Full Professor in Philosophy at the University of Paris-Est-Marne-la-Vallée.
Author of several essays in political philosophy and applied ethics ( medical ethics, animal ethics, environmental ethics). Among these essays :Leo Strauss: Another Reason, Another Enlightenment, SUNY Press, 2014; L’autonomie brisée. Bioéthique et philosophie, PUF, 2009; Éléments pour une éthique de la vulnérabilité. Les hommes, les animaux, la nature, Le Cerf, 2011; Les Nourritures. Philosophie du corps politique, Le Seuil, 2015, Nourishment. A Philosophy of the political Body( Bloomsbury 2019, fortchoming in German in the Fall 2020) ;Manifeste animaliste. Politiser la cause animale, Paris, Alma, 2017 ( Translated into Italian , Korean and Spanish ; forthcoming in Greek and German in 2020) ; Éthique de la considération, Seuil, 2018( Ethik der Wertschätzung. Tugenden für eine ungewissene Welt, WBG, 2019) ; Pour comprendre E. Levinas. Un philosophe pour notre temps ( Seuil, January 2020) ; Réparons le monde. Humains, animaux, nature, Rivages/Poche, 2020.
She received several prizes, and more recently, in Germany, the Günther Anders Price for critical thinking for her whole work. Link: www.corine-pelluchon.fr
1. ZB. Corine, your earliest studies on philosophy ranges from Franz Rosenzweig, Heidegger, Gershom Scholen and Leo Strauss.Can you tell us how did you decide to shift to Animal Question field?
CP. I have been written on animals since 2009. In L’autonomie brisée. Bioéthique et philosophie ( The Broken Autonomy. Bioethics and Philosophy, PUF, 2009), there are about 70 pages on animals. However, it is true that I started my philosophical career by working in political philosophy and 18 years ago, I did my Ph. D. on Leo Strauss, focusing on his critique of the Enlightenment, the crisis of contemporary rationality and the frailty of democracy ( It was published in 2005 in France and translated into English in 2014, Suny Press). In the midst 2000ies, the challenges that bioethical issues, biotechnologies and our model of development raise both to anthropology and to democracy were at the center of my researches. The philosophy of the subject that grounds current political liberalism could not provide sufficient tools or adequate guidance to help us solve these challenges and promote a democratic answer to them. As I tried to provide a philosophy of the subject that took for granted our vulnerability, and not only our ability to make autonomous choices, I first considered the reflection upon the persons suffering from cognitive impairs and on animals as a way of testing our ethical and political categories. I was already vegetarian since 2003. During a year, from 2007 to 2008, I spend 3 days a week visiting patients suffering from Alzheimer diseases, visiting intensive care units and speaking with health care professionals. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot from them. And when I came home, before writing my book (L’autonomie brisée), I watched videos on animals in factory farms, and so on. I really wanted to know what was going on in slaughterhouses, in laboratories, factory farms. Then I built what I called an “ethics of vulnerability”, which is inspired by the phenomenology of passivity of Levinas and revolved around three main categories: autonomy, responsibility and vulnerability. This taking into account of our vulnerability that we share with the other sentient beings and the focus on our specific responsibility toward future generations, nature and animals, provided a philosophy of the subject that could refresh our way of understanding our human condition and our relations with the others, including animals and give birth to a new understanding of the goals of the State. The latter could no longer be reduced to security between human beings and the reduction of inequalities. In my approach, the way we treat animals sheds light upon us; it forces us to critically examine the foundations of our ethics and politics. There can no be a renewal of humanism without the taking into account of the interests of animals. I became more and more committed in the animal question and there is always a chapter concerning animals in my books, in Éléments pour une éthique de la vulnérabilité. Les homes, les animaux, la nature ( Cerf, 2011; The Case for an Ethics of Vulnerability: Humans, animals, nature), in Les Nourritures. Philosophie du corps politique ( Seuil, 2015; translated into English : Nourishment. A Philosophy of the Political Body, Bloomsbury, 2019);inÉthique de la consideration (Seuil, 2018; TheCase for An Ethics of Consideration). I wrote the Manifesto ( Manifeste animaliste. Politiser la cause animale, Alma, 2017, translated into Spanish and Italian in 2018, in Korean in 2019 ) in order to make people change their mind and habits and understand that the animal question concerns everybody, including those who are still eating meat or exploiting animals. I also wanted to make this cause be political by providing the adequate tools so that we can make the alleviation of the animal suffering be real and even promote a future in which there is no animal exploitation.
2. ZB. Your Manifeste Animaliste is to me one of the most beautiful statements on the Animal condition written since Derrida’sL’Animal que donc je suis (The Animal Therefore I am). How was Derrida influential in your work?
CP. Calling into question the way in which the Western philosophical tradition has tended to think about animals, Derrida shed light upon the violence of a humanism based upon an elitist conception of the human, thereby paving the way for other types of discrimination, such as racism and sexism. This stage of the philosophy that goeshand in hand with the understanding of animal vulnerability as a non-power ( instead of focusing onacapacityto feel pain and suffering that depends on cognitive abilities) is inspiring. However, I do not aim at merely denouncing the arbitrary nature of the moral frontiers drawn between animals and humans, as Derrida did. I draw from him the idea that in our relations with animals, there is a war that is waged against ourselves: Our relations to animals put our capacity to experience the shared fate that connects us to other living beings to the test ; they reveal our difficulty to accept otherness. It is not merely a struggle against animals, but also a struggle against and within ourselves. This is why the animal question is central: it is important in and of itself because animals suffer, but also because the violence we inflict upon them bears witness to the contempt that we have towards beings that we deem inferior, or that are simply different from us.
However, I choseto stress the constructive dimension of Derrida’s deconstruction or critique of humanism: how can we imagine a State in which the animals count? What could be an ethics and a politics that start from vulnerability and take seriously our responsibility toward the other beings? My main goal as a political philosopher is to make the animal question be political by determining the rules of a society that really takes seriously the interests of human as well as non-human beings. It comes from aphilosophy of the subject that is linked to a new conception of the human being. To be sure, our corporality, our vulnerability and our condition of engendered beings, our need for air, water, food, and space, highlight the fundamentally relational character of the subject, as I showed in Nourishment, which is the book that grounds my political approach of the animal question. Such philosophy of corporeality brings living beings into the heart of ethics and justice.
Lastly, I think that we are at a crossroads :Although the plight of animals today is a nightmare, there are more and more people who do not stand the violence we inflict upon them and the injustice it reflects. Our relations with animals are the mirror of a model of development that is based upon the limitless exploitation of nature and beings and it dehumanizes us. The animal cause is strategic since it highlights the aberrations of capitalism and raises civilizational issues. This is why I do speak of a new age that could emerge : The age of the living, which connects the acceptance of our vulnerability and responsibility, the taking into account of the issues raised by climate change and the animal cause. It actually implies the reestablishment of ethics and politics on the basis of a philosophy of the subject that necessarily includes the animal question within a project of social and democratic reconstruction. This articulation between anthropology and politics paves the way for a platform enabling us to outline the conditions of a just coexistence between humans and animals – a coexistence that is our future, both in the short and in the long term. As you see, this approach of the animal question comes after animal ethics and even after Derrida’s approach since the goal is to build a new future and even to show that animalism requires a new humanism.
3. ZB. In the Manifeste you say that “ Humanity is losing its soul”. The images of animal oppression and unbearable pain open the Manifesto. You also say that women’s feelings can fight against their exploitation.Can you comment how the most dispossessed beings in society can help others equally dispossessed?
“Humanity is losing its soul”, because nobody can deny that animals suffer and yet, we continue to exploit them. Therefore most people use strategic device such as cognitive dissonance to be able to continue working in slaughterhouses or eat flesh for instance. This way of refraining their negative emotions makes people be indifferent. They also become used to separate the beings whom they grant moral consideration because they are like them or belong to their family and the others. On the contrary, it is necessary to open ones’ eyes and face reality.
Becoming aware of animal suffering sets us apart from others. This is first a sort of nightmare. Burdening oneself with animal suffering, we feel a tremendous pain that never diminishes, but rather somehow intensifies as the years pass by. However, what is essential is to live through this suffering and transform it: We must be strong enough to let this suffering penetrate us without being contaminated and desensitized by the violence that caused it. One’s separation from other human beings who continue to be blind to this reality should not give rise to contempt. We must remind ourselves that we too have been oblivious to the suffering of animals during many years. Most of the time, it is other people – or an organization, a book, or a documentary – that enabled us to face the truth. Those who are committed to the alleviation of animal suffering have to think about the way they can be useful for animals. We have to convince the others to change their ways of thinking and their lifestyles but we won’t succeed if wesimply accuse them. The point is to show how it is possible to live without imposing suffering to other beings and to convince the others that a society that is fairer to animals is also fairer towards the other human beings and can also lead to economic prosperity thanks to innovations in the fashion industry, in food, in experimentation.
But it is true that there is no day off for animals who are abused nor for those who suffer for them.To become aware of the animal suffering, to the number of sentient beings that are killed every day for their flesh or their skin, is not easy. Maybe people who come to realize the intensity of the animal sufferings are those who have already be wounded and who have suffered in their flesh. To be able to look at such violence, to feel so deeply shamed to be a human being and to decideto fight to alleviate their suffering and to provide the tools for a revolution that will change our model of development, is something that makes you become the hostage of the animal cause. If you have personal ambitions for your career, if you want to have a quiet life, it is not the right way! But we don’t choose it. For me, the animal question is always in my heart. I always think of animals. Maybe this ability to suffer for them is due to the fact that many other goals that a lot of people consider as important are not that important for me. To suffer for the other beings who do not belong to our species and to feel pity (which implies that you feel the deep bond that relies you to all sentient beings) might require a kind of “nakedness”. I mean that you cannot experience such thing if you did not get rid off the social habits that usually constitute personal identity. The experience of oneself as a vulnerable, engendered and mortal self, is all important. Maybe some women are more sensitive to this, but they are the only ones. I know that some philosophers insist upon the link between feminism, anti-especiesism and the fight against all discriminations. I agree with such approach. However, mine is q little bit different.
4. ZB. How can formal religion help? How important is it to change hearts and minds? How can we be more compassionate towards the animals?
Our relations to animals reflect our relations to ourselves. In order to understand what we are doing to animals today, we should not merely denounce evil or address its symptoms, but we also ought to get to the root of the problem, which goes beyond the animal question and encompasses our relations with other human beings and other nations. It relates to the way in which we conceive our condition and accept our finitude and our vulnerability. Also arguments do not suffice to make people change their lifestyles and habits. We also have to move them. However, I think that the way we understand and feel our responsibility towards the other beings, especially towards animals, requires a deep process of self-transformation that encompasses representations, emotions, and refers also to archaic constructions. To stop behaving as if we were “an empire within an empire”, as Spinoza said, it is necessary to understand the bonds that rely us with the others and with the whole. This understanding of our place within nature changes from within the subject and gives birth to the desire for quality, not quantity, as Arne Naess, a great philosopher and a great reader of Spinoza said when he spoke of “ecosophy”. The desire to have power over the others, to exert one’s dominion, disappear and it is replaced by the desire to live well with the others and by positive emotions ( gratitude, joy). Instead of putting tigers or elephants in cage, we then are happy to see them flourish according to their own norms and their subjectivity.
In my last book, Ethics of consideration, I have developed a virtue ethics that descrives the stages of a process of self-transformation that could explain how the flourishing of the other beings can be part of one’s flourishing and I describe an experience which I call “transdescendance”. This word which was coined by Jean Wahl and is also found in Levinas does not describe a movement from bottom to top, as faith in God or contemplation (transascendance). Nonetheless, it is a way of speaking of something that overcomes us: it is the experience of the common world which is infinite and entails the past, present and future generations, the institutions and the other species. When we remind our engendered condition and experience our vulnerability, we better feel the bonds that tie us with other engendered and vulnerable beings. Trandescendance actually outlines a movement of deepening of oneself and of one’s carnal condition that permits the subject to experience the link that unites him or her to other living beings. Such an experience transforms the consciousness of one’s belonging to the common world into a lived knowledge that changes from within one’s way of being and interacting with the others. “Considération” is equated with transdescendance since this experience of the incommensurable in ourselves enlarges the self and at the same time makes him understand his or her place in the world. It also drives us into setting limits to our right to use whatever pleases us for the sake of the others. “Considération” implies that our existence is intertwined with the existence of the others and that we do not live only for ourselves. It is a way of connecting ethics with spirituality but I does not require God and it also supposes that we make an experience. Our corporeality is the pint of departure of this new understanding of oneself as being part to a common world that entails animals. Of course, people who believe in God can also speak of Francis of Assis who says marvellous things on animals and also on death, n our acceptance of mortality, but , as Leo Strauss said, the philosopher, even if he believes in God, has not to impose any faith in his work. It is a matter of method. Be that as it may, respect for animals do not derive ( only) from arguments or rules, although we need laws and norms. To make people change their way of behaving with animals and their lifestyles, to foster them eat less and less meat and fish, we need to address their mind and their hearts and make them feel that they are members of a larger community than their family and country. The job of philosophers is also to describe such experiences, to refresh the way people think their human condition, and to provide adequate guidance to promote another model of development that the current one which leads to global warming , dehumanization, wars, poverty and make animals live in hell.
Review of the text in Portuguese:
Evely Libanori (Universidade Estadual do Paraná)
Zélia Monteiro Bora( Universidade Federal da Paraíba)
ASLE-Brasil team to this interview:
Antonio Felipe B. Neto – Technical support (Universidade Federal da Paraíba)