Animal Studies Bibliography

Russow, Lilly-Marlene. 1989. Changing Perceptions of Animals: A Philosophical View. In P.J. Hoage (ed.) Perceptions of Animals in American Culture, pg. 129-151.Washington DC. Smithsonian Institution.

Human perceptions toward animals range from animals as resources to be exploited to animals as incarnations of beauty and grace. Wildlife is perceived as a source of food, clothing and shelter but also something to be protected and preserved. Russow introduces two relevant philosophical concepts important in understanding where these perceptions have come from and how they have changed. Ready to hand views animals as useful things while present at hand or simply there views animals as having no purpose. In the latter, animals are looked at objectively, scientifically, and disinterestedly. Animals can shift between the two categories. For instance, over the past 150 years, many animals have shifted from ready to hand to simply there as the industrial revolution decreased the need for useful animals.

According to the author, there are three factors that affect attitudes toward animals. First, historical circumstances is how and where people live and the way they function. The Civil War, abolition of slavery, industrial revolution, and WWII all affected perceptions of animals by their influence on emotions and intellectual climate. Civilization moved from a rural setting which viewed animals as ready to hand to an urban one which changed the perception to simply there. The first animal rights legislation was introduced, animals were seen as something other than tools, and the number of pets increased. With the new simply there attitude, a whole new set of concepts or categories were required to interpret and describe the emotional and intellectual climates. The second factor, e motional orientation, refers to the learned ways of responding molded by society's influence. During the late 1800's, zoos and circuses became popular. Animals were perceived as exotic and alien. During this time, the first paperback edition of Black Beauty was published. This book anthropomorphized animals and outraged people against animal cruelty. Neoteny, or seeing animals as having child-like qualities, is another emotional phenomena. Neoteny is frequently used in children's literature. Humans associate with the animals on a parent-child level, feeling that they have a responsibility to the animals because they are so innocent and helpless. The third factor in affecting attitudes, intellectual climate, is determined by philosophers, scientists, and other theorists. Imanual Kant believed that human reason guides human action and that our morality is bound to rationality. Therefor, whatever attitude or actions we take toward animals, is merely guided by reason. Darwin cast doubt on the line dividing reason and instinct. However, as this theory became discredited, people began to entertain the idea that animals aren't much different from humans, and are therefor deserving of some sort of rights. The expansion of concern for human rights which came out of the American and French revolutions, lead to this concern for animal rights. The notion of rights began as a form of protection against certain forms of treatment, but gradually grew to be viewed as welfare rights and everyone, including animals, deserves a decent life. By examining these three factors, we can see how attitudes have shifted in response to historical, emotional, and intellectual climate and begin to understand what shape our attitudes will take in the future.


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