AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

Reconsidering The Nonhuman Animal: A Multidisciplinary Approach

by Eliza Kate Muirhead

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Record ID: 1302133
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5579


Nonhuman animals exist to humans in a myriad of different ways. As companions or entertainers, as tools for scientific endeavour, within the natural environment and lastly, for the majority of people they exist as a source of consumable food or materials. To study the human-animal relationship, as it is becoming increasingly popular to do, is to confront the complexity of these relations. The popularity of such an endeavour is exemplified by the rise of a relatively new discourse of academic enquiry called human animal studies (HAS). HAS places the nonhuman animal in the spotlight of a multidisciplinary discussion which explores the question of what the human relationship with nonhuman animals ought to be. However, before this question can be posed, we must first understand the rich and interconnecting history of epistemology that has formed our contemporary ‘way of knowing’ the nonhuman animal. As a result of examining how certain disciplines have sculpted our contemporary understanding of the nonhuman animal we can also demonstrate the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach. It suggests that without a dialogue between particular fields, such as philosophy and science, we are limited in our ability to construct a set of ethics that may articulate what our proper relationship with nonhuman animals ought to be. This thesis provides a brief overview of the epistemology that has formed our current understanding of this question and situates the discussion within the field of science communication. In much the same way that the field of deep ecology first suggested in the 1980’s, the field of science communication suggests that in order to bring in to question the contemporary ‘way of knowing’ the nonhuman animal and therefore our current use and treatment of them, we must create a dialogue between the theoretical, social, political and historical (Naess 1984). This dissertation will review areas where a disconnect between the fields of science and philosophy have resulted in producing ‘untruths’ in the way that we ‘know’, ‘value’, ‘think’ and therefore ‘act’ for and ‘represent’ the nonhuman animal. It will show that there is a disconnect between what we know about the nonhuman animal through science, on their intelligence, ability to experience the world, and the way that ethics have developed to guide in how we ought to treat the nonhuman animal. The artefact component of this dissertation, Human|Animal a 25min documentary, is a reply to this call. It acts as a piece of science communication and aims to create a personal response in the audience in order to elicit a re-evaluation of the current way in which the nonhuman animal is utilised in western society. By engaging in a multidisciplinary dialogue the film asks the audience to consider, and potentially form an opinion, on what our current treatment of the nonhuman animal ought to be.