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Nonsense on Stilts? Wittgenstein, Ethics, and the Lives of Animals

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Wittgenstein is often invoked in philosophical disputes over the ethical justifiability of our treatment of animals. Many protagonists believe that Wittgenstein's philosophy points to a quantum difference between human and animal nature that arises out of humans' linguistic capacity. For this reason – its alleged anthropocentrism – animal liberationists tend to dismiss Wittgenstein's philosophy, whereas, for the same reason, anti‐liberationists tend to embrace it. I endorse liberationist moral claims, but think that many on both sides of the dispute fail to grasp the import of Wittgenstein's philosophy. My argument proceeds through close engagement with Michael Leahy's Against Liberation, which makes extensive use of Wittgenstein's ‘notion of language‐games' as an ‘essential methodological aid' in its defence and justification of the moral status quo. Leahy's understanding and application of that method exemplifies an entrenched interpretative stance in the wider Wittgensteinian scholarship which I seek to counter. This enables me to show that far from entailing conservatism, as some of his critics and followers contend, Wittgenstein's philosophical method is just as conducive to radical moral and political critique as it is to any other normative position.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Exeter, UK

Publication date: 2006-08-01

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