This article discusses the respective advantages and disadvantages of attacking speciesism and/or humanism to end animal exploitation1.
Could we not just demand that all animal exploitation end (breeding, hunting, fishing, slaughtering, etc.) for the sole reason that non-human animals have rights and that their welfare should matter? Why would we want more? Why fight for a non-speciesist, non-humanist society, for example in the form of a new civilization based on the idea of equality and care for all sentient beings?
There are several answers to these questions: since speciesism is unfair, a non-speciesist society seems to be a fair goal. So-called “animal” equality to distinguish it from “human” equality (restricted to humans only), is in reality the only conceivable equality from an ethical point of view. Indeed, it consists of equal consideration of the interests of all sentient beings, i.e. of all beings with interests to be defended. Human equality, because it is based on arbitrary exclusions (according to species membership), constitutes in itself an inequality. Besides, a good way to maximize one’s chances of getting somewhere is by aiming high (at least, that is what one could hope for as long as no counter-productive blockage is created). Secondly, the issues at stake are far from being only about the present: it is about laying solid foundations for the centuries or millennia to come. Finally, it goes far beyond the abolition of the exploitation of domesticated animals: in the wild, myriads of animals live miserable lives and die in abominable conditions. If humans are to overcome the current and future crises, it would be just right to show solidarity with all sentient beings on the planet.
The animal equality movement was built upon attacks against speciesism, but the version of speciesism that prevails in our societies is an anthropocentric one: humanism. A kind of humanism that takes the form of human supremacism2. Why then not attack humanism directly? Wasn’t it a mistake to question only speciesism? Here goes a brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of these two different lines of attack.
What is a cultural struggle?
The strategies discussed here (fighting speciesism or fighting humanism) have two main objectives: the first is to convince people of the merits of the struggle and of the need for them to get involved; the second is to change the representations and values of our societies so that they become less arrogant, less bloodthirsty, more benevolent and more inclusive towards other animals; the ultimate goal consists therefore in a large-scale change in civilization.
Why differentiate between convincing individuals and changing their culture? The reason is that these two strategies do not operate on the same scale: cultural change cannot be reduced to a series of individual changes. Here goes an example: when I started campaigning for animal equality thirty years ago, people almost invariably said: “But animals don’t suffer!”. Five years ago, I realized that I hadn’t heard that sentence for years. Without me even realizing it, without anyone else realizing it, it had disappeared from the register of what is socially and culturally conceivable (unfortunately, this false belief continues to be invoked in relation to fish and invertebrates). Today, to claim that animals (terrestrial vertebrates) do not suffer is no longer acceptable and no one would dare to do so! Whatever the reasons for this important change are (this is not the point here), it illustrates what a cultural change is. If we take only France as a reference (but the phenomenon is probably worldwide), it is not about a few hundred, thousands or tens of thousands of people changing their minds individually. It is 70 million people who, without even realizing it, no longer have the same representation of animals as thirty years ago and no longer react in the same way. They did not need to be convinced or influenced one by one, and they were not aware that they were changing their views; simply, the culture in which they live has changed. Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I am sure that she was not thinking of a small group behind a coup, but of people working hard to change their society’s culture!
I will therefore offer my thoughts on anti-speciesist and anti-humanist cultural strategies. It is important to keep in mind that these strategies are not universal. The situation isn’t the same in French speaking countries as in the rest of the world; in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Quebec, societies are highly secularized: even if religions continue to exert a significant influence, they no longer play an extremely determining role. Criticizingnotions such as speciesism and humanism therefore does not have the same impact as in highly religious societies such as the United States, Muslim countries, certain Latin American or African countries, Poland and many others.
What are the differences between speciesism and humanism?
Speciesism is about discriminating against an individual on the basis of their species; to put it in other words, speciesist culture considers the species, in itself, to be a relevant criterion for discrimination. In itself: species membership is used as a criterion, not as characteristics associated with the species. The latter is referred to as indirect speciesism, since the irrelevance of the “species” criterion is circumvented by the use of ableist criteria that are supposed to be linked to the species. It is thus claimed that animals are stupid, that they neither have reason, free will or self-awareness, in order to justify that granting them the dignity humans are granted is out of the question. For this reason, they are not granted any rights and remain exploitable at human will.
In addition to this philosophical definition of speciesism, there is the question of its political implication. Two axes can be distinguished: the concrete (or material) axis and the ideological (or cultural) axis. The first simply refers to the effective organization of society, based on the apartheid of species, the expropriation of non-humans from their territories and resources, their enslavement and exploitation (fishing, breeding, hunting, experimentation and so on)3. The second axis of what can be called the speciesist world order has to do with the ideology that locks in this discriminatory and violent organization of society. This is also called humanism. By humanism, I mean the definition given by the Larousse dictionary: “Philosophy that places man and human values above all other values.” Humanism thus amounts to considering Humanity (L’Homme, “Man”, in French patriarchal society) as the alpha and the omega: in particular the mainstay of ethics and politics. This is what I call human supremacism, human chauvinism or human nationalism. One could also call it human imperialism.
Here are some examples of how humanism translates into language: notions of person or individual, victim, being or even freedom are reserved exclusively for humans, while a taboo prevents us from using them in relation to other sentient beings4. The notion of being of nature, on the other hand, is constantly applied to animals, associated (amalgamated, confused) as natural elements along with grass, rivers, ecosystems, the environment. The world is thus distinguished and separated into two different kingdoms: on the one hand, the realm of freedom, individuality, autonomy and individual sovereignty, which corresponds to Humanity5, and on the other, that of determinism, functionality and submission to a phantasmatic order, which would be Nature6. The concept of person, endowed with subjectivity and owner of themselves, is thus opposed to the idea of the thing, devoid of subjectivity and appropriable by others. In this way, a knife can be designated as a tool or as a weapon, depending on whether it is used to slit the throat of a non-human or of a human. How can this worldview be changed?
The strategy of criticizing speciesism
Benefits of attacking speciesism
Before the concept of speciesism was discovered, animal advocacy was condemned to remain very timid in its critical approach. People talked about “animal lovers” as if it was merely a question of feelings (love of animals), and desperately invoked – in vain for animal advocacy – speciesist arguments such as the “loyalty” of the dog, the “nobility” of the horse, the “usefulness” of the fox, etc7. “Animal advocates” struggled, within a framework of speciesist thinking, trying to bring out a concern for the lot of a few select non-humans, usually domesticated animals such as cats or dogs. The notion of speciesism made visible the ideology that separates humans from other animals; it became possible not to operate within the confines of the speciesist framework any longer but to shatter that very framework.
The critique of the notion of speciesism allowed many people to understand that their concern for the plight of animals was not an unreasonable “childish or feminine sentimentality” (note the ageism and sexism associated with the notion of sentimentality). It allowed to understand that it is a real, fundamental and rational question of ethics and politics, based on the universal idea of justice and on empathy and compassion. This critique also finally put the spotlight on the most important part of animal exploitation: the consumption of flesh (which accounts for 99 % of animals killed8). It became a question of considering individuals independently of their species and paying attention to their pleasures and sufferings, as well as their number. Talking about speciesism in a simple but rigorous way, as Peter Singer did in Animal Liberation (1975), helped to break the taboo that had previously prevailed on ethical reflection as applied to the animal question. The burden of proof has been reversed: it used to appear unquestionable because it remained unquestioned, once it is put in the hot seat, speciesism, which is unjustifiable, can only appear unjustified and therefore unjust! Society’s resistance to change is based on the refusal to debate, the refusal to consider and discuss the arguments against speciesism.
Speciesism is rationally and therefore ethically indefensible. The notion of speciesism, in forty years, has entered the history of ideas. It is a theoretically strong notion: specialists in moral philosophy who examine the question are forced to acknowledge that a speciesist morality is untenable. This is true regardless of which major schools of moral philosophy one is considering (consequentialism and utilitarianism, deontology and human rights or Kantian morality, virtue morals, contractualism or Rawlsian justice theory9). None of the countless attempts to theoretically restore speciesism that have been made during the past decades have survived the philosophical debate. This is a crucial point: when rationality is on your side, you can legitimately consider that you are right. Introducing the notion of speciesism into the media debate means bringing the demand for rationality into ethics, which is very important if we want to improve the situation of animals and, more broadly, make moral progress in our societies.
With the critique of speciesism, the focus is set on individuals, not on group membership. When attacking speciesism, one does not attack humanism head-on, which is to some extent an advantage. For example, Peter Singer, in his book The Expanding Circle (1981), argues that over the millennia, our morality has gradually expanded its scope: we have moved from a consideration for the members of the tribe alone to much larger entities of ethical and political belonging, such as the religious community (Christianity, Islam…), the “race”, Humanity (the species)… It is now time to broaden our vision still further and apprehend all sentient beings into the sphere of moral consideration. But even more than a simple enlargement, it is a revolution of great magnitude, a fundamental qualitative leap, that the moral critique of speciesism makes: it does not stop at simply enlarging the circle, the group membership; in fact, the emphasis formerly placed on groups membership is now placed on individuals and what they feel, independently, precisely, of their group membership! What matters is no longer the group or category to which an individual belongs, but whether they subjectively experience what happens to them and whether they give importance to what they experience. This conception of moral progress is rooted in the parallel between speciesism and racism or sexism: crucially, it is about asserting that the fact that an individual belongs to a group (a biological one in this case) does not, in itself, mean anything relevant about the importance to be given to their interests. It is the individuals and their experiences that must be taken into account, not the categories or affiliations, as it has been the case until now.
The parallel with sexism or racism. The notion of speciesism allows for an immediate parallel with sexism or racism (and ageism and ableism), i.e. with intra-human struggles that are generally acknowledged as just and important. This is a great way to explain very quickly and simply how speciesism is the opposite of a fair consideration of the interests of others. Incidentally, this analogy allows animal rights activists to discover the fight against sexism and racism. Activists who were initially rather reactionary, or even far right supporters, have sometimes come to egalitarian ideas through the criticism of speciesism.
From the notion of speciesism to the notion of equality… The critique of the notion of speciesism allows us to put forward the fundamental notion of equal consideration of interests. The two notions appeared at the same time in 1975 in Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. Insofar as discrimination on the basis of species membership is not justifiable, the interests of sentient beings must be taken into account in a similar way. Animal equality thus appears as a universal, impersonal and impartial morality, in touch with the reality of what matters in the world (i.e. the joys and sufferings of sentient beings, what matters to them). Such a claim to equality might sound utopian, but it strikes the mind and there is no reason why it should not appear as a desirable moral horizon. The notion of “human only” equality (we should always add “only” since that is what we are talking about) plays this regulatory role today, even though it could also appear utopian. But it allows us to set a desirable horizon and to evaluate situations in terms of this requirement for equality (equality of rights or equality of consideration of interests).
Mobilizing the critique of speciesism bypasses resistance. Finally, the fact that the arguments against species discrimination are very simple to understand helps to overcome many intellectual and emotional defences. In fact, showing that speciesism is unjustifiable has the merit of being very quickly convincing. It is often much more effective than arguing “only” for vegetarianism or veganism, or against this or that type of animal exploitation. Moreover, arguing that speciesism is unjustified is likely to be much more profound and far-reaching, for individuals and for culture and society as a whole.
Downsides of focusing on speciesism
The critique of speciesism remains very theoretical. The critique of speciesism has the defect of attacking a concept of moral philosophy, when the latter is not (yet) what controls everyday life and political organization. Thinking in terms of moral philosophy has little to do with the mental universe in which the members of our society evolve. Many people do not necessarily make the connection between moral philosophy and the humanistic ideology in which they are immersed. They might agree that species membership itself should not matter on an ethical level but still think that a being can either be worthy or unworthy, depending on the capabilities they have. They can still believe that some are beings of freedom fashioned in the image of God, while others only express instincts and are therefore despicable. However, the critique of humanism has the advantage of getting to the heart of the debate and therefore better clarifies the inanity of this distinction between beings of freedom and beings of nature. In this respect, it is similar to the critique of racism, sexism and ageism: enslaved “races”, women and children, have always been put on the side of nature, apprehended as impulsive and instinctive bodies (they have been dehumanized or, as it is often said, animalized), while adult white men (and even more so if they happen to be rich and able-bodied) have been seen as paragons of humanity, cultured and civilized minds who own their bodies and the world (and thus also all the other sentient beings who are deemed non-rational).
One speciesism can hide another. Criticism of speciesism also leads to an awkward drift: some prefer to talk about the unequal treatment of different categories of coerced animals, instead of tackling the fact that they are coerced and have a master, in this case a human master. Such a drift then makes it difficult to question human supremacism, i.e. humanism. This was the strategy followed by the Fondation Éthique et Droit Animal (formerly the Ligue Française pour les Droits de l’Animal) in the late 1980s. Indeed this league was at the time fiercely anti-vegetarian (though it did not become pro-vegetarian). Today still, activists, often without really even realizing it, fall into this trap, even if they try to use this approach to popularize the notion of speciesism. The exercise seems risky because it can lead us to forget that speciesism is above all this supremacism.
The strategy of criticizing humanism
Benefits of attacking humanism
Humanism is a supremacism. Attacking humanism is a direct attack on the ideology that dominates our civilization. France has a number of particularly well-established promoters and theorists of humanism: Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut as well as a whole list of philosophers or essayists who have rushed down the path that these two thinkers opened up.
The thesis that Luc Ferry mobilizes against animal equality in his 1992 bestseller10 The New Ecological Order and in all his subsequent books is the following (which he traces back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant):
Man evolves through education as an individual, through politics as a species. The human act par excellence is movement. This is precisely what differentiates us from natural beings, who are always riveted to a code: instinct for animals, program for plants. […] They are riveted to their nature. Animals have no history. Only man has one, because it is the only one capable of freeing itself from biological determinisms to conquer his freedom. Law is unnatural, scientific knowledge is unnatural. Man is a being of anti-nature. This is the basis of humanism11.
In other words, it is because he is free, unlike other animals, that “Man” must be accorded a special dignity, which legitimizes the fact that he has rights. It is the reverence that one must have for freedom (and not simply for intelligence or reason), or for Humanity as it is synonymous with freedom, that gives the human “being” its singular value in a world otherwise devoid of subjectivity. Ferry recognizes that animals are sensitive, communicative, affectionate, intelligent, rational and even capable of speaking! But it does not mean they are “free”. He writes:
If we observe it objectively [sic], we see that the beast is driven by an infallible instinct, common to its species, as if by an intangible norm, a kind of software from which it can never really deviate. Nature takes the place of culture12.
Then, in another text:
Governed entirely by nature, the animal has no history. As Rousseau already noted, the habits of bees and ants were the same twenty thousand years ago, whereas human societies, open to culture, are constantly changing13.
According to Ferry, who uses insects as models, animals are therefore “beings of nature” definitively stuck in their state: they will never be anything other than “what they are”. What matters is not that they experience sensations such as pain or pleasure, but that they are “determined”, “programmed”, devoid of true freedom. They are not free “like us”, they are not “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26 & 27), as the Christian humanists would say (the secular humanists have secularized this idea). They are therefore not recognized as having any dignity, and humanists emphatically state: “no dignity, no rights”.
The position of humanists is even more problematic. According to some, dominating animals should reinforce the idea that we are the Lords of the Earth. In an article entitled “The Humanism of Bullfighting”14, Alain Renaut explains that the staging of combat in the arena aims to “bring out the very greatness of the human in man”. He details this scabrous idea as follows:
The meaning of the fight between the matador and the bull has always appeared transparent to me. […] The submission of raw nature (i.e. violence) to human free will, the victory of freedom over nature […], the submission of blind matter to a will that gives it form.
[…] Bullfighting thus has a universal meaning. It is none other than what was expressed in the Genesis itself – the paradox is only apparent: “Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every animal that moves on the earth.”
The humanist concludes:
In order to represent the values that constitute humanity, to symbolize this uprooting from nature that opens up the space of culture, man feels the need, in bullfighting and, no doubt, in bullfighting alone, to make nature suffer and to kill what is alive in it.
Contrary to what Renaut asserts, the staging of human domination is not specific to bullfighting15. It is also at work in hunting activities, in the consumption of meat and in animal experimentation. Practices that bend animals under human yoke, that make them suffer and kill them effectively signal our power, our excellence in the world order. Such practices highlight the fact that humans are exceptional beings. The slaughterhouse, just like bullfighting, constitutes, as Patrice Rouget says, the truth of humanism, “its best invention”16. It is perhaps the journalist François Reynaert who – in all naivety – gave us the key to humanism when he writes the following lines in the french magazine Le Nouvel Observateur17 :
And so Singer and his friends set off on a trail; and we dare not imagine where it will lead. “Animal liberation” activists are thus presenting themselves as successors to those who, in the past, fought for the emancipation of slaves and women. Do we not say today of animals what we said yesterday of Black people? What an awful sophistry! What was scandalous, of course, was treating Black people like cattle in the past. How far will we go in denying man if, today, we demand to have the same concern for cattle that we had for Black people yesterday?
Let us not dwell on the fact that, contrary to a frequent rewriting of history, most white humanists of past times, and indeed of present times, have shown little concern for Black people. Let us rather focus on Reynaert’s assertion that concern for the interests of individuals of other species negates Humanity18. Does concern negate humanity? No, not usually. It is even commonly said of someone showing concern that she or he is “human”. So how can Reynaert claim this?
It seems that, for Reynaert, concern only negates Humanity when it is exercised towards non-humans, i.e. when it tends to abolish the difference between those we should treat as inferiors (other animals) and those we should consider as our equals (humans). If our hypothesis is correct, this difference in treatment must mark our superiority and our equality “among ourselves”; to treat animals well is then to abolish a distinction (in all senses of the word), a privilege, to deny, in a way, our superiority, and thus to belittle our humanity, or even to be anti-human. Conversely, it may be thought that it is by treating each other “well”, by maintaining a certain civility that will contrast with the way we otherwise treat those who do not belong to our community, that we signal that we are peers, people of value. Such an assumption, which is indeed classic in social sciences, sheds new light on the fact that meat is so insistently at the center of meals and that humans so often seem to hold dear to their hearts. Indeed, everything we do in our societies is marked by an effort to appear human, not to appear to be “animals” or “beasts”. The simple fact of wearing clothes is a compulsory sign of humanity (the law forbids us to walk around naked).
Humanism gives up on animal suffering to better safeguard animal killing. With regard to the question of “animal welfare”, the focus on the critique of humanism provides some insight into the usual analysis of speciesism. The latter, often formulated following Peter Singer in terms of consideration of interests rather than respect for fundamental rights, generally emphasizes the importance to be given to the pleasures and sufferings of non-humans rather than to the question of their death. All the more so when, in the appalling situation that we all know, their death is often seen as a means of shortening their suffering, i.e. as a lesser evil. Yet the morality of humanists with regard to animals is in opposition to their morality concerning humans. This opposition strongly contributes to marking the essential difference between “them” (animals) and “us” (humans). It is a key point of speciesism “in action” and symbolism. According to humanists, animals should be guaranteed a minimum of “welfare” (except of course when it is “necessary or useful” for humans not to guarantee it19), but killing them is not at all a problem in itself. Human life, on the other hand, is recognized as sacred. Inherited from Christianity, it is their suffering that is then perceived as secondary. This can be seen, for example, in the case of the very sick or injured, whose life is not allowed to be ended, even though it is hardly made up of anything but suffering. This is because the essence of “Man” is to be a being of freedom, not a corporeal being like other animals! It is its spiritual or voluntary mastery of its body that makes it a being of freedom and gives it its specific dignity: this is all that matters to humanists.20. So much so that the terrible suffering endured by many patients is only just beginning to stir in our countries, where palliative care, for example, has only been developed in recent decades21. One can, of course, cite as an explanation the Christian cult of redemptive suffering that we struggle to get rid of, but it seems to me that there is also a humanistic logic behind the contempt of suffering. It is probably no coincidence that one of the main organizations working to ensure that poor countries finally have access to morphine, to relieve cases of intense suffering, was created by an anti-speciesist22. Humanism can rightly be criticized for being concerned only at the margins with what human individuals actually experience: it is Man with a capital M, abstract Man, that interests it23.
To return to the heart of our subject, the refusal to consider that the death of non-humans is also of great moral importance is central to contemporary humanism: the emphasis on questions of animal welfare is only there to conceal the question of death, to save the principle of killing of animals, while continuing to give itself an ethical appearance. The anti-suffering position of anti-speciesists (at least those who claim to be preference utilitarians, like Peter Singer did at first24) is not so different from that of the humanists, who are also supposed to ban torture (“unless useful or necessary”, of course). It does not sufficiently confront their position on the killing of animals.
Generally speaking, a critical analysis of humanism should thus lead us to put forward other rights for animals than simply the right not to suffer: the right to life, of course, but also to freedom25, to individual autonomy26, to the possibility of participating in social and political life as promoted by Donaldson and Kymlicka27, or even the famous right to happiness that appears in the American Constitution28, etc. As Frédéric Côté-Boudreau says, “we must help society to reconsider its very conception of what an animal is. And an animal is more than a being that suffers29”.
Humanism, at the heart of the distinction between Humanity and Nature. With the notion of humanism, we enter directly into the fundamental distinction between Humanity and Nature, a distinction that is at the foundation of our civilization. This division organizes the opposition between, on the one hand, civilization, freedom, reason, self-awareness, education or culture and, on the other hand, barbarism, savagery, the body and its drives, determinism or unreason. Here again, it is a distinction between beings that have an eminent dignity to uphold and mere things, animate or not, sentient or not. Florence Burgat explains well what lacks in the critique of speciesism and what the critique of humanism allows:
For example, the notion of anti-speciesism, which has the species as a biological criterion at its core, seems to ignore the fact that humanity does not think of itself precisely in this term, but as a self-instituted “kind” that asserts an essential rupture. This raises the question of whether the critique of speciesism is not missing its goal. Let us listen to an advocate of the singularity of the human “kind” (and, not surprisingly, of an incredibly mechanistic view of animal life and behavior): “With the idea of the human species, in fact, one will conceive of man as part of nature, and consider them as an animal among others. With the idea of the human kind, one admits their difference from animals, and is more interested in this difference itself than in their common characteristics.” Can we pretend that this metaphysical device (which some prefer to call a “second nature naturalism”) is obsolete, when it underlies all thought? Can it really be undermined by a purely logical argument against the error of making the membership to a species a morally relevant criterion, as racists do with race and sexists with sex, when humanity thinks of itself as something other than a species? Is it not rather anthropocentrism, which goes back to the first Stoics, and its product, humanism, that we must attack, as Derrida did?30
The postulates of humanism are invalidated by science. We saw earlier that humanism needs to consider that animals are not “free”, but determined by their “nature”, their bodies, their instincts, their drives. This characterization allows it, by contrast, to place Humanity on a pedestal. However, the progress of ethology over the last fifty years has totally invalidated this arrogant and superbly ignorant view of other animals (or at least of all vertebrate animals, but also of certain invertebrates such as cephalopods). Yet humanism continues to rely on the Humanity/Nature distinction/paradigm, which is the basis of our social order and our categories of thought, affect and identity. Humanity is constantly praised (it is exceptional, extraordinary, worthy, etc.) and the term “human” is eulogistic… Conversely, even if the cognitive capacities of animals are emphasized, they will continue to be considered as “beings of nature”; we will continue, for example, to see them as wonders of Nature. In short, they will continue, despite ethology, to be classified in the wrong box; the box of beings that do not really exist as individuals.
Humanism fails to define its object. Humanism does not even manage to define what Humanity is: the search for a definition, which is fundamental since Humanity is the key to accessing rights, is an object of permanent struggle, which may concern human foetuses and abortion31, cloning32, eugenics, euthanasia33, suicide, the end of life, severely handicapped humans34, but also anthropoid Great Apes35 or even cetaceans. What defines Humanity? Is it sentience? Self-awareness? Procreation from a man and a woman? A simple set of genes? Baptism? When does it begin? Where does it end?
Humanism is a secularized emanation of Christianity, which draws on two thousand years of Western history. Its Christian, Jewish and Muslim versions are not always clearly distinguishable from the secular or atheist versions and serve as a spearhead for religions to try to regain power over consciences and our societies: the battle over abortion36, the polemics over the end of life or women’s rights37 are thus privileged means for religions to assert a moral direction and a claim to govern societal choices in countries where they have been removed from power.
Humanism, dehumanization and animalization. From an anti-speciesist point of view, it is important to denounce the immaculate pretentiousness of the notion of humanism by recalling that, historically, humanism has not been the unblemished ideology of human equality and justice but, on the contrary, the ideology of exclusion, dehumanization and animalization: humanism has engendered racism, sexism, ageism (first against children, then against the elderly), ableism, eugenics and genocide. It was only after the Second World War and the decline of assumed colonial domination that humanists made a general claim to human equality that was meant to be “universal”. I use quotation marks around “universal” because, by excluding non-humans without any rational basis, humanism has nothing to do with universalism, but rather with communitarianism.
It is therefore necessary to distinguish humanism from the notion of equality and to make a connection between humanism and dehumanization or animalization. Since the notion of animal is tailor-made to serve as a repellent to that of “Man”, animalization is an ideological operation. It has generally been applied to non-humans (they have been turned into “beasts”, bestial and animal) but it can just as easily be applied to humans. The philosopher Pierre-Henri Tavoillot writes: “It is in the light of humanism that the shadow of racism lengthens38.” In fact, numerous social psychology studies clearly show the links between speciesism and the “dehumanization” or “animalization” of human groups. More generally, humanism sets the framework for modern ideologies of different types of oppression. Indeed, whether we are discussing racism, sexism, ageism or ableism, people from dominated groups are considered less “human” than those from dominant groups. They have traditionally been considered as more “animal” or “natural” (more corporeal, impulsive, instinctive, etc.), which has generated distrust and hostility towards them. Nor are they considered to truly exist as individuals: rather, it is their specific “nature”, their gender, age or race that expresses itself through them. In France, under the Vichy regime, the “least human” people were naturally among the first to be sacrificed39. The various oppressions are thus articulated around a common matrix, rooted in the Humanity/Nature paradigm. It is of our interest, therefore, to operate with them and, from there, with the other struggles as well. This is what many feminists, Afro-feminists and Afro-ecologists propose40.
Downsides of criticizing humanism
Humanism has a positive connotation. Humanism is a rather vague notion that always needs to be clarified. People are attached to the notion of humanism (which they see as the “last bastion against barbarism”), as well as to the notion of human dignity (which seems to have become obvious to them since the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, as it was not used before). In short, humanism today is synonymous with a respectful and benevolent attitude towards other humans, identified as our fellow human beings, our neighbors, which is, all the same, very positive. It also embodies the will of humans to set their own rules and ideals, even if only “for themselves”, unfortunately. Humanism thus provides a shift away from God or Nature and their alleged wills but unfortunately refocuses exclusively and arbitrarily on Humanity. The critique of humanism must therefore be made in the name of refocusing ethics on all sentient beings on the planet.
Humanism is revived by intra-human emancipation struggles. Our contemporaries are used to focusing on their own struggles (education, human equality, against discrimination, etc.) on the claim that they belong to humanity. It is in their interest to use the humanist ideology, which is already available to them “off the shelf” and which is already the subject of a consensus, which does not encourage solidarity with other animals. In a way, these struggles are built at the expense of animals, excluded from moral consideration. Working to move intra-human struggles away from the claim of Humanity requires extensive, robust and offensive cultural and political work. It will take time to obtain a frank reformulation of the demands. They are already appearing, timidly; for example, on a badge against homophobia, lesbophobia and queerphobia, perhaps made by an anti-speciesist, we can read this more universal subtitle: “against suffering”.
Other humanisms are possible. It is very important to attack humanism, but let us not forget that it is also possible to propose other types of humanism, which we can hope will soon cease to be called such, that they will cease to refer to the notion of Humanity. In particular, human rights (which should be renamed “person rights”), rather than being based on the idea of human exceptionalism, can be defended on a much more solid, immediate and common basis, based on universalizable notions. The notion of person can thus rightly include all sentient beings with a modicum of self-awareness and personality. Thomas Regan developed this point as early as 1983, in a seminal work entitled Animal Rights41, in which he argued that the “subjects-of-a-life” should be recognized by society as having an equal right to respect, a right not to be treated as mere means to other people’s ends. Enrique Utria, a French philosopher specialized in the theory of rights, explains: “Tom Regan is thus an advocate of animal rights because he is first and foremost an advocate of human rights. Moreover, his theory is perhaps the strongest – and least known – defense of human rights42.”
The idea of human rights can also be more robustly defended on the basis of notions of embodied subjectivity and vulnerability43. Will Kymlicka writes in this regard:
By the 1980s […] human rights theory had started to shed this human supremacist framing. To repeat, for Shue and Nickel, it was not a test of success of a theory of human rights that it exclude animals, or that it exalt humans over animals. And I would argue that this trend continued through the 1990s into the early 2000s. In this period, several exciting new approaches to theorizing human rights emerged. For example, Bryan Turner argued that human rights should be grounded in respect for people as ‘vulnerable subjects’ (Turner 2006), an idea also defended by Martha Fineman (2008); see also Morawa (2003). Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum developed capability-based theories of human rights (Sen 2005; Nussbaum 2007); Fiona Robinson elaborated a care-ethics approach to human rights (Robinson 2003); and Judith Butler appealed to ‘precarious life’ as the basis for human rights (Butler 2006).44
In France, Corine Pelluchon is working on the ethics of vulnerability45 and a Franco-Quebec scientific network is focusing its research on the theme: “Taking vulnerability into account: Defining, sharing, acting46”. These new theoretical approaches form what Ann Murphy calls the “new corporeal humanism” which, in contrast to the proud proclamation of a superior nature, is based on “the vulnerability of the human body to suffering and violence47”. Such a corporeal humanism opens the door to the consideration of “vulnerable bodies” and “precarious lives”, whatever they may be/look like.
Needless to say, such “humanism” remains “humanistic” if it only applies to humans, effectively undermining any logical basis for the exclusion of non-human sentients. In fact, such a humanism is no longer a humanism, it is a sentientism. The criterion of Humanity is ultimately replaced by that of sentience48. This is what the anti-speciesist revolution is calling for. In an article entitled “Humanism needs an update: Is sentientism the philosophy that could save the world?”49 Jamie Woodhouse argues:
Sentientism has much in common with humanism. Like humanism, it is pro-human rights and focused on our common global humanity. It is anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-ageist, anti-ableist, anti-nationalistic, and anti-LGBTQ+phobic. Both humanism and sentientism help us focus on what we have in common – our humanity50 and our sentience.
While many humanists already grant moral consideration to non-human animals (for example, the national organization Humanists UK includes this in its definition of humanism), sentientism makes that explicit, as it views causing the suffering and death of sentient animals as ethically wrong.
Above all, he adds:
There is already an untapped synergy between these movements. In a recent show-of-hands poll of an audience of around a thousand U.K. humanists, approximately 40 percent said they were vegan or vegetarian – a rate much higher than that of the general population. It also appears, again anecdotally, that moral vegans and vegetarians are more likely to be atheists or humanists than the general population. To me, that’s because evidence and reason underlie both viewpoints.
It is indeed plausible that humanist movements are concerned with the animal question through the demand for rationality that they put forward against religious tutelage. In the nineteenth century, the fight for humanism was in fact often inseparable from a fight for the animal question, whether it was waged by republicans, anarchists, socialists, feminists or anti-slavery activists (for metropolitan France we can mention Alphonse de Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Victor Schoelcher, Séverine, Louise Michel, Élysée Reclus, etc.). It is for this reason that the French philosopher Martin Gibert distinguishes between exclusive humanism (human chauvinism and supremacism, based on speciesism) and inclusive humanism, which consists of considering all sentient beings, human and non-human, and fighting speciesism in the name of humanism, our reason and compassion51.
In fact, Humanists International (originally the International Humanist and Ethical Union), which links humanism to freethought, has over a hundred fighting organizations around the world and states in its presentation of what humanism is (“What is humanism?”52):
A humanist bases their understanding of the world on reason and scientific method (rejecting supernatural or divine beliefs as bad explanations or ill-formed ideas). A humanist bases their ethical decisions again on reason, with the input of empathy, and aiming toward the welfare and fulfillment of living things.
There is thus an enormous gap with the haughty focus on Humanity alone to which French speakers have accustomed us. The International Union then provides the following clarification:
A humanist is someone who recognizes that we human beings are by far the most sophisticated moral actors on earth. We can grasp ethics. This does not mean that we are the only moral objects. For example, other animals also deserve moral consideration, and perhaps the environment as a whole. […] To act well, we must take responsibility for ourselves and others.
This is not something to get too excited about either, it is the least we could expect, but I find it very encouraging. However, I would like to make it clear that I do not think it is very rational to consider the environment as a moral patient! One may well value the “environment” (if one means the non-sentient world) indirectly, or instrumentally, because it is important for sentient beings, but not for itself. This makes no ethical sense.
We adopt ethical positions based on this-worldly considerations of the inalienable dignity and worth of the individual, the value of autonomy and liberty combined with social responsibility, the reduction of suffering (of all sentient creatures, not only of humans) and the pursuit of equity, human fulfillment, and happiness.
In short, this International Humanist and Ethical Union shows that secular humanism is not necessarily obtuse, focused exclusively on the notion of humanity and closed to taking into account the interests of others.
This openness does not remove the need to criticize humanism head-on, especially as it is rampant in France as an ideology of human supremacism. This direct criticism of humanism is part of what we might call a strategy of shock: disrupting the self-satisfied evidence of our contemporaries, shaking up their beliefs, unbalancing their preconceived notions that they are “on the right side of the fence” from the point of view of morality and justice.
It should also be remembered that humanism is historically linked to genocide, colonialism, slavery, the enslavement of women and children, the relegation of the insane and deviant (as well as to the plundering appropriation of the world, the enslavement and bloody dispossession of all non-humans and various ecological crises). This is not an unfortunate coincidence, but a logical connection. Nor should we hesitate to assert that, from this point of view, Nazism also stems from a certain humanism: its racism, sexism, imperialism, eugenics, genocides and massacres were indeed justified by invoking “superior” or “inferior” figures of Humanity, in line with this humanistic scale of beings, which gives primacy to Humanity. Claude Lévi-Strauss, for example, wrote the following lines forty years ago:
I have the feeling that all the tragedies we have experienced, first with colonialism, then with fascism, and finally with the extermination camps, are not in opposition to or in contradiction with so-called humanism in the form in which we have been practicing it for several centuries, but, I would say, almost in its natural extension. Since it is, in a way, in one and the same stride that man began by drawing the boundary of its rights between itself and other living species, and then found itself led to transfer this boundary within the human species, separating certain categories recognized as the only truly human ones from other categories which then underwent a degradation conceived on the same model that served to discriminate between human and non-human living species. This is a true original sin that pushes humanity to self-destruction. Respect for man by man cannot find its foundation in certain particular dignities that humanity would attribute to itself, because then a fraction of humanity could always decide that it embodies these dignities in a more eminent way than others.54
Slightly different lines of attack
To conclude, I think that both lines of attack – against speciesism and against humanism – are justified. Fighting speciesism highlights the arbitrary discrimination linked to the notion of species and places the question of anti-speciesism on the same level as struggles that are considered already (even if not always with the upmost sincerity or conviction) to be legitimate among the population, in particular anti-sexism and anti-racism. This approach also introduces the notions of ageism and ableism, which are important tools in the political struggle to move towards an egalitarian society, making it available and understandable to circles that were not familiar with such notions.
The critique of humanism, on the other hand, allows to question the separation made between “Humanity” and “Nature” (neither of which really exist: they are phantasmagorias). Such critique strikes right at the heart of what underpins our civilization: it has, once again, reason on its side.
The subversive potential of each of these strategies is immense. By combining them, we can hope that our societies will be led to reduce or eliminate large parts of the exploitation of animals, even only to avoid being forced to question too radically their foundations (such as, for example, the positivity associated to the idea of humanity).
To paraphrase Tavoillot, we must be able to rely on the project of the Enlightenment so that autonomous Humanity (i.e. Humanity that gives itself its own goals and its own rules, without trying to follow the indications of a God or of Nature) not only acquires the majority (the freedom to decide, in relation to religions in particular), but also maturity55, thanks to self-criticism and to a relationship with the world – which remains to be developed – that is responsible, ethical and rational.
What can be retained from humanism, then, is the idea that humans are not only moral patients, but also often moral agents. This perspective is fundamental, because we have now acquired such power that we are the masters of the world, whether we like it or not. We are in control of the planet. What we need to do is to find out how to politically and collectively use this power, rather than leaving it blindly in the hands of our economy.
Many humans around the world have managed to extricate themselves from the grip of religions, gods or nature. They have come of age. It remains for them to become mature, as Tavoillot would say. Humanism, paradoxically, at least in the sense of human supremacism, has become the main obstacle to this accession to human maturity. Using our majority, no longer to pat ourselves on the stomach with satisfaction (after a good meaty meal) and tell ourselves that “we are at the best!”, but to stop being so self-centered, to look around us and to be just, benevolent and in solidarity with each other. It is about using our collective power not to enslave others, but to serve them.
Pierre-Henri Tavoillot again, starting from the “disenchantment of the world” specific to our modernity, asks us: “Today, what can still justify our lives, which are as brief as they are futile, when the past is lost, nature is silent, the sky is empty, and the tomorrows no longer sing: in short, when there is nothing left but man to console man?56” But he is wrong: it is only “in our minds” that “there is only man left”. We have isolated ourselves from the real world while we are surrounded by myriads of other sentient beings. They live their lives before our eyes, but we refuse to see them and prefer to die of loneliness in the universe. What justifies our lives, however, is our responsibility to the sentient individuals on the planet. Taking care of them is an ambitious, noble, generous57 and exciting goal. This responsibility makes sense; it is even the most meaningful thing in the world. It also makes it possible to replace religions, the great collective utopias of the past (religious millenarisms or political millenarisms such as Marxism) which, in comparison, seem very derisory. But it is no longer a question of being fanatical about the heaven of ideas whilst scanning the distant horizon, of what transcends the world or history: it is about rolling up one’s sleeves in a very concrete way, about focusing on the vulnerability of the beings of this world and working humbly, step by step, to make things better. For each individual, each sentient worm on Earth. Just as health care workers around the world do every day, without feeling full of self-proclaimed nobility, during health crises – due to pandemics, for example.
If we are to promote a new humanism, it is as such: to be at the service of all sentient beings on the planet – including ourselves, of course. Very soon, such a humanism will cease to be called humanism. If we stop dominating others in order to enslave them, we will stop putting ourselves first. What we will put forward instead is the sentience of all of us, and especially our common vulnerability to suffering and death, but also our capacity to enjoy our lives.
Yves Bonnardel has remained an anti-speciesist activist since the early 1990s. He is also an activist for youth rights, against adult domination, and for ending the idea of nature. He is also an activist against France’s neo-colonial policy in Africa, but also against the penal system, against discrimination based on nationality, etc. He is committed to the equal consideration of the interests of all, and the reduction of suffering on this planet.
- This article by Yves Bonnardel is a transcript and development of an online conference that took place on the 8th of May 2020, organized by the Swiss association PEA – Pour l’Égalité Animale (it can be viewed here). A bibliography covering the topics discussed in this article and at the conference is available online here].
- For an analysis of what humanism is, see David Olivier, « Pour un radicalisme réaliste » (“The case for a realistic radicalism”, on this website), Les Cahiers antispécistes, n° 17, April 1999, a text of which excerpts are presented on this site, here; Cédric Stolz, De l’humanisme à l’antispécisme. Le XXIème siècle est celui des animaux (“From humanism to anti-speciesism. The 21st century is the century of animals”), Ovadia, 2019; Axelle Playoust-Braure and Yves Bonnardel, Solidarité animale. Défaire la société spéciste (“Animal solidarity. Defeating speciesist society”), La Découverte, 2020.
- Yves Bonnardel and Pierre Sigler, Animal exploitation is a social issue, BoSi, 2012. Pierre Sigler’s text, “Mobilizing for Animal Liberation: Appeal to Virtue vs. Demand for Justice” forms part of this brochure. This text is presented here on this website.
- See Marie-Claude Marsolier, Le mépris des « bêtes ». Un lexique de la ségrégation animale (“Contempt for ‘beasts’. A lexicon of animal segregation”), Presses universitaires de France, 2020.
- I capitalize “Man”, “Humanity” or “Nature” (as the nationalists used to capitalize “Nation” or “Fatherland”) to mark that they are objects of devotion. They are abstract entities that are personalized and hypostasized, endowed with an existence of their own and sacralized, which take precedence over the individuals that make them up. With such notions, we keep staring at abstract ideas in the sky, and the interests of concrete individuals are trampled underfoot.
- Yves Bonnardel, Doing away with the concept of Nature, back to ethics and politics, Les Temps modernes, 2005. This text is presented here on this website.
- David Olivier, « Défense animale/Libération animale » (“Animal welfare/Animal liberation”), Les Cahiers antispécistes, n° 1, 1991.
- In France, 4 to 5 million animals are “sacrificed” each year for research and experimentation, but 1.2 billion terrestrial vertebrates (mammals and especially birds) and at least 15 billion aquatic vertebrates (fish) are killed for the food industry. See for a first, incomplete approach: https://www.experimentation-animale.com/; we do not present figures at the global level, as they are almost impossible to estimate due to the lack of reliable sources for many countries.
- Cf. Enrique Utria, Essai sur les droits des animaux (“Essay on Animal Rights”), PhD thesis in Philosophy under the supervision of Jean-Pierre Cléro, 2016; « Les animaux ont-ils des droits ? Avons-nous des devoirs envers eux ? Singer, Regan, Rowlands : trois perspectives pour fouler à la cheville l’opinion philosophique » (“Do animals have rights? Do we have duties towards them? Singer, Regan, Rowlands: three perspectives to tread on philosophical opinion”), Revue de l’ACIREPh, Côté-philo, 2009.
- This passage partially reproduces elements of the introduction to the collective book Luc Ferry ou le rétablissement de l’ordre. L’humanisme est-il anti-égalitaire ? (“Luc Ferry or the restoration of order. Is humanism anti-egalitarian?”) published by tahin Party, 2003.
- Luc Ferry, Statement to L’Express, 24 September 1992, p. 108.
- Luc Ferry and Jean-Didier Vincent, Qu’est-ce que l’homme? (“What is Man?”), Odile Jacob, 2000, p. 28.
- Luc Ferry, « Quelle justice pour les bêtes? » (“What justice for the beasts?”), L’Express, 25 March 1993.
- Alain Renaut, « L’Humanisme de la corrida » (“The Humanism of bullfighting”), Critique, vol. 723-724, n° 8, 2007.
- This passage is loosely (but faithfully) based on chapter 4 of the book Solidarité animale, Défaire la société spéciste (“Animal solidarity. Defeating speciesist society”), by Axelle Playoust-Braure and Yves Bonnardel, La Découverte, 2020.
- Patrice Rouget, La violence de l’humanisme. Pourquoi nous faut-il persécuter les animaux ? (“The violence of humanism. Why do we need to persecute animals?”), Calmann-Lévy, 2014.
- François Reynaert, dossier “Les animaux ont-ils des droits?” (“Do animals have rights?”) devoted in large part to the promotion of Luc Ferry’s Nouvel Ordre écologique (“The new ecological order”), in Le Nouvel observateur, 29 Oct-4 Nov 1992, p. 18.
- I capitalize Humanity when referring to the membership group, the entity supposed to group and represent all humans; and lowercase it when referring to humanity, as the alleged human nature or human essence, to be associated with membership of the corresponding group. (Similarly, I capitalize Nature to denote the entity that is supposed to group/represent all elements of the world (or the non-human world, as the case may be), and lowercase nature when it denotes an essence.
- This desire to care about the well-being of non-humans is hardly rooted in fact and remains a matter of mere rhetoric; and when humanists talk about animal well-being, we can rightly imagine that they are in fact only talking about reducing animal suffering and not at all about pleasure, as in George Orwell’s novel 1984, where they talk about peace to talk about war.
- Does its dignity lie in not being a slave to its body and its pain? In any case, the leading association fighting for the right to choose one’s death in France is symptomatically called “Association for the right to die with dignity” (« Association pour le droit à mourir dans la dignité ») and not “for the right to die without suffering” or “for the right to choose one’s death”.
- Isabelle Baszanger, Douleur et médecine, la fin d’un oubli (“Pain and medicine, the end of an oversight”), Seuil, 1995.
- This is OPIS, Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering, founded by Jonathan Leighton.
- David Olivier, « Bambi a froid » (“Bambi is cold”), Les Cahiers antispécistes, n° 20, August 2001.
- At first, in 1975’s Animal Liberation, Peter Singer considered that it was not necessarily wrong to kill “non-self-aware” animals, although their pleasure and suffering should count as much as those of humans.
- Valéry Giroux, Contre l’exploitation animale : un argument en faveur des droits fondamentaux de tous les êtres sensibles (“Against animal exploitation: an argument for the fundamental rights of all sentient beings”), L’âge d’Homme, 2017.
- Frédéric Côté-Boudreau, « Et si on parlait trop de la souffrance des animaux ? » (“What if we talk too much about the suffering of animals?”), article published on 31/01/2019 on his blog. The author talks about the “choice, among other things, to determine where to live, with whom to develop relationships and what to do with their days”.
- Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Zoopolis. A Political Theory of Animal Rights, Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Speciesists will think I’m joking… but I’m not!
- Frédéric Côté-Boudreau, art. cit.
- Florence Burgat, « États des lieux de la “question animale”. Enjeux théorico-pratiques » (“State of play of the ‘animal question’. Theoretical and practical issues”), Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger, PUF, 2019/3, volume 144, pp. 303-304.
- The Editor, « Pourquoi nous sommes pour la liberté d’avorter et autres rapides considérations » (“Why we are for the freedom to abort and other quick considerations”), Les Cahiers antispécistes, n° 12, April 1995.
- David Olivier, « Alors, on pourra les manger? » (“So, will we be allowed to eat them?”), Les Cahiers antispécistes, n° 15-16, April 1998; Philippe Descamps, Un crime contre l’espèce humaine? Enfants clonés, enfants damnés (“A crime against the human kind? Cloned children, damned children”), Les empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2004.
- David Olivier, « Agression à Antifascistland – Égalité animale et Euthanasie » (“Aggression at Antifascistland – Animal Equality and Euthanasia”), Les Cahiers antispécistes, n° 15-16, April 1998.
- Sunaura Taylor, Beasts of Burden. Animal and Disability Liberation, The New Press, 2017; Valéry Giroux, « Tous les animaux sont différents et égaux. À propos de Sunaura Taylor, Beasts of Burden. Animal and Disability Liberation (2017) » (“All animals are different and equal. About Sunaura Taylor, Beasts of Burden. Animal and Disability Liberation (2017)”), L’Amorce. Revue contre le spécisme, 22 November 2018.
- Paola Cavalieri & Peter Singer (eds), The Great Apes Project. Equality beyond humanity, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993.
- Réseau Voltaire, Le terrorisme en soutane. John Paul II contre l’I.V.G. (“Terrorism in a cassock. John Paul II against abortion”), L’Esprit frappeur, 2000.
- Nouvelles Questions Féministes, Vol. 16, No. 1, dossier « Pékin 95 : l’État français contre l’égalité des sexes » (dossier “Beijing 95: the French state against gender equality”), February 1995.
- Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, « Réflexions à partager » (“Reflections to share”), Eurogroup Institute, 2008.
- During the Second World War, the French Vichy regime left 40,000 “demented” or “deviant” people to die in hospitals and asylums: they were the last to receive care, food and heating. See Max Lafont, L’Extermination douce (“The Gentle Extermination”), Arefpi, 1987.
- Aph Ko and Syl Ko, “By ‘human’, everybody just means ‘white’”, Aphro-ism. Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, Lantern Books, 2017; Malcolm Ferdinand, Une écologie décoloniale. Penser l’écologie depuis le monde caribéen (“A decolonial ecology. Thinking ecology from the caribbean world”), Seuil, 2019.
- Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.
- Enrique Utria, entry “Droits des animaux” (“Animal Rights”), in Renan Larue (ed.), La Pensée végane (“The vegan thinking / The vegan way of thinking”), PUF, 2020, p. 246.
- I am more or less repeating here a passage from the book written with Axelle Playoust-Braure, Solidarité animale. Défaire la société spéciste, op. cit. pp. 147-148.
- Will Kymlicka, “Human Rights without supremacism”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 2018, 48 (6), 763-792, p. 767.
- Corine Pelluchon, Éléments pour une éthique de la vulnérabilité. Les hommes, les animaux, la nature (“Elements for an ethics of vulnerability. People, animals, nature”), éd. du Cerf, 2016 .
- See their online research notebook. Enrique Utria and Sébastien Bouchard (eds.), Animalité et vulnérabilité (“Animality and vulnerability”), Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre, 2021.
- Ann Murphy, “Corporeal Vulnerability and the New Humanism”, Hypatia, 2011, 26 (3): 575-590.
- At the 2020 Estivales de la question animale (a Summer Animal Forum), one person differentiated sentiencism, an ethics based on sentience, from sentientism, which places sentient beings at the center of ethics; the focus is different, from capacity (sentience) to actual existing beings (sentients).
- Jamie Woodhouse, “Humanism Needs An Upgrade: Is Sentientism The Philosophy That Could Save The World?”, Secular Humanism, Vol. 39, No. 3, April-May 2019.
- I imagine that when Woodhouse talks about humanity, he means our concern for justice and compassion…
- Martin Gibert, Voir son steak comme un animal mort (“Seeing your steak as a dead animal”), Lux, 2017, pp. 171-174.
- International Humanist and Ethical Union, “What is humanism?”, available at https://humanists.international/what-is-humanism/; I assume, of course, that when they speak of “living beings” here, they mean “sentient beings”: the notions of well-being and fulfillment do not make sense for mushrooms or amoebas…
- Jean-Marie Benoist, « Interview avec Claude Lévi-Strauss » (“Interview with Claude Lévi-Strauss”), Le Monde, 21-22 January 1979. Lévi-Strauss, as is often the case, confuses “living” with “sentient” here; in other passages, however, it is very clear that he is referring to sentient beings, not to all living beings.
- I don’t like to use the term maturity, which is used to deny reason or discernment to children and to justify dominating and oppressing them, and is used against them in the same way that the term rationality is used against non-humans. But here, the opportunity is too good!
- Pierre-Henri Tavoillot, art. cit.
- I don’t like these terms, “noble”, “generous” (from gens, generis, the lineage, in Latin; by extension, those of high extraction) which, like “virile”, “virtue” (from vir, virtus, the man, virile, in Latin), “chivalrous”, in fact come from societies of domination: the dominant classes exalted their own excellence by attaching the positive virtues of the moment to the adjective designating them. This is precisely what we do with the adjective “human”. But I wanted to express something valorising and our language is very poor, so…