Cavalieri opens with a dialogue between two imagined philosophers, laying out her challenge to moral perfectionism and tracing its influence on our attitudes toward the "unworthy." She then follows with a roundtable "multilogue" which takes on the role of reason in ethics and the boundaries of moral status. Coetzee, Nobel Prize winner for Literature and author of The Lives of Animals, emphasizes the animality of human beings; Miller, a prominent analytic philosopher at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, dismantles the rationalizations of human bias; Cary Wolfe, professor of English at Rice University, advocates an active exposure to other worlds and beings; and Matthew Calarco, author of Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida, extends ethical consideration to entities that traditionally have little or no moral status, such as plants and ecosystems.
As Peter Singer writes in his foreword, the implications of this conversation extend far beyond the issue of the moral status of animals. They "get to the heart of some important differences about how we should do philosophy, and how philosophy can relate to our everyday life." From the divergences between analytical and continental approaches to the relevance of posthumanist thinking in contemporary ethics, the psychology of speciesism, and the practical consequences of an antiperfectionist stance, The Death of the Animal confronts issues that will concern anyone interested in a serious study of morality.

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