Water and Wing Give Wonder: Cross-Species Cosmopolitanism

PhaenEx 8 (2):185-208 (2013)
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Abstract

Any interspecies ethics could do well to flip the claim of human exceptionalism several times on its head. Before entertaining a claim to re-naturalize human beings (with the risk of a reductive model of biology), the remarkable communicative, cultural, and cognitive skills of other creatures deserve more investigation. The usual line-up of metaphysical suspects for shoring up human superiority—impartial reason, moral or spiritual freedom, and self-awareness—have been used to gravely overstate our human capacities while obscuring genuinely mind-bending powers that cross species barriers. If there is a common path for ethical and spiritual enlightenment, as an alternative to humanism’s rational enlightenment, it does not seem to originate in any cross-species capacity for high-level reason but in an affect-laden social intelligence instead.

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Cynthia Willett
Emory University

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