Welcoming dogs: Levinas and 'the animal' question

Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (1):49-71 (2011)
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Abstract

According to Levinas, the history of western philosophy has routinely ‘assimilated every Other into the Same’. More concretely stated, philosophers have neglected the ethical significance of other human beings in their vulnerable, embodied singularity. What is striking about Levinas’ recasting of ethics as ‘first philosophy’ is his own relative disregard for non-human animals. In this article I will do two interrelated things: (1) situate Levinas’ (at least partial) exclusion of the non-human animal in the context of his markedly bleak conception of ‘the state of nature’, and (2) drawing on Orwell, Wittgenstein and Gaita, argue that, despite his more positive evaluation of animality (specifically a dog named Bobby), Levinas is guided by a number of anthropomorphic prejudices; not least that the epithet ‘the animal’ can be used in the general singular

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Bob Plant
University of Aberdeen (PhD)