I remain duly unsatisfied with the line of inquiry I began in my last post on Mark Bekoff and cognitive ethology. I was trying to sort through what it is that makes humans different from animals, and whether or not such a distinction still makes sense to make. I’m still committed to the idea that, if we follow Bekoff, and make things like thought, emotions, interiority, problem-solving, mourning, and revenge, the province of not just human animals, but also mice, whales, cheetahs, dolphins and others, then we are adding depth to the human-animal debate in an important way.
If we say “humans are just another kind of animal,” but animals engage in many typically “human” activities (including the production and transmission of “cultural” knowledge) then it seems more appropriate to suggest that humans and animals are different kinds of persons. How do we make distinctions then? I like what Matt Segall recently wrote with regards to Eugene Thacker’s work in After Life. Matt writes:
Distinguishing the human animal from other forms of life is controversial, both philosophically and politically, but perhaps it is precisely in thinking life-in-itself, or at least in thinking the impossibility of such a thought, that the human distinguishes itself from other beings. It is not that the life of a dog is not, in some sense,meaningful for the dog; but can the dog pre-discursively form anything like the proposition “what is the meaning of life?” Not “what is the meaning of life for me,” mind you, but the meaning of life in general. The contemplation of the aporia of life-in-itself seems to be a specifically human predicament.
I think this is worth discussing further, and while I think Matt is on the right track here, I also want to ask: what does it mean that elephants perform burial rituals for both other elephants and other species such as the rhinoceros (as Bekoff says is the case)? Is there some contemplation of the meaning of “life itself” and its inevitable end result in death? It seems that elephants in this case are contemplating not just their own life cycles, but also acknowledging that such cycles are a property for living beings in general, which would in a way hint that they are contemplating the meaning of life not just “for them.” Of course, I am speculating, but I think its worth thinking about. Elephants partaking in the aporia of the life/death mystery? Thats the kind of question I’m interested in. More to come, Im sure.