<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>INTRODUCTION: THE ANCIENT QUARREL</b> <p> <p> In 1997, the eminent novelist and critic J. M. Coetzee (later to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature) gave two Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University, under the general title "The Lives of Animals." They took the form of two fictions—two linked short stories about the visit of the eminent novelist Elizabeth Costello to Appleton College to deliver the annual Gates Lecture (together with a seminar in the literature department), in which she chooses to speak about animals, and in particular the ways in which animals have been and are treated not only by human beings in general, but by philosophers and poets in particular. Since the Tanner Lectures generally take the form of philosophical essays or addresses, and an invitation to give them is seen as a mark of real distinction in the philosophical world, it is hard to see Coetzee's way of responding to that invitation as anything other than a deliberate attempt to reopen an issue that has marked—indeed, defined—philosophy from its inception among the ancient Greeks: the quarrel between philosophy and poetry, described by Plato as ancient even though his invocation of it (epitomised in his notorious claim that the poets must be banished from the just city, the philosophical republic) is in fact the means by which philosophy distinguishes itself for the first time as an autonomous form of intellectual inquiry. <p> Plato offers a bewildering number of interrelated justifications for his expulsion order, outlined both within the precincts of the <i>Republic</i> and elsewhere. Some appear to depend heavily upon specific epistemological and metaphysical doctrines that hold little appeal for many contemporary philosophers; but all can be formulated in ways that are likely to resonate with anyone capable of identifying with philosophy's highest aspirations for itself, and so for us. Plato fears what he sees as literature's capacity to engage and incite our emotions while bypassing our rational faculties. He distrusts its ability to construct simulacra of real persons and events, in whose purely imaginary vicissitudes we can effortlessly lose ourselves, thereby distracting ourselves from the genuinely real and the slow, hard struggle to comprehend what lies behind its often-misleading presentations of itself. He takes very seriously the poet's interpretation of himself as subject to divine inspiration, a mere channel for the muses—a self-image that reveals poetry to be an essentially nonrational activity, lacking any secure, transmissible, and impersonal body of knowledge or expertise that might ground a claim to any depth of understanding; and he despises the poet's ability to construct convincing representations of those possessed of genuine knowledge and understanding (generals, kings, even philosophers) without himself being in possession of the comprehension he counterfeits. He sees the poet's imaginative capacities as essentially amoral—entirely unconstrained not only by truthfulness (even when the nature of the divine is at stake), but also by the demands made on all comprehending creatures by the nature and reality of good and evil; indeed, the poet is often more attracted to the representation of interesting, vivid evil than banal and boring good. Taken together, Plato sees a fundamental threat of corruption that literature poses to the soul of the poet as well as that of his readers and listeners, the obstacles it creates for their distinctively human attempts to achieve self-knowledge and live a good life through a lucid grasp of reality—the task to which philosophy distinctively devotes itself. <p> Against this background, merely banishing the poet might seem like an excessively charitable response. And yet: quite apart from certain hesitations or qualifications to the universality of the anathema Plato pronounces (as when he excepts certain kinds of music from his ban, or allows certain kinds of artistic tools and techniques to be deployed in the education of the republic's young), and setting aside the broader question this raises of whether he might usefully distinguish between vices that are inseparable from the literary enterprise as such and those that happen to infest its contemporary manifestations (as in Homeric misrepresentations of the nature of the gods), the form of his pronouncements seems in deep contradiction with their content. For the Socrates of the <i>Republic</i> and elsewhere is not only willing to, but adept in, employing striking quasi-poetic imagery in conveying his message of the superiority of philosophy to literature: such figures as the divided line and the cave, not to mention the utopian allegory of the just republic (with its political structures further functioning as a figure for the internal articulation proper to the just soul), have become part of the philosophical canon. Moreover, Plato's favoured medium for presenting Socrates's message and method is that of the dialogue: he stages his condemnation of theatre in the form of dramatized conversations between idealized characters whose shape and orientation make manifest what Plato's Socrates sees as the essential core of philosophical investigation as such—the dialectical examination of one soul by another. <p> Is this best understood as an essentially dispensable or ornamental feature of his enterprise? Or as an adroit attempt to turn the resources of poetry against itself, addressing philosophy's audience in the terms most likely to motivate them in their presently benighted, cave-dwelling state, but in such a way as to bring about their emergence from it, to effect a species of self-overcoming that leaves the literary definitively behind us? Or as a revealing indication that poetry is always already internal to the precincts of philosophy's republic, incapable of being excised without depriving philosophy of resources without which it cannot achieve its goals? And whichever answer one gives to this question, taken as one about Plato's version of the philosophical enterprise, how far can or should it be generalized to philosophy as such? How far is Plato's deeply determining way of understanding the relations between philosophy and literature itself determined by certain ideas—of the nature of reason and the emotions and how they relate to one another, of the nature of knowledge and understanding, of the nature of fictional representations and their relation to reality, of what good and evil and language might be, and of what poets know about any and all of these things—that any genuine philosopher must recognize as themselves open to philosophical question? <p> The wager motivating this study is that Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello gives us good reason, as philosophers, to open just these ideas and assumptions to question; but that she does so in ways that can properly be understood only if we understand that our primary relation to her is as a literary creation. <i>The Lives of Animals</i> is an attempt by a master of literature to put philosophy in question; and whatever philosophers ultimately come to think is the right way to answer the questions this text poses, they will have failed altogether to meet that challenge if they fail to take seriously the fact that the questions themselves are at once possessed of a recognizable philosophical warrant, and yet irreducibly posed by and through literature. If we wish to maintain the Platonic image of the republic of philosophy, we would have to say that these questions are at once internal and external to its domain; but we might be better served by thinking more in terms of a dialogue, in which philosophy and literature participate as each other's other—as autonomous but internally related. One might say: their distinctness is constituted by the very distance that not only allows but requires that they address one another. I am not suggesting that philosophy can or should become literature, or literature philosophy; but I am suggesting that for each properly to acknowledge the other would require both to confront the challenge of reconceiving their self-images, and so their defining aspirations. <p> <p> Looking in more detail at a recent exchange between two philosophers over exactly these issues might help to give the reader a clearer sense of what is at stake here from a contemporary philosophical perspective, before we turn to Coetzee's perception of literature's present stake in this quarrel. As it happens, this exchange also takes off from a question about the ethical status of nonhuman animals; and as with Plato's disorienting inclination to present philosophy's conflict with the poets as always already ancient even at the moment of philosophy's inception, it is hard to find its true point of origin. In one sense, it begins when Cora Diamond takes issue with a set of claims made by Onora O'Neill; but those claims were made in a critical review of a book by Stephen Clark entitled <i>The Moral Status of Animals</i>, which presents itself as a critical engagement with a long and complex tradition of thinking about animals, about rationality, and so about philosophy that occludes the possibility of modes of thinking that are genuinely responsive to "the heart's affections and the plain evidence of sense" (MSA, 93)—a tradition that he traces back through Aquinas, the neo-Platonists, and Aristotle to Plato himself. Here, at least, then, the Platonic figure of ancientness has its concrete realisation, quite as if his creative invocation of those mists of time was also a prophecy. <p> Diamond abstracts from this historical context quite as much as O'Neill, preferring instead to organize her critique of O'Neill's critique around a single sentence from her review: "[I]f the appeal on behalf of animals is to convince those whose hearts do not already so incline them, it must, like appeals on behalf of dependent human beings, reach beyond assertion to argument" (CR, 445). Diamond, in effect, isolates this sentence in order to ask: can O'Neill really mean what she is saying? More specifically, she claims that the view it expresses of how philosophical discussions of ethical matters can and should be carried on is essentially confused; it assumes a conception of moral thought that is not merely false, but renders the moral force of many kinds of literature incomprehensible. <p> Since many of us, and perhaps all of us in a certain frame of mind, might be inclined on the contrary to take O'Neill's remark as a statement of the blindingly obvious, we plainly need to probe further. Before doing so, however, it might be worth noting one of the costs of Diamond's decision to concentrate on O'Neill's underlying, general conception of moral thought, just as O'Neill explicitly chose to abstract from much of the factual, polemical, and imaginative detail of Clark's book in order to focus on (what she sees as the lack of) argumentative underpinnings for his radically zoophile vision of the relation of the human to the natural world. For that decision entails that, in the context of this paper at least, the nonhuman animals that are the primary focus of Clark's concern slip from our field of vision; they (as opposed to the dependent human beings to which O'Neill refers in passing in our focal sentence) barely maintain a role even as illustrative examples of the possible topics of human moral reflection. It is not hard to imagine Clark himself feeling that such a defence of his book—however sympathetic and successful it may be—nevertheless risks exemplifying the very problem it aims to identify. Is philosophy's aversion to the concrete reality of the putative objects of its attention so constitutive of its nature that it will even inflect the work of those who aim to philosophize in support of attempts to refuse that aversion; or is it simply unreasonable to expect any philosopher to attend equally to every aspect of her topic at any given time? <p> Back to the focal sentence. Suppose one takes O'Neill to be saying that any moral appeal will convince only if it reaches beyond assertion to argument: is that not obviously true, given that conviction here is being implicitly contrasted with mere persuasion, in order to suggest an appeal to reason? How could anyone possibly wish to deny that genuine rational conviction neither can nor should accrue to anyone's unargued vision of things? But to whom, then, might it be worth asserting this? For whom might it constitute a genuinely informative statement? Can we take seriously the possibility that Clark is entirely ignorant of this point—that his book utterly fails to reflect any awareness of it? <p> What bothers Diamond is not O'Neill's devaluation of mere assertion, but her implicit assumption that there is only one way of proceeding beyond mere assertion, and that is to argument. Of course, if "argument" here is simply a placeholder for "any consideration that could, in principle, produce genuine conviction as opposed to mere persuasion," then O'Neill's position reduces once again to a triviality—something hardly worth saying. But in fact, O'Neill has a rather stronger, certainly a highly specific, conception of what an argument can and should be; hence, in presenting argumentation as the only alternative to mere assertion, she is in effect excluding the possibility that there might be ways to convince others of a vision of animals, or children, or disabled adults that are nonargumentative and yet capable of engaging with, and embodying, genuine thoughtfulness. <p> How, then, does O'Neill envisage argumentation? In two stages: she begins by invoking an apparently general idea of rational grounding; but whenever she offers illustrations of such grounds, they turn out to be distinctively philosophical—or more precisely metaphysical—in nature. Here is a representative instance of this process. <p> [Clark] fails to explicate his own conception of animal-human kinship and the way in which this grounds animals' moral status. The Thomist, Cartesian, and even utilitarian traditions have tried to state the metaphysical grounds that determine who or what may have moral standing. Clark's appeal to the claim that animals are kin is not articulated to anything like the same degree. It is because he seeks to do morality without metaphysics that his appeals can reach only the audience who share his commitments to animals. (CR, 445–46) <p> <p> As O'Neill elsewhere makes clear, the kinds of rational grounding for attributing moral status to animals provided by the philosophical traditions she invokes are such things as sentience and rationality. In effect, then, O'Neill's picture of rational grounding amounts to the specification of a property or feature of the being whose moral status is in question, one that it shares with those whose moral status in the relevant respect is beyond question, and on the basis of which its claim to that status is rendered rationally convincing. Hence, she treats Clark's talk of human– animal kinship as if it were (because it could only be) another attempt in the same vein; and so regarded, she takes it to be at best insufficiently articulated, at worst entirely empty. <p> By contrast, Clark himself identifies those visions of nonhuman animals with which he contends as deficient (more specifically as "paranoid fantasies") primarily because and insofar as they detach themselves entirely from "the heart's affections and the plain evidence of sense"; and (as O'Neill notes in her review) he describes himself as seeking to appeal past such visions to "the hidden, guilty, nebulous convictions of the heart" (MSA, 4). He thus envisages complete detachment from the heart as one way in which thinking can exhibit deficiency qua thinking (not: one way in which thinking can be caused to be deficient, but rather: one form that rational deficiency may take); hence, he identifies the form of his rational appeal to the reader as one in which that detachment is overcome. For Clark, then, it makes perfect sense to talk of "convictions of the heart," and so it makes sense for him to see overcoming their repression, establishing their purity, and giving them more concrete structure and substance as ways of making rational progress. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>THE WOUNDED ANIMAL</b> by <b>STEPHEN MULHALL</b> Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. 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