Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cora Diamond, a "Fellow Creature" of Animal Ethics

By Jane Legge

Dogs and cats and goats and cows,
Ducks and chickens, sheeps and sows
Woven into tales for tots,
Pictured on their walls and pots.
Time for dinner! Come and eat
All your lovely juicy meat.
One day ham from Percy Porker
(In the comics he's a corker):
Then the breast from Mrs. Cluck
Or the wing from Donald Duck.
Liver next from Clara Cow
(No, it doesn't hurt her now).
Yes, that leg's from Peter Rabbit
Chew it well; make that a habit.
Eat the creatures killed for sale,
But never pull the kitty's tail.
Eat the flesh from "filthy hogs"
But never be unkind to dogs.
Grow into double-think-
Kiss the hamster; skin the mink.
Never think of slaughter, dear,
That's why animals are here.
They only come on earth to die,
So eat your meat, and don't ask why.

I first found this poem in a chapter Cora Diamond wrote over thirty years ago on animal ethics called "Eating Meat and Eating People." Diamond has a unique approach to the moral consideration of "animals" that is not your typical analytic run of logic as used by Peter Singer and Tom Regan. She argues that animals are morally considerable based upon our intuitive perception of them as "fellow creatures" who share a like existence as "human beings" who are intrinsically valuable as they are "human beings," not because of any single characteristic (i.e. sentience, rationality).Recently, a book was published as a response to her work on Philosophy & Animal Life as well as Nobel-prize winner J. M. Coetzee's works such as The Lives of Animals--a short, highly-recommended classic on animal ethics involving the fictional character Elizabeth Costello--and Disgrace.

It is quite surprising that she is not as well known among animal activists and academics since she is a very famous figure in her field of the Philosophy of Language and Wittgenstein. After all, this paper was written directly after Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975) and she has continued writing about animal ethics for the last thirty years. My suspicion is that the greater invisibility of her work is because of male privilege and the general privilege placed upon rational thought/Analytic philosophy in American universities. Though, I personally confess, that I find Singer's moral philosophy--which I no longer completely agree with--more convincing. But I think Diamond's arguments rightfully criticize Singer and other Analytics on their marginalization of disabled persons and their devotion to the morality of sameness (i.e. one has moral value based upon their proximity/similarity to each other, rather than having value as someone with different needs and a different consciousness).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. I assigned Diamond's essay in one of my classes recently and regretted it. It's not male privilege at work in my own case. I'm actually quite sympathetic to the sort of critique she seems to gesture toward, but I consider her writing style to be shamefully obscure. If you happen to know of other essays where she presents her ideas and arguments more straightforwardly, or where others present similar ideas, I'd love to know about them!