Zipporah Weisberg is the inaugural Abby Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Ethics, working under the supervision of Will Kymlicka. Her research interests include existential phenomenology, critical social theory, and critical animal studies. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought from York University (Toronto, Canada). Her dissertation, “Animal Dialectics: Towards a Critical Theory of Animals and Society,” drew on the critical theory of the early Frankfurt School, psychoanalytic theory, and existential phenomenology to examine the relationship between animal exploitation and human alienation under late capitalism.
During the fellowship she will be developing two key themes that emerged from her dissertation research. One examines how the entrenchment of animal biotechnology as a standard practice within the agricultural, biomedical, entertainment, and pet industries signals an especially catastrophic stage in the history of animals’ objectification and commodification. Genetic modifications of nonhuman animals—such as the hybridization of different species or the computer manipulation of animals’ movements—effectively constitute an ontological collapse between animal life and the machinery of production. Meanwhile, ethical scrutiny of animal biotechnology is superficial and disingenuous at best and ultimately provides little or no protection for animals against the most egregious cruelties.
A second theme focuses on how ethical phenomenology and cognitive ethology (the non-invasive study of animal behaviour) can jointly inform an interspecies ethics. Marc Bekoff and other ethologists’ discoveries of the complexity of nonhuman animals’ social, emotional, psychological, cognitive experiences help dispel reductive and dualist characterizations of animals which have been invoked over the centuries to justify their mistreatment. Phenomenology relocates subjectivity in the perceptual body and thereby adds yet another dimension to animal subjectivity. With the richness of animal subjectivity thus uncovered, new sets of positive ethical obligations emerge. Not only is it no longer acceptable todeprive animals of their basic needs (for adequate shelter, space, food, stimulation, companionship, and so on), but it is imperative to actively create the conditions for their flourishing and fulfillment.
In the Winter 2014 semester, Zipporah will be teaching a second-year introductory course on animal ethics.
Katherine Wayne is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow being supervised by Will Kymlicka. She completed her PhD under the supervision of Christine Overall, and her dissertation is titled “Toward a Virtue-Centred Ethics of Reproduction.” In the first half of her dissertation she set out to reject the principle of procreative beneficence, to demonstrate the difficulty of rejecting antinatalism, and to highlight difficulties with appealing to a utilitarian or Kantian framework in applied ethics. Her central goal, however, was to outline and defend a virtue-centred normative framework grounded in ethical naturalism and to show how this framework is well equipped to guide ethical thinking about reproduction. Through consideration of how courage and benevolence may be expressed in the decision to pursue reproduction, her conclusions supported the possibility of virtue in childbearing. The potential virtuousness of reproduction, however, is realized only within and because of the morally compromised circumstances in which we live.
Katherine is now researching the ethics of reproduction in domestic animals, who are conceptualized as rightful members of the moral and political community. Specifically, Katherine is examining the morality of bringing domesticated animals into existence, either with human intervention or through animals’ own volition. Even if domestic animals hold inviolable rights and humans hold a duty of care to those animals given their (created) dependence on us, it remains a legitimate question as to whether all domestic animals can be incorporated into the community in a way that ensures their living good lives. Equally pressing is the question of whether domestic animals introduced into the community will impede the well-being of others. Thus the morality of domestic animal reproduction in a mixed and interdependent community is open to scrutiny. While committed to the membership model for domestic animals generally, she believes there may be broad constraints appropriately placed on potential reproducers in cases where the beings in question may be unable to flourish in a way that is consistent with life in a just interdependent community. The following questions inform Katherine’s research: What are the conditions of permissibility and desirability of bringing domestic animals into existence? And how does the dependence of animals on humans shape our obligations to them and the nature of their rights, in regard to reproductive behaviours? She will also consider policy-guiding implications that these theoretical conclusions may have in terms of the way Canada manages (some subset of) its domestic animal population.
Katherine is teaching a seminar in animal ethics in the Winter term of 2014.
She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org