A Mirror of Myself? Monist and Dualist views of Animals

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Mankind has always used animals as the Other, to compare himself with them. Animals have provided the mirror in which mankind has defined himself . In their perceived similarities and dissimilarities with humans, he has distinguished the boundaries which separates him from the Other. Since antiquity, this relationship has been lively debated between at least two groups of interpreters. The "dualists" have contended that humans are unique and decidedly different from animals, whereas "monists" have argued that we are essentially the same, metaphysically and/or physiologically. Along with this ambiguous perception of animals, discussions concerning our moral relationship have followed. Dualists have often more or less dismissed human obligations to animals. Monists, on the other hand, have usually stressed our responsibilities. During the 19th century, the boundaries between these groups grew increasingly blurred as physiological evidence pointed to evolutionary similarities, indeed kinship. Monists_for instance, natural scientists_convinced about the evolutionary kinship between humans and animals, could emphasize a dualist ethical outlook. Similarly, dualists who based their beliefs on anthropocentric Christian thinking, nevertheless found themselves at times showing an unusual concern for animals due to civilizational or Christian demands. Only believers in a metaphysical unity, seem to have retained a monist worldview and ethics. Today, the issue still creates discussion. How similar are we to animals and how should these similarities inform our ethical conduct toward them?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnimal Bioethics. Principles and Teaching methods
EditorsM Marie, S Edwards, G Gandini, G Reiss, E von Borell
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Print)9076998582
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History of Ideas

Free keywords

  • history of animal ethics
  • animal ethics
  • bioethics


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