Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Discipline Between Two Freedoms 2.0-2.1

These two sections seem to constitute an expositional groundwork for Zizek’s argument, setting up what is by now a familiar pattern in Zizek’s reading of German Idealism: Kant gives us the fundamental problem, but we need Hegel to think it through to the end. In this case, the problem is the relationship between discipline and freedom. Kant believes that freedom is the goal of history but that people are not yet ready for it and need to be trained, yet Zizek points out that “in order to be educated into freedom (qua moral autonomy and self-responsibility), I already have to be free in a much more radical, ‘noumenal,’ even monstrous, sense” (96) — and he links this immediately to the Freudian (which for him means Lacanian) death drive.

The problem is not that humans are animals whose instincts need to be subdued, but that they have a fundamental “unruliness” that is actually foreign to the animal nature (97). In order for this “unruliness” to become actualized as freedom, it must first go through the discipline of habit, which is a kind of second-degree instinct. Due to the fundamental wound of the death drive, human nature can only be a “second nature” (100); there is no immediate connection to one’s Umwelt of the kind that we tend to imagine animals having.

Zizek lays out the poles of this problem in terms of two “zero-degree” humans. The first is Hegel’s racist vision of the “pre-historical” African: “a kind of perverted, monstrous child, simultaneously naive and extremely corrupted…; part of nature and yet thoroughly denaturalized; ruthlessly manipulating nature through primitive sorcery, yet simultaneously terrified by the raging natural forces; mindlessly brave cowards…” (97). This fantasy vision provides a kind of pure unruliness, the “vanishing mediator” between the animal and the human. The second is the zombie, who is nothing but pure habit, bereft all consciousness and thus going through the motions in the pure sense (100).

Authentic habit, however, far from turning us into mindless zombies, gives us control of our bodies by freeing us from the burden of consciously thinking about how that control works. This is so fundamental to human experience for Hegel that “living itself” becomes “something we should learn as a habit, starting with birth itself. Recall how, seconds after birth, the baby has to be shaken and thereby reminded to breathe — otherwise, it can forget to breathe and die….” (101; typos corrected). The remainder of section 1 explores further implications of this paradoxical status of habit as simultaneously pure mechanism and yet the ground for freedom.

I’m sure there will be more to discuss as we work through the rest of the essay, but for now I’m hung up on the question of the animal. How do we know, for instance, that the life of the animal is the “pure instinct” that we tend to imagine? How do we know that animals don’t also have something like “death drive”?

Zizek doesn’t mention it explicitly here, but in Parallax View he provides a kind of argument in favor of the uniquely human nature of death drive in his discussion of cognitive science. Long story short: the human brain developed to such a degree that it wound up with a kind of reflexive “short-circuit” — i.e., death drive. (I talked about this at length in a couple posts back in the early days of AUFS and people didn’t seem very favorably disposed, but perhaps I just hadn’t digested it very well at that point. My exposition in Zizek and Theology is probably better.)

Zizek doesn’t say it in Parallax View, but a conclusion one could draw is that obviously animal brains haven’t evolved so far, and hence wouldn’t be so gifted/afflicted. Be that as it may, I am still continually impressed by how much philosophers claim to know about the mental lives of animals.

About these ads

44 Responses to “Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Discipline Between Two Freedoms 2.0-2.1”

  1. Bruce Says:

    Why do we think animals must evolve along the lines we have? Evolution is a matter of chance mutation and adaptation or not. Life aggregates; it doesn’t develop.

  2. Guido Nius Says:

    Now I understand better the gist of this. In order to be able to avoid a mere temporary thrownness, an anchor is sought that promises more infinity (and a soul).

    I can see how you can do that starting from Kant. It is more or less where I had problems following him because – whilst I feel the need for something more fundamental and there’s most certainly a requirement to explain what Hume did not – I see no reasons why freedom cannot have evolved. If you allow freedom to emerge – there is also no need for it to be on its way to a target.

    Adam, would it be a problem for Zizek’s conjecturing if there was no essential evolved biological difference between – no switch – humans and apes in a primitive state, and that this switch or short-circuit would be entirely linguistic (and here linguistic does not mean in any sense ‘less real’).

  3. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Our ordinary ways of making sense of human behavior involve speaking of consciously and unconsciously held beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. (and this is not a Freudian point — “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” predates Freud and has the same idea, and it’s possible to trace the idea of unconscious desires back further; they’re a constant worry for Kant in his moral philosophy, for instance, and are one reason Kant holds that we can never know the motivation for an action).

    We don’t talk of non-human animals this way. A dog can be conscious (i.e. aware) that there is a squirrel running in front of it; it doesn’t consciously or unconsciously believe that there’s a squirrel running in front of it. It just believes it. This is just how we in fact talk about non-human animals.

    Relatedly, we don’t talk about non-human animals revising their views by deliberate reflection. Which human animals can do: we can express our attitudes to one another (or ourselves) by attributing them to ourselves, and then alter those attitudes upon their being attributed, often in light of other views we are able to express by self-attribution. We can’t alter our unconsciously held attitudes by deliberate reflection, but only our consciously held ones. (Of course, sometimes we don’t alter our attitudes because of attitudes which remain unconscious; it’s not like an attitude’s being conscious just is being revisable. And of course there are all sorts of ways attitudes shift from consciousness to unconsciousness and back and forth.)

    I think these are related points: human animals can express their attitudes by attributing them to themselves; non-human animals can’t. An attitude’s being consciously held is just its being expressible by self-attribution. (This point demands some argument to be made fully convincing, I think, but it fits with our general way of talking about unconscious attitudes.) Non-human animals don’t have the sort of language-use we do, says everything we know about them (and about how our sort of language-use relates to biology).

    (Some) animals can communicate, in a perfectly good sense: Crickets can indicate the temperature by the frequency of their chirping, some monkeys can indicate the presence of a snake or an eagle or a leopard by howling in different frequencies. Dogs and whales have even more complicated signaling mechanisms. But nothing we know about non-human animal communication leads animal researchers to talk about animals believing one thing, but telling themself they belief another, or of not knowing what they desire (as opposed to not knowing how to satisfy their desires), and so only being able to express desires which aren’t the ones they have. There’s just nothing in non-human animal life which seems complicated enough to make positing such things reasonable (as opposed to being our anthropomorphizing them, treating them as if they were just oddly taciturn little people).

    So, I don’t see that our knowing about the mental lives of e.g. dogs is any more mysterious than our knowing about the mental lives of humans. If the problem of other minds doesn’t puzzle you, then the problem of animal minds shouldn’t, either. (And neither should puzzle you; it’s not more mysterious how I can know if someone likes Pepsi than how I can know that they’re right-handed. In both cases I can tell by how they act.)

    In all of this my thinking has been very heavily influenced by David Finkelstein’s “Expression and the Inner”. To the extent that I’m just paraphrasing parts of the book from memory in all this. (Finkelstein in turn is largely developing points from Wittgenstein.)

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Bruce, I don’t understand your specific objection. Obviously animals don’t have to evolve along the lines we have, because they in fact haven’t done so.

    Guido, Zizek would probably say that the pure negativity of death drive was the “vanishing mediator” that opened up the space for the linguistic development.

  5. Guido Nius Says:

    Adam, that’s helpful – I once held that what was specifically human was some kind of comparison or recognition module gone wild and started to compare to something ‘ideal’. This idea of mine was probably my paraphrase of something I’d read (and forgotten about now) that is in the line of where Zizek came up with ‘death drive’ – it’s rather unfortunate to be built in such a way to be chronically dissatisfied.

    But I don’t think it can be made to work that way. Linguistic development predates this development of a sense of such a ‘condition humaine’. Even if it doesn’t there is still definite place and time for the ‘switch’ to have developed, claims of noumenal purity don’t as far as I can see be substantiated.

  6. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Why should the emergence of Zizek’s “unruliness” in nature precisely correspond to the emergence of the human species? Is this a matter of definition: whatever has an unruly unground is human? But then why are we limiting the term “human” to the animals that possess a certain genome sequence? Why not be a little more Schellingian/Bergsonian/Deleuzian and attribute the unruly unground to no one single species but rather to life itself, so that we humans (possessors of a certain genome sequence) perhaps can express it in a singular way in virtue of our neuronal complexity, but we might neither do so all the time, nor might ours be the only expression of it, whether in our biosphere or in other planetary biospheres?

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Bruce, Zizek does say, along the lines of Schelling, that something like that unruliness is also the ground of being. Whether he’d also attribute it to life as such, I don’t know.

    Guido, Well, a lot of species communicate with something like a language — it’s not a matter of the instrument, but of how we use it.

  8. Craig McFarlane Says:

    I find Daniel’s comments helpful–certainly more nuanced that we ordinarily see in discussions of animal cognition. There are, of course, counter-examples regarding animals and beliefs. For instance, many primates are clearly capable of lying and deceit. This requires incredibly complex mental faculties. The first liar must know that what he is presenting as true is not true and that the one to be deceived must believe that the falsity is actually true. (Underlying this, of course, are concepts of truthhood and falsity, as well as when it is appropriate to act one way and when it is not.) And, of course, third parties have to be in on the joke: they could go along with the lie knowing it to be a lie or they could snitch on the liar knowing it to be a lie. Lying among primates is especially common in relation to sex, which seems appropriate: younger non-dominant males will put on a ruse to score with an older more dominant’s lady. Frans de Waal has written about this extensively.

    Closer to home, one of my dogs clearly holds false beliefs all the time, sometimes involving squirrels (i.e., believes there to be a squirrel in the yard, gives chase, but discovers that she was actually chasing nothing–which then often leads to her covering up her error with a piss or a shit) and sometimes not (i.e., thinks that a loud truck driving by is actually a human coming to the front door). I doubt this dog is particularly special in this required. A previous dog I had would run out the back door as soon as it was opened under the belief, apparently, that her chances of actually catching a squirrel were increased if she was at full-speed prior to actually seeing a squirrel.

    Re: animals and death drive–doesn’t Freud say (repeatedly?) that all organic matter has a “desire” to return to an inorganic state? Doesn’t this mean that animals, at least for Freud in these statements, have death drive? More interestingly: do plants?

  9. Hill Says:

    I’m not sure the example you give of your dog really covers what Daniel was talking about. What you described is just an error as to the facts. What Daniel is talking about is akin to something like bad faith.

  10. Scu Says:

    Hey Adam, thanks for bringing up these questions. I am, as well, always shocked by what philosophers claim to know about animals. The figure of the animal (as opposed to, you know, actual animals) is much like Hegel’s African or the zombie– something interesting to help clarify an argument but a fiction for all of that. And frequently a dangerous fiction, like Hegel’s African, because people are unaware that it is a fiction.

    Whatever one feels about Derrida, later in his life he became very dedicated to pointing out that the figure of the animal is a fiction. Moreover, Derrida seemed to have read a cognitive ethologist that had written within the last century (I get how awesome Uexkull is, but I wish some philosophers bothered to read someone who had worked within the last century). Derrida deals specifically with the Lacanian question of if animals can lie to themselves in the third lecture of The Animal That Therefore I Am, entitled, “And Say the Animal Responded” which has been republished in several places. But I won’t get into any of that, for now, just a suggestion.

    I am, remarkably out of my league when it comes to talking about Zizek and Lacan. I am not sure about what would be involved with proving a being had a death drive or an unconscious. I am also out my league because I am not an ethologist, I don’t study animals or even particularly study those who study animals. The knowledge I have is random, and not particularly rigorously tested. But, we know, for example, that mammals dream. We know that several species of animals have passed the mirror test, including great apes, dolphins, elephants, and several species of birds. We know that some animals engage in deep periods of grief, and denial of the death of loved ones. To take simply a couple of recent examples, if we turn to two articles in the April 27th, 2010 issue of Current Biology there are two articles on death and grief with chimpanzees. One of them finishes by stating that, “We conclude that chimpanzees’ awareness of death has been underestimated … a thanatology of Pan [the genus of chimpanzees] appears both viable and valuable.” In the article immediately after the one on Pan Thanatology, there is a report of mothers carrying around the remains, often mummified, of their dead children. Frequently these mothers are observed grooming the corpse, sharing their nests with them, and becoming distressed when they are separated. Again, I don’t know what this proves in terms of the unconscious, the death drive, etc.

    If the answer lies solely and only with language (which seems weird, but whatever) there is quite a bit going on with the language of animals. Here, philosophers tend to be incredibly maddening as they simply often just dismiss the language of animals as somehow inauthentic. We all know of the many different and complex studies surrounding great apes learning sign language. We also know that dolphins are able to engage in complex grammatical communication with humans (and perhaps even more so among each other). Elephants seem to have complex intraspecies communication, including a large amount of vocal communication (see this http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0221_030221_elephantvocal1.html )
    It’s been years since many scientists have seriously believed that parrots are merely limited to mimicking language. And many animals, such as dogs, are able to identify specific human words with specific objects and actions (I suggest checking out chapter two of Cary Wolfe’s What is Posthumanism? for more on this last issue).

    Lastly, the opacity of language is experienced differently among humans. I could point out that people seem to be able to acquire languages (both their ‘own’ and others’) with very different degrees of success. Other languages are going to strike me with a greater degree of opacity than they will to either Adam or Anthony, who both are obviously better at language acquisition than I am. People with dyslexia will have a different relationship written words than people without. If Temple Grandin is to be believed (and why not, she’s autistic and I am not), people with autism have a profoundly different relationship with language, a remarkably non-verbal and non-auditory relationship, than people without autism. Have the dyslexic and the autistic experienced the short circuit of the death drive in radically different ways?

    Sorry for the long response. Thanks again for bringing this all up.

  11. Scu Says:

    Sorry to double post, but I just saw Craig’s and Hill’s response. I would say to Hill that Craig’s point about the dog covering up his mistake is key, right? Not just that dog misunderstands the world occasionally, but actively tries to mislead Craig (or whomever) into thinking that a mistake wasn’t a mistake.

  12. Benjamin Jones Says:

    Is there a danger of anthropomorphising animals here? I’m not an expert, but in the case of the dog mistakenly chasing the squirrel only to discover that it isn’t real, thus covering up the mistake, really something we can comment upon? To return to what Daniel said about the problem of other minds, I agree that if we don’t worry about human minds then we should’t worry about animal minds, and that we can see what a human (or animal) prefers or is predisposed towards by watching its behaviour. However, I think it’s not always so simple. Imagine I see someone walk down the road, stop for a moment then turn around as if they’d forgotten something very important and rush off in the other direction. I could interpret this as 1) the person really had forgotten something important, or 2) The person had made the stupid mistake of taking the wrong turn, but to save embarrassment in public they pretend that they’ve forgotten something important to cover up the fact that they’d done something more silly than that. How could we know which was the case?

    Here I don’t want to drag up the problem of other minds. What I think is that it isn’t obvious in more complex human situations to entirely determine what the action was truly meant to be because we can think to ourselves “oh no, this is shameful, I’ll pretend I’m doing something else” (all the best episodes of Peep Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm hang on this). But in the case of animals, aren’t we shoving our understanding of what it’s like to do that onto an animal? Aren’t we thinking “if I chased a squirrel and found out it wasn’t actually there, I’d cover it up by pretending I was just off for a dump”? In a human it’s not such a leap (because I am one) but I don’t know what a dog’s mind is like, so can I attribute the same way of thinking to it? Are we making that move because I know what it’s like to wave to a complete stranger thinking it’s my friend, only to pretend I was waving to someone else or scratching my head to cover it up?

    These aren’t rhetorical questions by the way, I’m genuinely interested.

  13. Craig Says:

    Benjamin, why is anthropomorphizing inherently wrong? I mean this as a serious question. It is not, for instance, an example of anthropomorphism to attribute “feeling pain” to animals when, say, they are blowtorched; they really are feeling pain. Raising anthropomorphism is but a rhetorical strategy to create a wedge between humans and animals–animals act as though they are feeling pain, but of course they do not feel pain; humans actually feel pain. Anthropomorphism is largely accepted in ethology–otherwise ethological descriptions of animals would not be possible. How could you talk about animals without using human language and making claims about animals through that language? Gooddall isn’t being rhetorical when she talks about chimpanzees going to war; Bekoff is not being rhetorical when he talks about coyotes having principles of justice; de Waal isn’t being rhetorical when he talks about primates lying to one another.

  14. Hill Says:

    I’m not sure how the dog crapping in the yard constitutes some sort of conscious concealment of her error.

  15. Craig Says:

    What would qualify as evidence of concealment or deception?

  16. Benjamin Jones Says:

    Craig: I agree that we can’t say that anthropomorphising is inherently bad. However, I disagree that raising it is a rhetorical strategy. For me, raising it is the same as trying to point out that we can’t assume that the thought processes of a chimp aren’t the same as a fly or a fish. Hill sums up my point exactly; the idea of a deliberate concealment only works if you think that a dog thinks like a human. I think that one can deny that a dog doesn’t think in the same way as a human without saying that a dog doesn’t feel pain. One is a conscious awareness of a physiological response, whereas the other involves a lot more. I think that the act of covering up a mistake (a conscious choice) and the feeling of pain (a non-voluntary sensation) are not the same.

    In a reply to the question that you asked Hills (what would qualify as evidence for concealment?), the answer is that I honestly don’t know- but I don’t think simply seeing a dog taking a crap in a place where it thought a squirrel was is hardly evidence. I don’t say the following with even the remotest hint of sarcasm, as I know it may appear like I am being rude, but there doesn’t seem to be an obvious link between “dog takes a crap” and “dog intentionally seeks to cover up the mistake that it is aware that it has just made”. If there is and I’m missing it then I really do need an explanation. The only thing I can think of myself (and I say again, I’m not an expert) is that thats what it would look like if a dog deliberately concealed its mistake- but it also looks a lot like a dog reaching not finding its target, but then just happening to take a shit.

  17. Hill Says:

    It seems as if the burden of proof would be on the person who thinks a dog is engaging in advanced cognitive behavior by crapping in the yard.

  18. Scu Says:

    Benjamin, I think this all does, of course, carry the risk of anthropomorphism. But, to extrapolate on Craig’s response, that might not be the worst thing ever. Refusing to risk anthropomorphism carries with it all sorts of other risks, including the opposite of anthropomorphism which we don’t have a word for, but I’ll go with xenomorphism. By which I mean the move by which we see something that would have a logical correlate if we saw humans do it, we decide just cannot be true because non-humans do it. There is a further complication here, because the human is not a given category. Hegel’s African is one of many obvious examples, that what counts as the human, and that one human and another human share basic functions and desires has been an historically contested category. It was not uncommon for the colonialists, coming across the language of the colonized, to assume that it wasn’t real, authentic language. Frequently that the colonized were simply mimicking the colonizer, and so forth. Xenomorphing is a rather common reaction, and a dangerous reaction. So, anthropomorphism is certainly a possibility, but so is xenomorphism.

    Moreover, it seems to me that that reaction against anthropomorphism produced the greatest anti-psychoanalysis stance ever, and I don’t mean schizoanalysis. Rather, behaviorism, which grew out the (violent) study of animals which carried with it a strong principle against anthropomorphism also expanded to the human animal. No mental state, no actual thoughts (they were simply covert speech), and certainly nothing like the unconscious or the death drive.

    I am just trying to point out some of outcomes of refusing to risk anthropomorphism. I am not saying anthropomorphism is not a danger, and that it doesn’t happen. I am saying that it is a risk we have to take.

  19. Rob L Says:

    What counts as evidence for human deception only counts as evidence -for us-, because only we have prior experience of embarassment etc such that we can identify its bodily signals given the social context. One reasons analogically from one’s own experience of embarassment to the other’s experience of embarassment via similar bodily symptoms – we know other people scratch their head after a mistaken wave because we do it ourselves. The problem with deciding on evidence for animal deception, is that we do not know what its like for an animal to be embarassed, and therefore have no analogical starting point. (And while we’re at it, we all know how often humans incorrectly attribute motives to one another – I’ve been in plenty of conversations where afterward two people who were in the conversation read it and the other’s motives very differently).

  20. Scu Says:

    Sorry, I keep responding and while I am other people have already responded. Therefore, my comment wasn’t to the Benjamin comment right before mine, but rather the one above that.

    Also, to Hill, why is the burden of proof on the person arguing that a dog can feel embarrassment and try to cover it up? It seems that is a game anyone can play, right? Like, “It seems as if the burden of proof would be on the person who thinks a woman is engaging in advanced cognitive behavior” or what have you.

    Moreover, I think I engaged in a decent amount of citations in my first response on here (and I can provide more if any of my claims are suspect). I’m not sure if Craig’s dog is trying to engage in a cover up or not, I am sure that some animals lie, even or especially to themselves. Hence the thantology of chimps and the denial of death practiced by mothers.

  21. Craig Says:

    Hill, you are clearly operating with a theory as to what does and does not count as proof. After all, you are able to determine that the dog does not present evidence contributing to a proof.

    At some point anecdotal evidence adds up to something beyond merely cute anecdotes. I’ve seen many other dogs do similar actions. One dog, when called, if he was busy sniffing something and didn’t want to come, would avoid heading the call by pretending to take a piss, even though it was clear that he didn’t actually piss. (Interpretation: “I’m busy–look, I’m taking a piss–so I can’t come right now, but I’ll come once I’m done ‘pissing’.”) Another dog, if he pooed inside the house, would eat the shit to hide what he’s done. (Interpretation: “I know I’m not supposed to shit in the house–if I eat it, the shit will be gone.”)

    Benjamin, I agree that it is problematic to move from a human–or a dog or a chimp–to a fly or a fish. There are good reasons for that. After all, dogs, chimps and humans are mammals; fish and flies are not. Given the comparatively similar structure of a raccoon’s, dog’s, chimp’s and human’s brain, it stands to reason that similar structures will perform similar functions. For instance, the presence of mirror neurons in humans, whales and dolphins suggests that they all feel and experience something resembling empathy. In this case, it certainly is not anthropomorphic to suggest these creatures all experience empathy because they are hardwired to do so. And empathy–the ability to put oneself in the place of another–is a constituent element of deception.

  22. Hill Says:

    Anecdotes are anecdotes… it doesn’t matter how many of them there are. For any of them to actually have factual weight would require control experiments and some sort of scientific rigor. Your claims aren’t really falsifiable. If dogs didn’t routinely defecate when taken outside, the fact that your dog defecated when it went outside (and had nothing better to do) might mean something. I’m not saying you couldn’t in principle establish that dogs are capable of attempting to deceive people, but it would be very difficult to establish that sort of intent (which seems to be a key aspect of deception) in an animal without language. The difficulty of establishing it does not reduce the standards for proving it, though.

    To perhaps advance the conversation, I took Daniel to be saying something more like that animals aren’t capable of self-deception. This is the section to which I’m referring:

    “But nothing we know about non-human animal communication leads animal researchers to talk about animals believing one thing, but telling themself they belief another, or of not knowing what they desire (as opposed to not knowing how to satisfy their desires), and so only being able to express desires which aren’t the ones they have. There’s just nothing in non-human animal life which seems complicated enough to make positing such things reasonable (as opposed to being our anthropomorphizing them, treating them as if they were just oddly taciturn little people).”

  23. Benoît Says:

    I really enjoy Bruce Rosenstock’s suggestion, that this “unruliness” be something humankind have a share in, but are in no way, and neccessarily, not the sole possessers or heralds of this crucial feature of Being.

    As for the discussion of behavioral determination: I can understand admitting a distance between human beings and the greater host of animal life, but dogs have been living alongside us in domesticated form for over 15, 000 years. The exigencies of artificial and natural selection surely bring them into a behavioral sphere we’re much more equipped to grasp than, say, a Komodo dragon. Sorry, this doesn’t contribute to the general points in question.

  24. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    “There are, of course, counter-examples regarding animals and beliefs. For instance, many primates are clearly capable of lying and deceit.”

    I am glad you found my comments helpful. Perhaps I phrased something badly, but I had these cases in mind while I was writing my comment. Certainly some monkeys can reasonably be said to lie (and maybe other animals too; the ones I remember reading about are all simians of some sort, but I wouldn’t be surprised if dolphins tried to fool each other). But lying is different from expressing a belief which you unconsciously do not hold. To attempt to put it pithily, the conscious/unconscious distinction makes it possible for others to know your attitudes better than you know them yourself.

    Also, from what I recall of the animal communication literature, you can always treat the lying animals as, e.g., signalling that there is a snake when there is not a snake. There’s no need to treat them as signalling that they believe there is a snake; there’s no reason to treat them as talking about their own attitudes at all (as opposed to just talking about the predators supposedly in their environs). In which case the conscious/unconscious distinction doesn’t come up, since no animal attributes attitudes to itself (and so there are no self-attributions to either be expressions or fail to be expressions of the attitudes attributed).

    As an aside, I don’t think we need to attribute concepts of truth/falsity and appropriateness/inappropriateness to make sense of animal communication generally; they only have a finite vocabulary, and so they can get by with just concepts like snake-present/snake-not-present and similarly basic means-ends notions. We don’t need to treat them as entertaining general semantic notions (though I’m not sure much hinges on this question). We *do* need to treat them as being able to signal different things (there’s a snake, I’m in heat, food dropped on the ground, etc.), but there are limitations on how rich their vocabularies are profitably represented as being, and likewise there are only so many things we represent them as being able to discriminate.

    Some non-human animals certainly have very complicated psychologies, but they’re still different from human psychologies. We shouldn’t assume that non-human psychologies are like human pscyhologies for the same reason we shouldn’t assume that other people share our peculiar interests: it’s an open question how far the parallels run and where they diverge. It’s not a question to be settled a priori, or once and for all. But “anthropomorphizing” is, I think, a useful term to keep around for complaining about cases where animals are described as if they were little humans, when the evidence thus far doesn’t bear out such a close tie.

    “Closer to home, one of my dogs clearly holds false beliefs all the time”

    Sure. If you can have beliefs at all, then you have to be able to have false beliefs. (If dogs only ever had true beliefs about squirrels, there would be no utility in attributing beliefs about squirrels to them; we could just treat them as always reacting to the squirrels themselves. The concept of belief has its utility because of the possibility of error.) And if a belief being dropped (because the dog realizes there’s no squirrel) leads to the dog pooping, I don’t see why that’s a problem. Changes in attitudes are generally linked to changes in action (which is how we attribute attitudes in the first place). And if we have good reasons to treat dogs as feeling shame at being wrong, then this seems like that might be what’s going on here. (I don’t know a lot about dogs; always been a cat person. But I’m pretty sure that getting dogs to feel shame is part of how you housebreak them. Though I think it’s more shame at making the head dog angry at them, which might not extend to the wrong-about-a-squirrel case.)

    Finkelstein’s work on animal minds is explicitly targetted against views which deny that animals can have beliefs (because their beliefs are different from human beliefs, for example because non-human animals do not hold beliefs either consciously or unconsciously, whereas human beliefs are only held that way; the question of why so many philosophers have treated non-human animals as complicated bits of clockwork is too interesting and complicated for me to try to do it justice in a comment box). Finkelstein also takes on the claim which Benjamin Jones seems to be raising (or at least gesturing at), that all talk of “animal minds” comes about from projection of our talk of human minds, and finds it wanting. Concepts like “eating” and “fleeing” and “mating” are already tied in with psychological concepts (such as desiring), and (some argument I’m omitting is meant to show) such is the case with all the concepts we use especially for talking about animate as opposed to non-animate items in nature. So if it was just projection that lead us to think that animals have minds, we’d have to say that it’s just projection that makes us think anything non-human is alive, and that literally all of our “common sense” thinking about non-human animals is the result of complicated psychological projections. Which is much harder to buy than Benjamin Jones’s position initially seems like it should be. (But it’s not impossible to just bite the bullet still; this is Descartes’s position. So you do need further argument that it’s not just projection to think that there are living non-human things in nature, which Finkelstein provides some of. For instance, if Descartes’s treatment of psychological concepts doesn’t work, then it might turn out that vindicating our use of psychological concepts to talk about human lives also vindicates talking about non-human life.) — And as an aside, Finkelstein is a huge dog person. He brings his pooch into the office pretty regularly. So hearing him talk about animal minds is always fun, because he can stick to personal examples for most of it.

    This comment has gone on too long, but I want to simply mark that Rob L’s view that we only know others’ mental states “analogically” is easy to let slip into the problem of other minds (since there’s never any ground for telling how reasonable the analogies are — why should I think that biological similarities bring similarities in subjective experience?), and that it’s a view Wittgenstein argues powerfully against throughout the later parts of Philosophical Investigations (“No one else can know this pain!” and all that). I don’t want to actually get into that argument here; merely noting that it is not the piece of common sense it might appear to be, or at least that I think it’s deceptively confused.

  25. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’m thankful Scu and Craig came by to discuss this. Thanks.

  26. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Anyone familiar with Temple Grandin’s writing and work? Much of what has been said here about human awareness of other’s intentions, beliefs, etc. simply does not apply to the much of the spectrum of autism. Grandin has a much stronger sense of what one might call animal consciousness because she is not processing the world with the social and emotional valences that most of us find inescapable. Is there any reason to think that she actually can put herself into the experiential reality of the cow going to be slaughtered? I credit her ability as much as I credit my own ability to read a novel and imagine the world through the eyes of a character. For a wonderful treatment of all this, I recommend Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals and the great collection of essays in Philosophy and Animal Life (the Cora Diamond essay that leads it off is brilliant). But I think Coetzee’s philosophical novel is best of all.

  27. Craig Says:

    Hill, re: evidence. Such an onus cannot possibly be realized–even simply moving animals into a laboratory setting (ignoring, of course, the ethical problems presented in doing so), will change their behavior significantly. This is why ethologists increasingly attempt to study animals in their natural environments; i.e., if you want to know what a beaver is like, spend a few years sitting beside a beaver pond rather than putting them in an inflatable pool in the basement of the behavioural sciences building on campus. Studying in the natural setting necessarily results in evidence being narrative and anecdotal, but not serious ethologist is going to reject it simply because there is no way to control particular variables. At this point, I can only surmise that you are speaking from a position of ignorance regarding ethology in particular and “animal studies” (in the sense of the social sciences and humanities) in general.

    APS: thanks, but surely Daniel should also be recognized. His comments have been substantial and instructive. (And to which I’ll return to later–my dogs need to go for a walk and take their nightly shits.)

  28. Rob L Says:

    @Daniel – I hesitated before writing ‘analogically’ – I knew someone would criticise it, but I dashed the brief comment off before running out the door. I agree, let’s not get into the problem of minds, and let’s also not get into interpreting W (since I haven’t read PI for a while), but my comment was basically in response to the question of what would count as evidence for animal deception, and my point was that since I don’t know what it’s like to be a bat, bat actions are ambiguous ‘evidence’ for bat mental states. Whereas since I have been embarassed, and I remember how I reacted, I can surmise from another’s actions that they too are embarassed/decceptive etc. Anyway. I tried to gesture towards something like, “if a lion could speak, we wouldn’t understand him.”

    But thinking back to the whole reason why Adam raised the question of animals, it was to do with Zizek’s claim that there is an ‘unruliness’ that results in human freedom via habituation. While speculation about animal motives might not get anywhere, there is a question that interests me – do animals act in spite of themselves? I could reasonably accept an animal attempting to decieve its owner, perhaps to avoid punishment, and there is some discussion about whether animals are altruistic – but could an animal perform a hunger strike? Do animals perform self-harming actions without any possible greater good in view? Do animals commit suicide? Is suicide the apogee of our ‘unruliness’?

  29. dbarber Says:

    Or what might the denial of unruliness in the non-human animal have to do with the failure to think / affirm the unruliness in the human animal?

  30. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Rob L: “my point was that since I don’t know what it’s like to be a bat, bat actions are ambiguous ‘evidence’ for bat mental states.”

    That is what I took your point to be. It only makes sense as a complaint if you’re contrasting it with what’s supposed to be the case with human mental states: you know how to attribute them because you’ve been in the states yourself.

    I think this is just the view that leads to the problem of other minds: I know *my* mental states in a special way, and then I use this special knowledge to know how to attribute mental states to others. I think this gets things backwards: we can attribute mental states to ourselves (and we often do such in a way that carries first-personal authority) because we can attribute those states to others. And so the states we can attribute to ourselves isn’t just a matter of what states we’ve been in; our ways of thinking of ourselves are limited by our views about human psychology more generally. Change your views on psychology and you change the views that you can self-attribute with first-personal authority.

    Along with this, I think we have to stop thinking of the first-personal authority that attaches to reports of one’s own mental attitudes along the lines of the authority that comes from having an especially clear point of view on oneself (as when one gives authority to reports of the surroundings to someone in a tree over someone in a ditch on the ground). The special authority that comes from reporting on one’s consciously held mental attitudes is not the authority that comes from having especially good evidence, but from those reports being expressions of the attitudes they attribute (like a smile is an expression of happiness). Nobody else can tell you that I’m happy, in the way that I can, just as no one else can smile for me. If I smile because I’m happy, this isn’t because I know some secret evidence that I use to judge that I’m happy, and then smile on the basis of the judgement. Self-consciousness is thus not like consciousness of an apple on my desk (except with a special sort of object, a self). (This is just a working-out of the program Wittgenstein described in his “plan for a treatment of psychological concepts”, and again I’m just ripping off Finkelstein in all of this.)

    So, returning to the bat: I don’t think that our not being bats says anything against our not being able to make sense of bat-actions. We know a lot of stuff about bats; we’ve spent a lot of time studying them. We don’t know everything about bats, but this isn’t something special to animals. We’re less than omniscient across the board; this is not a reasonable ground for skepticism. Sure, no one bit of evidence tells us how to theorize about bats, but when we get a lot of evidence that makes a lot of ways of thinking about bats look unappealing. If your problem is that we haven’t studied bats well enough to be justified in thinking we know what’s up with bats, that’s one thing; if your problem is that all we can do is study bats, that’s quite another.

    Like I said: the entire line of thinking that leads to the problem of other minds is deceptively confused; it can be hard to see what’s going wrong (or that anything is). (And here I could quote any number of passages where Wittgenstein bitches about how hard philosophy is, but instead I’ll just say that “Culture and Value” is a really powerful little collection.)

    An aside, just because I feel like mentioning it: I’m not commenting on any of the death-drive/Zizek stuff because I’ve read all of my Freud through Jonathan Lear. J. Lear doesn’t think that Freud’s arguments for the existence of a “death instinct” parallel to eros are any good, and he doesn’t think that Lacan’s taking up of Freud did anything to improve matters. Zizek & Lear have a very interesting (and brief) exchange in the volume “Erotikon” which focuses on this dispute about the death drive: “The Swerve of the Real” and “On the Wish to Burn my Work” (Zizek’s piece is framed by a joke about why all of Lear’s writings should be burned for not being Lacan).

  31. Rob L Says:

    I avoided saying that we ‘know’ our mental states or dispositions, so the W lesson was correct, but perhaps redundant.

  32. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Rob L: I don’t think that anything special about “knowledge” is in play in LW’s discussion, here. Why do you think that not saying “I know my mental states” makes my exposition redundant?

    I do think it’s right to say that I know my consciously-held mental attitudes; for instance, I know that I have to get up early, but that I wanted to address the “If a lion could speak” remark before I went to bed.

    “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him” is not a conclusion in PI; it’s a remark made in passing during a discussion of how we know human mental attitudes. The issue seems to be that we can’t find our feet with lions that suddenly start to talk (since that would be an incredibly strange and surprising sort of thing to see happen). Nothing seems to hinge on the remark; it’s just sitting in its own little paragraph, and isn’t clearly tied to the argument that runs in the paragraphs that follow it (or the other diverse remarks that precede it). I actually rather hate the line; I think it’s among the least helpful things LW says in the Investigations, but one of the most widely quoted (presumably because it’s pithy and gnomic). I think that the “plan for a treatment of psychological concepts” is much more helpful as a guide to the issues here than anything in PI proper (but it’s not as pithy, being something like a paragraph); it’s one of the places where the Zettel/PI line is not drawn where I think LW should’ve drawn it. (And in fairness, he could’ve still changed his mind; the book was not submitted to a publisher before his death, even if it was in a book-like state. The best slips could’ve slipped back in.)

    Another thing that I know: I regret not just going to bed; that took longer than I thought.

  33. Guido Nius Says:

    (I guess it won’t be easy to keep up with these debates in non-US timezones)

    Adam, no – only one known species communicates with the type of language a Zizek pre-supposes in order to be even able to talk about death drives. And the instrument and its use are only in certain very strict interpretations distinct.

  34. Guido Nius Says:

    Daniel, I wanted to thank you for hitting the nail on the bat there, we start from others and draw ourselves as the kind of inescapable conclusion. Just as we start from talking with others to talking to ourselves.

    It is precisely in this sense that antropomorfizing animals is not just OK but the logical thing to do (I am anything but an animal lover – too many allergies I guess – although I’m sure that those capable of willfully abusing animals are – ‘capable of abusing’ full stop). If we feel that we would attribute pain to ourselves given certain expressions and so on, there is a sufficient reason to attribute pain to anything with that kind of expression (too broad probably but in a fruitful direction).

    If you are interested you can go to ‘Do Humans Think?’ – on my site – where I try to find the basis for the human-animal similarity and therefore also the distinction. A distinction I’d conjecture is not one of nature but one of culture only.

  35. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Not every interpretation of Wittgenstein takes him to have dissolved the problem of skepticism about other minds by showing it to be a mere philosophical confusion that has no purchase in ordinary language. Another interpretation (Cavell, Putnam) takes Wittgenstein to be showing that the skepticism is an ineluctable aspect of human knowing of other knowers, that it is incommensurable with human knowing of things. The first kind of knowing can never find concepts (criteria) that are as reliable as the concepts used in judging, for example, that a certain object before me is an apple. We have no concept of the human knower, and precisely when we think we do (as when we use some essential properties or even when we think that it’s given in a language game about attributing the word “happy” to people because they’re smiling) we are running scared away from the ineluctable separateness of the other human. We are looking for epistemic guarantees, or epistemic excuses, to escape responsibility from the ethical predicament of acknowledging the other’s independent existence. One of the major reasons to think Wittgenstein has not dissolved skepticism but rather shown its ineluctability is not only that it makes sense of many of his remarks that show that he does not want to dissolve interiority but expose how our judgment that another has it is not a matter of concepts and beliefs (“I do not believe that someone has a soul” etc). Also, it is simply false to think that ordinary language is ok and its only philosophy that gets messed up. Read any novel or any play of Shakespeare (or any 30’s comedy, according to Cavell) where the issue is how two people must learn to stop demanding guarantees from the other of their love. And, to bring this too long note to a close, this all bears directly on animals: whether we see them as having an interiority that we should acknolwedge is not going to be decided by ethology or experiments of any kind, but by an entire transformation of our way of being in relation to them (as when we fall in love with someone, no amount of behavioral observation will tip the balance in favor of loving the person if one has doubts, nor will any amount of behavioral observation be sufficient to prove the other’s love for us, though after a certain time it will drive the other away from us.) One might like to think that animals would never need to go through such a transformation in order to trust us, but I think that is an open question.

  36. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    Rosenstock: That could easily be correct about LW; I’ve not read much of Cavell’s work on skepticism. (The books are on my shelf; it’s just a question of when I get around to finishing “The Claim of Reason”. “Excursus on Wittgenstein’s Vision of Language” is one of the finest things I’ve ever read, and I don’t think what I’ve said above contradicts it, at least.) I’m surprised to hear you include Putnam with Cavell, though; I’ve read a fair bit of Putnam-on-LW/Putnam-on-skepticism and that doesn’t ring a bell. What Putnam did you have in mind?

    Certainly it’s a mistake to entirely assimilate knowledge of other minds to knowledge of middle-sized dry goods; I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. But I do think that LW is opposed to the sort of argument for skepticism about other minds that I have him opposing above. (And it’s an argument that Russell found compelling, so it’s a safe bet that LW had it in mind.) That there is a “truth in skepticism” is surely compatible with a lot of skepticism being just confused, and getting the truth laid out presumably involves clarifying what is not true in skepticism. (And yes, “confused” and “ordinary language” are not opposites; it’s not as if philosophical theorizing was some autonomous body of confusion, cleanly delimitable from the rest of life.)

    I have read the Diamond/Cavell pieces on animals you mentioned earlier, and found myself feeling pretty ambivalent about them. Diamond on animals always seems to me to give a pretty good explanation for why “animal rights” isn’t making much progress; the part of her that’s supposed to be helping us to change how we get on with animals has always been obscure to me. It seems to me that Diamond/Cavell are *right* about matters, but I can easily see why “we need an entire transformation of our way of being in relation to animals” doesn’t have a lot of fans, as a practical strategy. Cavell isn’t a vegetarian.

  37. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    Daniel: The Putnam I am thinking about is the chapter “Rosenzweig and Wittgenstein” In Jewish Philosophy as a Guide to Life (a pander-to-the-self-help market title that does no credit to a major university press but I guess they’re desperate these days).

    I take it that Cavell’s Wittgenstein is not about only exposing the confusion of skepticism, but at exposing it as an evasion of the burden of the human, or in other words the burden of our capacity for radical evil. And by “human” I mean beings endowed with the capacity for skepticism, so that skepticism is the temptation of radical evil, but also the condition for the good. It takes us right back to the unruliness of the unground. Cavell’s Wittgenstein is more in conversation with post-Kantian German and British romanticism than he is with Russell. That may bother a lot of Anglo-American Wittgenstein scholars, but it doesn’t bother Putnam, at least not in the chapter I mentioned.

    Do you actually think that any practical strategy exists to win people over to vegetarianism that would be based on the reasonableness of the arguments for vegetarianism? I ask in all honesty.

  38. Scu Says:

    Bruce, can you clarify your last question on vegetarianism? I don’t understand what you are asking. Or to be more precise, I can understand it to be asking two diametrically opposed questions.

    Thanks.

  39. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    I am asking my question in light of Daniel’s reservations about vegetarianism (the subject of Coetzee’s book and the collection of essays in Philosophy and Animal Life) being something that is undertaken on the basis of a transformation of one’s way of being in relation to animals (seeing them as victims of an industrial holocaust, as Coetzee’s character Elizabeth Costello puts it). The point of the Diamond and Cavell essays is that Costello in the novel is not advancing arguments in defence of vegetarianism that are meant to be reasonable and persuasive, but that she is deliberately rejecting this approach and rather exposing her woundedness by what she sees as an industrial holocaust. (She gives a public lecture in which she confesses to this woundedness.) The philosophers Diamond and Cavell argue that Coetzee’s character is developed by Coetzee to show the limits of philosophical argument. Daniel said he had reservations about whether Coetzee’s character, or Diamond and Cavell in defending her, could be a useful model for a practical strategy of getting people to become vegetarians. I asked, in all honesty, whether Daniel thought that philosophical arguments in favor of vegetarianism could be used as a practical strategy for winning people over to vegetarianism. I asked this because I am not sure whether philosophical arguments are as effective as, let us say, entering imaginatively into the way of seeing things that a character in a novel offers to us and then, in a sort of flash of empathic insight, realizing that the way she looks at things makes sense to you. Call it a conversion experience. I am wondering whether vegetarians mostly are persuaded by reasonable arguments or are “converts.”

  40. Scu Says:

    Ah, gotcha. And well put. Interestingly enough, in the book The Death of the Animal, Coetzee basically makes the same arguments that you are (I think he even uses the word conversion there, but I’d have to check).

    I’m agnostic on this issue. Or multignostic. It seems to me that both tends to be the answer, and usually when I meet people who have convinced one way or the other they tend to believe that is how everyone tends to be convinced. (Not that you are doing this, just speaking generally here).

    But I would say that even the most logically mind philosophical argument has tended to require a certain level of a leap of faith, so to speak. And moreover, I certainly believe if we are to make things better for other animals and change our relationship to them, it can’t only be on the realm of logical argumentation. Such a struggle will always have to be fought on the level of the affect and the percept.

    I guess, to follow up, Diamond has always been rather wary of any arguments that seek to undermine the dividing ground between the human and the non-human. But I’ve never been sure about that. Or, to put it another way, can part of affirming unruliness be to affirm the unruliness of the category of human?

    That’s one of my less thought out responses, so I could be way off base.

  41. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    “Do you actually think that any practical strategy exists to win people over to vegetarianism that would be based on the reasonableness of the arguments for vegetarianism? I ask in all honesty.”

    I doubt it. But then, I’m not a vegetarian; if I was a vegetarian, I don’t see any reason to doubt that I would be such (at least partly) on the strength of compelling arguments about factory farms and animal flourishing etc. It’s not like affect & percept are independent of what I take to follow from what; moods aren’t things that just float free of cognitive states.

    I’ve not been able to understand how Diamond thinks she’s even trying to help her cause, unless it’s just by trying to get people to stop wasting time making Peter Singer-type arguments. I can at least understand what Peter Singer thinks he’s doing, even if I disagree with him. Coetzee’s Costello just grates, and I don’t know what Diamond thinks of herself as doing. (But maybe I’m a reprobate, and Diamond really is winning converts somewhere with her writings.)

    “I take it that Cavell’s Wittgenstein is not about only exposing the confusion of skepticism, but at exposing it as an evasion of the burden of the human, or in other words the burden of our capacity for radical evil. And by “human” I mean beings endowed with the capacity for skepticism, so that skepticism is the temptation of radical evil, but also the condition for the good. It takes us right back to the unruliness of the unground.”

    I don’t get this. Cavell’s Wittgenstein is about exposing skepticism as an evasion of the burden of the capacity for skepticism? How does that work? Wouldn’t skepticism just be an exercising of that capacity, rather than an evasion of having it?

    And what do you mean by “radical evil”? (I only know what Kant means by it in the religionbook; the term seems to have taken on a life of its own somewhere in the intervening two centuries (maybe by way of Arendt?). It doesn’t make any sense to talk about the “temptation of radical evil” in Kant’s sense. It’s not something we can fall into or avoid, “radical evil” is just a name for the fact that finite practically rational beings have to struggle with sensuous inclinations.) I have no guesses as to what the connection between skepticism and “radical evil” could be. Or what this “good” is that they’re conditions for.

    Basically, if you could flesh out this paragraph I’d appreciate it.

  42. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    For Cavell, when one raises skeptical doubts about other minds one has already fallen out of a sort of naive view of things, but one has gained a certain insight that isn’t vouchsafed to the naive, precritical view: I am not able to know the other the way I know things. Other people are divided from me. Ok, now this realization is the beginning of a certain new way of relating to others, neither with precritical naivety nor with some sort of epistemological guarantees about the “truth” of other minds. I cannot know the other’s mind, says Cavell, I can only acknowledge the other. So, skepticism is the condition of possiblity of two paths: the search for guarantees, or the acknowledgment of one’s epistemological finitude. Where does radical evil come in, and Cavell explicitly goes back to the Kant’s religionbook so yes it is what you thought. Radical evil is not about being tempted by one’s sensory side (desires, inclinations, etc), but about being tempted to see oneself as a thing (to see oneself not as a noumenal subject first and foremost, but first and foremost as a being in the sensible world). The temptation that skepticism opens is that one will want to escape the solitude of epistemological finitude by placing oneself (and the other) under the regime of some encompassing concept of the human that would work the way concepts work to order the sensible world (“this is an apple”). This evasion of the responsiblity to acknowledge humanity without a concept and the attempt to reduce being human to a concept that would identify (and exclude) on the basis of some set of criteria is radical evil, according to the relgionbook, where radical evil is basically using the concept of Aristotelian philosophy (eudaimonistic) about the human (the happiness-seeking animal) as the principle of one’s decisions. One is not a happiness-seeking animal (for that would in turn mean that we ought to obey the categorical imperative because it accomplishes the goal of happiness, and when it doesn’t, as it in fact doesn’t, one substitutes a utilitarian maxim). (Your definition of “radical evil” in Kant — ” “radical evil” is just a name for the fact that finite practically rational beings have to struggle with sensuous inclinations” — is a common mistake about radical evil, but Kant makes it very clear that radical evil is not about struggling against inclinations, but about the relative valuation of the categorical imperative and the maxim of happiness, placing the latter above the former, so it’s about how one sees oneself, as primarily noumenal or primarily empirical.) So, then we see the move from using a concept to define the noumenal dignity of the human (an epistemological mistake) to using humans as means rather than ends (as valued only as happiness-seeking animals). I hope this clarifies my telegraphic remarks. All this is what lies behind Cavell’s connection between Wittgenstein’s attack on the search for knowledge of the interior of the other’s mind as a way to escape skepticism (it is inescapable) and radical evil as the attempt to settle upon a covering concept that would definitively identify (and exclude) humans as members of the class of humans. There is no such thing as the class of noumenal humans, and to treat the empirical humans as if they were members of a class is necessarily to deny them their noumenal dignity. Of course, radical evil means that this attempt to reduce being human to an essence that is covered by a concept is inescapably linked to that very noumenal dignity, since that dignity is the dignity of freedom and that freedom cannot be grounded (its ground is inscrutable, says Kant, or is the unruly unground says Schelling, essentially following Kant).

  43. Michael Austin Says:

    Adam,

    I realize I’m quite late to this, but I couldn’t participate in the book event itself and so haven’t read anything on MM&L until now.

    I found the discussion of The Animal in the comments interesting but it seems that no one has answered your questions regarding the death drive, animality and human exceptionalism. I’ve had serious problems with both Lacan and Zizek on the topic of the death drive for a while. What’s interesting is that in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud is rather explicit that death drive is not exclusive to humans but is the foundation of Life itself. Prior to the initial death there is no cellular structure and no distinction between interior and exterior, thus no individuality and no reproduction with life prior to this being a sort of protoplasm as in Oken. This means first of all that all life has a death drive but also that all living things have some sort of unconscious since Freud connects this creation of dead matter in the organism (really the outside wall of the organism, the barrier that allows us to speak of THE organism at all) with the creation of the unconscious as a way of dealing with trauma which in the case of the first organisms is a physical rather than a psychic trauma. This all echoes Schelling and indeed, Romantic psychiatry generally, which doesn’t say that the human is the only creature with an unconscious, but the only one with consciousness. (More could perhaps be said here on how the death drive repeats itself genetically; this is probably too long of a point to make in a blog comment so to keep it simple, Freud seems to think that memory is material as well as genetic, hence why the Oedipal drama repeats from the Primal Horde to today. The death drive is a similar thing, originating in a particular instance and repeating through generations via evolution which is ironic since the death drive essentially radicalizes the theory of evolution by undoing it from within, making evolution and reproduction the mistake in the equation. The point is not to reproduce and live but to die.)

    What is significant here is that the human exceptionalism seen is Zizek actually arises not with Freud but with structuralism, specifically, Lacan’s reading of Lévi-Strauss. Lévi-Strauss tells us that there is a fundamental difference between the human (culture) and the animal (nature). (This is a very simplistic re-telling, but this is the gist of it.) Lacan reads culture here as the Symbolic and maintains the divide between humanity and animality on the rift between the Symbolic and the Real. It is important to note here that Language (as opposed to communication, Lacan is really talking about human language in the grand Heideggerian sense) is constitutive of the Symbolic, but also that the death drive as the compulsion to repeat is not taken as the Real breaking through as one would expect, but rather the mode by which the Symbolic continually re-instantiates itself.

    TL;DR: The death drive is not exclusive to humans for Freud, but only becomes exclusive through Lacan’s structuralist re-reading of Freud via Lévi-Strauss which Zizek depends on.


Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,218 other followers