A PHILOSOPHICAL LEXICON FOR CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS, #6: “Animal.”

By Robert Hanna

“Young Woman With a Book [Reading Philosophy],” by Alexander Deineka (1934)
“A Philosopher Reading” (Wellcome Collection)

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APP Editor’s Note:

You can download or read a complete .pdf of the basic working draft of this philosophical lexicon HERE.

But since it is a work-in-progress, this does not preclude ongoing elaborations or revisions of the working draft, that appear only in the online installments.

After the series is finished, then a complete revised-and-updated version of the basic working draft will be made available for universal sharing.

Here are four preliminary remarks about the lexicon.

First, all terms in boldface have a definition or explication somewhere on the list.

Second, all of these definitions are, to some extent, controversial, precisely because they imply a certain philosophical point of view, or set of presuppositions, that not all philosophers share.

Third, entries marked with an asterisk* indicate a particularly controversial definition, and also include a brief description of the controversy, in italics.

Fourth, some entries also include a philosopher’s name in parenthesis, if that definition is closely historically associated with a formulation that was original to that philosopher.

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PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS IN THIS SERIES:

#5: “Anarchism” (A Philosophical and Sociopolitical Tribute to David Graeber).

#4: “Analysis.”

#3: “Acts.”

#2: “Abstract.”

#1: Introduction, & Other Preliminaries.

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Animal*: an organism with the psychological capacity or power for sentience.

Controversy: Many definitions of animal are strictly biological, whereas this one conforms more closely to the study of animals in cognitive ethology, presupposing that they are organisms possessing at least some psychological capacities or powers, even if only minimally.

ELABORATION

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word ‘animal’ means “a living organism which feeds on organic matter, usually one with specialized sense organs and nervous system, and able to respond rapidly to stimuli.”[i]

In the usage of contemporary biologists, the term ‘animal’ also has a taxonomical sense, in that animals are said to constitute one of the five kingdoms of living things: Monera (bacteria), Protists, Fungi, Plants, and Animals.

The class of animals that is jointly specified by these ordinary language and biological-taxonomical senses includes vertebrates and invertebrates, mammals and non-mammals — including birds, reptiles, amphibians, various kinds of fish, insects, and arachnids.

My usage of the term “animal,” however, is a slight precisification of the ordinary language and biological-taxonomical usages, intended also to coincide with its use in cognitive ethology, that is, the scientific study of animal minds and especially non-human animal minds in the context of macrobiology, cognitive psychology, and behavioral psychology.[ii]

To signal this precisification, I have coined the quasi-technical term minded animal.

Minded animals are conscious, intentional, caring living organisms.

All minded animals can, for example, feel pain, whether mild or intense.

But there are significant differences in the quantity (that is, the total amount or degree) of pain on the one hand, and significant differences in the quality (that is, the specific character) of pain on the other, and they do not vary as mathematical functions of one another.

Although every kind of minded animal can feel intense pain, not every kind of minded animal can feel the sort of self-conscious, self-reflective, richly content-laden, categorically normative, moral, emotional pain — namely, suffering — of which we are especially capable.

Cats, dogs, horses, mice, cows, sheep, mice, and so-on, and so-forth, right through the non-rational minded animal bestiary, although they can feel varying degrees of pain, from almost unnoticeably mild to unbearably intense — none of them can ever feel the kind of pain so evocatively expressed by this famous poem written by Pablo Neruda and translated by Robert Bly —

Walking Around

It so happens I am sick of being a man.

And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie houses

dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt

steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs.

The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.

The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,

no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails

and my hair and my shadow.

It so happens I am sick of being a man.

Still it would be marvelous

to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,

or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.

It would be great

to go through the streets with a green knife

letting out yells until I died of the cold.

I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,

insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,

going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,

taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don’t want so much misery.

I don’t want to go on as a root and a tomb,

alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,

half frozen, dying of grief.

That’s why Monday, when it sees me coming

with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,

and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,

and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses,

into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,

into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,

and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.

There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines

hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,

and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,

there are mirrors

that ought to have wept from shame and terror,

there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical cords.

I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,

my rage, forgetting everything,

I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops,

and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:

underwear, towels and shirts from which slow

dirty tears are falling.[iii]

Indeed, the so-called “superiority” of the human species pretty much boils down to the bracing natural fact that we are inherently more capable of being desperately unhappy, and also of making each other desperately unhappy, than any other animal species on Earth.

Ecce the rational human animal.

NOTES

[i] J. Hawkins and R. Allen (eds.), Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), p. 52.

[ii] See, for example, C. Allen and M. Bekoff, Species of Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997); M. Bearzi and C. Stanford, Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2008); D.R. Griffin, Animal Minds (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001); D.R. Griffin, Animal Thinking (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984); and D.R. Griffin, The Question of Animal Awareness (New York: Rockefeller Univ. Press, 1976).

[iii] Autobiographical note: I’ve been carrying a copy of this poem, cut out of the New York Times Book Review, now utterly yellowed, and completely falling apart, but for the Scotch tape that just barely holds it together, in a succession of wallets, since 1977. Why?

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 664

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Saturday 26 September 2020

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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