For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Who Speaks for the Animals?: Heidegger and the Question of Animal Welfare"

by Schalow, Frank (2000)


I address the ethical treatment of animals from a Heideggerian perspective. My argument proceeds in two stages. First, it is necessary to develop a nonanthropocentric concept of freedom which extends beyond the sphere of human interests. Second, it is essential to show that our capacity to speak must serve the diverse ends of “dwelling,” and hence can be properly exercised only by balancing the interests of animals with those of our own. Rather than point to naturalistic similarities between humans and animals (e.g., the capacity to feel pain), or even ontological ones (e.g., the shared dimension of “care” [Sorge]), the better strategy lies in expanding the scope of moral agency in a way which allows the differences between humans and animals to suggest guidelines as to why the former should exhibit benevolence toward the latter. In this way, I show that the basic percepts of Heidegger’s philosophy support an ethic which can attend to, and speak in behalf of, the welfare of animals.

Key Passage

we can hardly deny that Heidegger’s insights into the dangers of Western anthropocentricism still ring true as we enter a new millennium. How can we occupy an Earth whose shrinking habitats threaten the welfare of its diverse life forms and upset the ecological balance of nature? As members of the human species, we have benefited from the wonders of technology during the past hundred years. But the irony is that at times we maybecome the victims of this great progress. Technological advances from medical vaccines to genetically enhanced food have extended human life spans and have sheltered us from many of the vicissitudes of nature. Neverthless, despite its achievements, technology provides methods which postpone deathrather than eliminate it. While many “miracle cures” encourage us to forget our finitude, they do not annul the gulf which from time immemorial has separated mortals from the gods. On the contrary, technology poses profound dangers which impel us to view our finitude in a new light, as inhabitants of an Earth whose resources of land and water continue to diminish. Consider the following paradox: the medical advances which provide the seeds for overpopulation in the present may in the future contribute to an “ecological disaster” whose effects are universally threatening. (p.261)


Heidegger, Animals. Animal Welfare, Technology, Agency


On Heidegger, Animals

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