korsgaard 2008 - Interacting with Animals

korsgaard 2008 - Interacting with Animals - Interacting...

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Interacting with Animals: A Kantian Account 1 Christine M. Korsgaard Harvard University 1. Being an Animal Human beings are animals: phylum: chordata, class: mammalia, order: primates, family: hominids, species: homo sapiens, subspecies: homo sapiens sapiens. According to current scientific opinion, we evolved approximately 200,000 years ago in Africa from ancestors whom we share with the other great apes. What does it mean that we are animals? Scientifically speaking, an animal is essentially a complex, multicellular organism that feeds on other life forms. But what we share with the other animals is not just a definition: it is a history – that is, it is a story – and a resulting set of attributes and circumstances, and an ecosystem, and a planet. What is the story? Living things are homeostatic systems – they maintain themselves through a process of nutrition that enables them to work constantly at replacing the fragile materials of which they are composed. Living things also work at reproducing, or contributing to the reproduction, of other living things that maintain themselves in essentially the same way. To engage in those activities is essentially what it means to be alive. And in order to engage in those activities, a living thing must be, in some way, responsive to conditions in its environment. Plants, for instance, respond to dryness, by growing deeper roots, or to sunshine, by turning their leaves in its direction. Even a unicellular organism is drawn to some things and recoils from others, 1 This is a talk, delivered as the Dewey Lecture at the University of Chicago Law School in November 2008, and contains no notes. A longer version is forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook on Ethics and Animals , edited by Thomas Beauchamp and R. G. Frey, Oxford University Press, 2010.
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Interacting with Animals: A Kantian Account 2 Christine M. Korsgaard in ways that promote its survival. But once upon a time (for, remember, this is a story) - about 600 million years ago – some of the living things on this planet became responsive in a particular way. They began to become aware of their surroundings, to form some sort of a representation of the environment in which they live. Presumably, this was because of the evolutionary advantages of such awareness, which enables a living thing to monitor the relationship between its own condition and the conditions in its environment. Perhaps there is no hard and fast line between that distinctive power we call perception and the kind of responsiveness exhibited by, say, a plant that turns its leaves towards the sun. But as responsiveness evolved into perception, something new began to appear in the world. For a bare theoretical awareness of the environment, all by itself, could not do an organism any good: if perception is to help an organism to survive and reproduce, it must be informed or accompanied by something like
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korsgaard 2008 - Interacting with Animals - Interacting...

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