Fontenay, Élisabeth de
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A central thinker on the question of the animal in continental thought, Élisabeth de Fontenay moves in this volume from Jacques Derrida’s uneasily intimate writing on animals to a passionate frontal engagement with political and ethical theory as it has been applied to animals—along with a stinging critique of the works of Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri as well as other “utilitarian” philosophers of animal–human relations.
Humans and animals are different from one another. To conflate them is to be intellectually sentimental. And yet, from our position of dominance, do we not owe them more than we often acknowledge? In the searching first chapter on Derrida, Fontenay sets out “three levels of deconstruction” that are “testimony to the radicalization and shift of that philosopher’s argument: a strategy through the animal, exposition to an animal or to this animal, and compassion toward animals.” For Fontenay, Derrida’s writing is particularly far-reaching when it comes to thinking about animals, and she suggests many other possible philosophical resources, including Adorno, Leibniz, and Merleau-Ponty.
Fontenay is at her most compelling in describing philosophy’s ongoing indifference to animal life—shading into savagery, underpinned by denial—and in explaining how attempts to exclude the animal from ethical systems have in fact demeaned humanity. But her essays carry more than philosophical significance. Without Offending Humans reveals a careful and emotionally sensitive thinker who explores the unfolding of humans’ assessments of their relationship to animals—and the consequences of these assessments for how we define ourselves.