Like any broad narrative about the history of ideas, this one involves a number of simplifications. My hope is that by taking a closer look
Spinoza's notorious remarks on animals, we can understand better why it becomes especially urgent in this period as well as our own for philosophers to emphasize a distinction between human and nonhuman animals. In diagnosing the concerns that give rise to the desire to dismiss the independent purposes of animals, we may come to focus on a new aspect of what needs to change about contemporary thinking on species divisions. In what follows, I will bring out Spinoza's contradictory and ambivalent remarks pertaining to the specific differences between humans and animals. It is my suspicion that this ambivalence continues to plague us today. Like Spinoza, we want to say that humans are like and unlike animals. As a simply descriptive claim, it may be true and innocuous. Yet, the way we affirm our proximity and distance from nonhuman animals requires careful attention. Spinoza viewed this proximity as a source of danger. We might do well to emphasize, with thinkers such as Donna Haraway (2003),how our proximity and difference are also sources of pleasure and power, both to be able to enjoy the affectionate bond that can often develop between humans and our animal companions but also to quell the anxiety that might encourage us to exploit and abuse them.