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The Call of Nature

The Call of Nature
A Reply to Ted Benton and Tim Hayward

Michael Reid
Does the critical practice of the ecology movement require
a theoretical ground? Ted Benton,l for one, seems to think
that it does. In the Autumn 1992 issue of Radical Philosophy Tim Hayward argued that one could accept Benton’ s
theory without being obliged to adopt the practical stance
for which he was trying to argue. However, Hayward did
not really address the issue of Benton’s foundationalism.

Here I want to pursue that problem a little further. Taking up
Benton’s project of trying to do justice to the claims
recognised by the ecology movement, I will argue that we
can do so only if we eschew Benton’s foundationalism. To
that end we can learn a lot, I will suggest, from the way in
which Theodor Adorno tried to re-think the practical orientation of Critical Theory.

8enton’s Project
In his 1988 article in Radical Philosophy Benton clearly
wants to speak for the Green movement; but he hesitates. As
a social theorist he stands back, refraining from giving his
own voice to the concerns of that movement. In general, he
does not actually speak/or the ecology movement; rather,
he speaks about it. He does not write as if his work were
itself a moment within ecosocialist critical practice. He
begins as if he were merely a disinterested conduit for the
concerns of others. Yet in one brief passage he conveys
those concerns with a forcefulness which indicates that he
would like to speak with his own voice: ‘Ethical considerations must … enter into our dealings with [animals]. It is
evil to continue to treat them merely as instruments or
resources to be exploited for specifically human purposes. ‘2
Although Benton hesitates to speak directly for and with
this movement, as a social theorist he feels called upon to
justify its critical practice. He aims to identify justificatory
grounds – grounds for arguing that the way in which we
relate ourselves to nature is somehow wrong.

The project under interrogation is identified by Benton
as a form of humanism, against which he tries to defend a
certain sort of naturalism. He engages more specifically
with the project of humanising nature which Marx affirmed
in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. What
matters here is not so much a particular set of practices as an
underlying assumption about how other living beings acquire
value for us – the assumption that other natural beings are
valuable only insofar as they can be brought to serve human

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

ends. The importance of this project for Marx was that, by
transforming the materials given to us in our environment,
we develop and objectify our powers as human beings.

Benton voices his concerns about this humanist project
as follows:

If we can be at home in the world, be properly,
humanly, connected with the world only on the basis
of a thorough-going transformation of it in line with
our intentions, then what space is left for valuing
nature in virtue of its intrinsic qualities? If we can
‘see ourselves’ in, or identify only with a world
which we have created, then what is left of our status
as part of nature? Nature, it seems, is an acceptable
partner for humanity only insofar as it has been
divested of all that otherness, insofar, in other words,
as it has become, itself, human. 3

Although this is the only occasion on which Bent~m explicitly
refers to the otherness of nature, I want to concentratd upon
it. For it is clearly this which Benton wants to do justice to.

He aims to recognise forms of life with ends of their own,
and with which social practices should respectfully work.

What I want to argue is that if we confine ourselves to the
theoretical attitude, we cannot make sense of the way in
which the otherness of nature can be an issue for us.

The theory developed by Benton to argue that the
otherness of nature should be an issue for us emphasises the
identity of human and natural being. His immediate concern
is to undermine a rigid and hierarchical distinction between
humanity and animality. The argument tends towards,
without elaborating, a critique of the autonomy of the
intellect. The hierarchical distinction at issue may be said to
be implied in the Kantian claim that, as thinking beings, we
are – potentially at least – independent of our natural being.

Here the intellect is assumed to be capable of a selfsufficiency which places it over and against nature. It is
precisely this idea ofthe intellect as standing apart from and
against its natural situation which Benton seeks to challenge.

But Benton does not address himself to the strong
Kantian notion of the autonomy of the intellect. He turns
instead to a much looser notion of the autonomy of culture
with respect to nature. Here, the idea of ‘culture’, or the
realm of the properly human, does not specifically refer to
the sort of subjectivity with which Kant was concerned. It
simply refers to distinctively human ways of doing things.

Benton wants to argue that the latter are merely ways of doing

13

things which other animals also do. 4 So the naturalism Benton
defends involves recalling ‘the common core of “natural
beinghood” which we share with other living creatures’. 5
One of the points he makes refers back to a Freudian notion
of human drives as sublimations of pre-cultural instincts.

Although those primary needs are transformed as the individual is integrated into a distinctively cultural life, individuals remain ‘needy beings’, and, in this respect at least,
our predicament is identical with that of non-human ‘needy
beings’. Culture transforms, but does not annul, our natural
predicament. Accordingly, culture remains within, and is
not set apart from, nature.

Although this is a rather crude summary of Benton’ s
position,6 enough has been said for us to establish the sort of
argument he is advancing. Having maintained that humanisation can be seen as a transformation of the way we do
things which non-human animals also do, Benton’ s naturalism insists that we prioritise this continuity between the
human and the animal. As he puts it, ‘naturalism’ involves
regarding the continuity between humans and other animals
‘as ontologically fundamental’, assigning it ‘priority for
[the] purposes of understanding and explaining what humans
are and how they act’ .7 This theory about the nature within
culture is then proposed as a foundation for our practical
concern about the fate of other (non-human) living beings.

Accepting the standards of validity which Benton sets
himself, there is surely a problem with the brute assertion
that we should accord priority to the continuity between
humanity and non-human animality. A further problem
with such an emphasis is that it risks forgetting that a highly
reflective subjectivity is a condition for the possibility of
our relationship to other living beings being the sort of
ethical issue Benton wants it to be. Only as a result of the sort
of subjectivity which appears to be the product and presupposition of a distinctively cultural form of life can the
subject’s relationship to nature become an ethical issue.

Hayward’s Response
Hayward is concerned to defend a form of humanism
against Benton’ s naturalism. To do so he distinguishes
between a Promethean humanism which aims to transcend
natural limits – a humanism which sets itself against nature
– and a more moderate humanism which is concerned to
develop our distinctively human powers in such a way as to
affirm our place within nature. He seeks to defend the latter,
arguing for the autonomy of culture, as a realm of value, visa-vis nature.

Hayward’s argument involves at least two claims, one
epistemological, the other ontological. The epistemological claim is that the aims and values which guide our
practices are only knowable through our lived experience,
not via scientific knowledge. On Hayward’s reading,
Benton’s argument assumes that our practice can be guided
by a naturalistic account of the flourishing of ourselves and
those other species with whom we live. 8 Scientific knowledge would be the most fundamental guide to our critical
practice. There is a problem with the limitation of our
knowledge to ends which are meaningful to subjects like
ourselves, and a problem with the unscientific character of

14

this cognition. The relevant sort of knowing ‘has an irreducibly subjective dimension’.9 Hence, ‘Knowledge related to flourishing … can only be had of beings with whom
some kind of intersubjective relation is possible’ . to
The ontological claim is that ‘one must recognise the
irreducibility of values as humanly, culturally, created
ends’ . II Here the problem concerns not how we know, but
what we know. In our knowledge of human flourishing our
concerns are distinctively cultural. This ontological claim is
the support for Hayward’s humanism. Hayward is surely
right to emphasise the cultural mediation of our ‘Green’

concerns. There is nothing straightforwardly natural about
the Green movement.

I want to develop Hayward’s point about the sort of
knowledge which really can orientate our practice, in relation
to which any scientific cognition can possess only a secondary significance. The problem with Hayward’s account is
that it does not appear relevant to the Green movement. He
claims, for instance, that ‘we can only know what flourishing
means in the human case, since such knowledge depends on
an intersubjective relation … ‘ 12 He continues: ‘Insofar as we
can talk about flourishing in other species at all, it is only to
the extent that we can draw an analogy with what flourishing
means in the human case.’ 13 When we read this in conjunction with the claim that values are culturally created, the
notion that natural things could be an issue for us appears
unintelligible. It sounds as if we are sealed up in our cultural
world.

Arguably, the critical practice of the Green movement
involves a recognition of something natural which calls into
question our social practices. It seems to rely upon the idea
that within our cultural world we can recogvise something
other than it which might call it into question. In a similar
vein, Adorno spoke of our recollection of nature. As a
recollection, this is the experience of an utterly cultural
subject. Yet it is also an experience in which the other ofthat
culture becomes an issue. Can we make sense of the sort of
cognition involved here? And is it this which really orientates the Green movement and, in a sense, grounds it? These
are the questions I shall pursue.

B ut first more needs to be said about Benton’ s assumption
that the Green movement needs theoretical grounds. The
problem is not simply that scientific cognition, or a theory
of the natural substratum of human being, will not do the
trick. The problem is that Benton’ s foundationalism involves a complicity with the very movement which he seeks
to criticise.

8enton’s Complicity
The way in which Benton turns to theory obscures or
marginalises the very concerns animating his writing. The
theoretical attitude to which Benton gives priority is one in
which we think about things in a disengaged manner, as
opposed to thinking for things in a way which is engaged
and claimed by them. It is governed by an ideal of communicability such that what is to be known must be communicable to a third person who can grasp the truth of what is
claimed, independently of any reference to lived experience. As an empirical reference point, experience may

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

enter, but only as data – i.e., as something considered in
abstraction from the ‘feel’ of the experience. What counts
is that which can be publicly demonstrated by argument and
experiment. Hence, in the attempt to think from the standpoint
of the theorist, all affective and expressive moments get
edited out as merely subjective. A gap – even an abyss appears to open up between theory and practice, between
facts and values other than the value of theoretical knowledge and possi bl y the efficient use of means. Our estimation
of ends would always be contingent upon the ‘feel’ of the
ways of life to which those ends belong. For the attitude
which does not see beyond the theoretical constitution of
objects, that estimation of ways of life cannot but seem
merely subjective, and hence devoid of any cognitive significance.

When Benton adopts the standpoint of the social theorist
he disengages himself from the very claims motivating his
critical practice. In that practice natural things matter to
him. But in his theory those things, as things which matter,
disappear from view. Stepping back, the concern for natural
things is lost and all that matters is the validity of the theory.

We become more concerned about the cogency of our
reasoning and less solicitous about things in the world. The
way Benton turns to theory assumes that discursive
knowledge is the only way in which truth can appear to us.

But if the truth can only appear to us when we look at
arguments with the cold eye of a theorist scrutinising claims
to validity, then our ethical concerns about ‘things’ in the
world which apparently call for a response cannot but seem
void of any truth content. It is because we have defined truth
as something accessible solely to discursive knowing that
we are left with the idea that in our ethical concerns truth is
simply not an issue.

Not onl y does Benton ‘s approach to theory – his method,
if you like – fail to do justice to his substantive concerns, it
also leaves him unwittingly affirming the very tradition
which he should challenge. Given his original concern for
the otherness of nature, and his suspicion of an idenitarian
comportment towards nature, he needs to see that there is a
problem with the theoretical attitude itself. The way he turns
to theory sustains the very identitarian comportment he
wishes to call into question. Although his act of writing is
surely motivated by his ‘Green’ concerns, the writing itself
does not acknowledge the otherness of nature. It does not
acknowledge its debt to nature, or openly respond to natural
things.

This way of turning to theory belongs with the Enlightenment ideal of a purely active subject – i.e., one which
would see moral value solely in doing what it considers
justifiable to all other rational beings. The pursuit of rational
grounds aims at, and is animated by, an ideal of autonomy
whereby the thinking being assigns itself the imperative for
practice. Discursive reason aims at an ideal of its own selfsufficiency. By assuming that we need discursively rational
grounds for re-orientating our relationship to nature, we
perpetuate the intellectual project which sets reason over
and against nature. Unwittingly, it seems, Benton continues
the very project he needs to call into question. In his concern
for a theoretical ground for the Green movement he forgets
that the project of totalising the claims of discursive reason

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

.L

repeats at the level of theory the deafness to the claims of
other living beings which we find, for example, in the
practices of factory farming.

There is a long tradition, stretching back at least to
Rousseau’s first Discourse (1750), which identifies the
standpoint of the disengaged theorist as a crucial part of the
problem when we become critical of contemporary social
practice. Unfortunately, Benton would appear oblivious to
the problem. He uncritically maintains the theoretical attitude which accompanies the unreflective objectification of
nature, and he assumes that contemporary science possesses
an epistemological privilege which such thinkers as
Heidegger, Gadamer, Merleau-Ponty, and Adorno have
sought to call into question.

Critical Practice Reconsidered
Benton’s search for a theoretical ground refers us to the
concept of nature in general. Here, thinking appears to be
lost in a concern for its own constructs. By contrast, in our
critical practice we are engaged by events in the world. Of
course, we can make sense of that world only in terms of our
concepts, but we must not lose sight of the fact that it is the
world in its particularity with which we are concerned. In
our thinking, we are engaged by, and we try to make sense
of, that particularity. Our concepts are abstract, but we
employ them for the sake of making better sense of the
socially concrete and the particular. Our thinking is for the
sake of something in the world, rather than that thinking
being reflected back upon itself in a concern for the validity
claim raised by an argument. In responding to the suffering
chickens in the factory farm to which Benton refers, we are
not looking for an argument. We take that suffering to be an
ethical issue without thinking of it as a validity claim which
should be discursively redeemable.

Benton needs to acknowledge that the impetus for his
critical practice comes from just such a response to other
living beings, and not from a set of propositions and maxims
which the autonomous subject may be said to assign itself.

In the case of the suffering chickens, the imperative to act
comes not from our recognition of that suffering. From the
standpoint of discursive reason, that recognition begs all the
important questions, and so the response appears to be
groundless. But in that response we find ourselves thinking
from the standpoint of the other. We find ourselves called
upon to recognise the other – the particular other – as an end
in itself. It is only as thinking beings that we can respond in
this way. But what we recognise in that response is not an
argument – a discursively redeemable claim to validity but the suffering of the chickens. Any argument emerges
out of, and must refer back to, the recognition of that
suffering.

This way of thinking about the ground of our critical
practice appears to repeat some of Adorno’ s ideas inNegative
Dialectics. Adorno breaks with the earlier strategy of the
Frankfurt School, which involved reading into history a
movement towards the goal of a rational society. On the
assumption that the goal was, in some sense, an objective
possibility, Critical Theory was to orientate itselfby it. With
that orientation went a commitment to the claims of the

15

intellect, and to the notion that the power of thought could
and should assert itself more decisively in the organisation
of social life. In Negative Dialectics Adorno focuses upon
the way in which a response to Auschwitz calls that utopian
projection of the primacy of discursive reason into question.

The response to Auschwitz orientates a critique of the
claims of constitutive subjectivity.

Built into the concept of negativity with which Adorno
works is the idea that Critical Theory is guided by particulars
which call for a response, for a judgement, and for action.

The emphasis is upon negating the suffering of particulars,
and it is through that response that the positive orientation
is acquired, not from some preconceived idea of a positive
goal. The alternative approach would accord suffering a
derivative significance, seeing it merely as an indication
that reality does not yet correspond to the ideal which lies
within it as its potential. Subverting this strand of Critical
Theory, Adorno describes the goal of a rational society in
the following way: ‘The telos of such an organisation of
society would be to negate the physical suffering of even the
least of its members, and to negate the internal reflexive
forms of that suffering.’ 14
Adorno insists that, in responding to suffering particulars, and ‘seeing’ a moral or ethical imperative in that
response, it would be a mistake to look to discursive reason
for justification. Talking of the imperative he recognises in
his response to Auschwitz he says: ‘Dealing discursively

16

with it would be an outrage, for the new imperative gives us
a bodily sensation ofthe moral addendum – bodily, because
it is now the practical abhorrence of the unbearable physical
agony to which individuals are exposed … ‘ 15 To return to the
case of the suffering chickens in the factory farm, it simi1arly involves our affections – at least the memory of our
own physical pain. Without this moment of affection it is
inconceivable that we would be moved even to think that
there was something wrong about the way the chickens are
being treated.

In his discussion of the previously quoted passage,
Joseph McCarney has criticised Adorno’s position as irrationalist. 16 He suggests that it would be acceptable to make
the recognition of suffering fundamental to morality were
one willing to represent this view as, in some measure, the
product of, and a fit subject for, ratiocination, if only in
order to register it as an ultimate commitment or basic
postulate. 17 The contrast here is between developing a moral
philosophy from the theoretical premise that suffering
ought not to be, and a practical stance which ultimately
relies upon the bodily sensation that suffering ought not to
be. McCarney seems to be insisting that to maintain our
integrity as rational agents we must ground our practical
stance theoretically, rather than beginning from, and orienting ourselves by, our embodied experience of suffering.

To initiate a defence of Adorno against McCarney, we
can question whether sense can be made of the identification of the imperative concerning suffering with a theoretical postulate. If we begin with the premise that suffering
ought not to be, can we make sense of that without falling
back upon our lived experience of suffering? McCarney’ s
philosopher wants to make it look as if we cap begin from
a theoretical postulate – a principle which the intellect
assigns itself. But in the case to hand it does not appear as
if we can make sense of that principle except by reference
to our embodied life. It is in our lived experience of
suffering that we come to know that suffering ought not to
be. 18 Any theoretical postulate is parasitic upon that experience, and so cannot be accorded the sort of priority
assigned by McCarney.

Had McCarney followed Habermas in his endeavour to
prioritize discursive reason, we would find a similar suppression of an engagement by particulars. If the recognition
of claims to validity is foregrounded, it appears as if
morality must be about recognising a principle of universality. But the communicative ethic cannot start from any
such principle. Prior to the interrogation of claims to validity,
there must be a recognition of other speaking subjects as
subjects whose voices deserve to be heard. In practice, we
must begin from this recognition of particular others. And
it is that recognition which imparts sense to the principle; it
is not the principle which gives sense to the practice.

Doubtless McCarney would reply that, since we cannot
count upon the automatic recognition of particular others,
we must argue that there ought to be such a recognition,
arguing from the principle to the necessity for the practice.

But this, once again, risks obscuring the way in which the
meaning of the recognition of the principle is only manifest
in the practice of recognising particular others.

Recalling the response to the suffering chickens, it is

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

clear that what we need to be able to say is that it involves
a moral perception. The point McCamey makes against
Adomo is that’ sympathy and indignation cannot be counted
on as automatic responses to agony’ .19 Adorno does not
assume that they are automatic responses. Nor does he need
to make that assumption. All he needs to be able to say is that
the absence of that response indicates a form of moral or
ethical blindness. At the most general level, the blindness in
question is a blindness to the viewpoint of the other. Ethics
must be about a willingness to consider practical issues
from the standpoints of others. A responsiveness to the
suffering of others is one crucial way in which that openness
to the viewpoints of particular others manifests itself. The
‘rationality’ of the response to the suffering other can be
grasped in terms of the openness which makes an ethical
relation possible, and which thereby opens up the practical
space for an ethical discourse. The irrationality of the
responses of the torturers to which McCarney refers needs
to be seen in terms of the denial of the conditions for the
possibility of any sort of ethical relation.

The openness to the standpoint of the other cannot be
reduced to a merely instinctive reaction which remains
within the unmediated circuit of nature. McCarney assumes
that Adorno is relying upon such an instinct. But this would
leave the individual locked up within the logic of his or her
personal gratification, making the idea of an ethical relationship unintelligible. The child who enjoys pulling the tail
of the cat acts impulsively, while the adult who looks on,
concerned about the effect which this is having on the cat,
is responding ethically. The child enjoys acting upon the cat
from the outside, while the adult is concerned about the
experience – the internal perspective – of the cat. That
response relies upon the recollection of instinctual responses,
but it is not itself an instinctual response. It involves an
imaginative construction of the experience of the other.

Although we may build up that experience of the other on
the basis of our experiences, we do not thereby identify the
other with ourselves. In responding to the suffering chickens
we come to see the world of our practices from a standpoint
which is not our own. We attain a deeper understanding of
our world – our practices – by coming to see it from the
standpoint of the other. Having paid a visit to the farm in
question we may feel shocked, and come to see our social
practices in a completely new light. Although this shock
would not be possible without an implicit reference back to
our own experiences, we are nevertheless drawn out of the
selfhood from which we started.

The importance of this imaginative projection is that it
grants us access to an intramundane standpoint from which
we can evaluate our practices. In the case of factory farming
it is the suffering of the chickens which calls our practice
into question. We call those practices into question on the
basis of our recognition of that suffering. It is the suffering
that matters, and not the way in which those practices may
be said to fail to acknowledge an ontology which emphasises our being a part of nature. Far from grounding the
criticism of practices such as factory farming, Benton’ s
ontology reads more like a retrospective rationalisation
which itself presupposes a prior engagement with the suffering of other living beings.

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

The Difference from Hume
In conclusion, it is worth differentiating this reading of an
Adornian position from Hume’ s, since the former may
appear to repeat some of the latter’s critique of rationalism
in ethics. To recall the arguments from Book Ill, Part I,
section I of A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume’s aim was
to argue against the notion that moral distinctions are
derived from reason, as opposed to feeling. His initial
argument is against the rationalist notion that morality is
about acting upon principles. The point here is simply that
principles alone can never motivate us to act, so we cannot
make sense of the idea of acting upon principles alone.

However, even if principles or, more generally, reason,
cannot be the sole basis for moral action, it could still be the
case that reason draws the crucial distinctions which we
recognise when we act morally. This would still presuppose
an interest in following the dictates of reason, but reason
would be left to do all the work of drawing the crucial
distinctions. The overriding aim of Hume’ s argument is to
deny that reason draws these distinctions. It is not simply
that reason is the slave of the passions, but that reason does
not grant us access to a realm of moral truths.

Hume considers a number of ways in which reason
might be said to enable us to determine what is and what is
not moral, the most important of which is the claim that we
cannot infer a statement about moral value from any matter
of fact. Although Hume makes a formal point about the
logical gap between descriptive and prescriptive statements, the relevance of this logical point rests upon the
denial that there is any moral facticity. The significance of
the argument about grammatical differences depends upon
whether or not we can make sense of the idea of moral
facticity. Is morality about prescribing principles, expressing feelings of approval and disapproval, or is it not alsoand perhaps more fundamentally – a matter of cognising
something in the world?

Hume simply asserts that if we reflect upon our moral
experience, we will be unable to make sense of the idea of
a moral facticity. Morality is not about cognising something
concerning the object, but about having certain feelings of
moral approval or disapproval in relation to it. Facts about
the object are one thing; moral values are another.

The force of Hume’s assertion implicitly rests upon a
scientific discourse which understands facts as descriptions
of the world from the standpoint of a dispassionate observer. From this standpoint it appears as if our feelings are
‘merely subjective’. This obscures the way in which our
feelings can actually disclose the world – reality – to us. It
obscures the way in which our feelings can have a cognitive
significance.

Returning to the example of the battery hens, the point is
that our moral response does not simply involve us expressing
a moral disapproval of the treatment of the chickens, as
Hume would have it. The moral – or rather, the ethicalresponse is one which ‘sees’ the suffering of the chickens.

What is crucial is that we recognise this suffering. That
suffering is not simply a ‘fact’ devoid of moral significance,
which, when cognised, causes us to express a feeling of
disapproval. The ‘fact’ is morally significant in itself since
we cannot grasp suffering as suffering without believing
17

that it ought not to be. The link is not an abstractly conceptual one – not one we can argue about in terms of deduction
of a prescriptive statement from a descriptive one. The link
belongs to our more fundamental experience of suffering.

The concept cannot be grasped without reference back to
that experience. Our experience of suffering is an experience
of something that ought not to be.

Again, although our recognition of the suffering of the
other involves this reference back to our own feelings, that
recognition cannot thereby be interpreted merely as an
expression of our own feelings. More importantly, it is a
recognition of the feelings of the other. Our empathetic
projection discloses an ethically significant facticity: the
suffering of the chickens, in this case. That disclosure is a
cognitive achievement – something which is completely
obscured by Hume’s analysis of the situation into a cognition of a value-neutral fact, and a contingent response
involving a feeling of disapproval.

Were our feelings of approval and disapproval not
bound up with a cognition of the object of those feelings,
why should we grant them any weight? Moreover, on the
basis of our experience, we cannot make sense of the idea
that feelings of disapproval and approval could be sustained
without being bound up with a cognition of their object. The
point here is the opposite ofthe one made by Hume when he
argued that beliefs involve a propensity to believe. In the
case of our moral feelings, these would surely wither were
they really disconnected from a cognition of their object.

Could we vigorously disapprove of factory farming if we
did not believe that we had gained some insight into what
factory farming involves? If we disapprove of factory
farming, we do so because we have come to recognise – to
cognise – something about it. Without that cognitive moment, our feelings of disapproval would either never arise
in the first place, or they would wither, or, if they persisted,
they would appear to be pathological.

To return to the case against Benton and McCarney, the
point is that this cognitive moment is not theoretically
grounded. We can make sense of the cognitive moment
which endows the opposition to factory farming with its
rationality without thinking of it as cognition of a theory
about the natural limits of human social development, or a
theory of the natural substratum of human social being.

These theories are important in themselves, but the question
under consideration concerns their importance as grounds
for ecological critical practice. By focusing upon a case
which does call for that critical practice, I have tried to argue
that the latter does not rely upon theoretical grounds. The
real issue is the suffering of the animals concerned; and we
must not let our interest in developing theories about the
situation of society in nature obscure the real ground – the
insightful concern – of that critical practice.

Notes
1

Ted Benton, ‘Humanism = Speciesism? Marx on Humans and
Animals’, Radical Philosophy 50, Autumn 1988, pp. 4-16.

2
3
4
5
6

Ibid., p. 4.

Ibid., p. 7.

Ibid., p. 14.

Ibid.

As well as considering the nature within humanity, Benton

18

points out that a distinction which Marx assumed to be applicable only to human beings is applicable to non-human animals.

According to Benton’ s reading, this is the distinction between
merely subsisting and flourishing which is so important for
Marx’s ethical critique of the fate of labour under capitalism. As
he puts it: ‘Only if there was a difference between mere existence
of animals at a level which minimally satisfies human utility, on
the one hand, and thriving or well-being, on the other, can we
distinguish between “inhumane” and “humane” ways of treating
those animals whose conditions of life are dependent upon the
exercise of our powers. ‘He presents this as a critique of ‘ Mar x’s
contrast between the human and the animal [which] cuts away
the ontological basis for … a critical analysis of forms of
suffering shared by both animals and humans who are caught up
in the same causal network’ (Ibid., p. 11).

7
8

Ibid., p. 13.

Tim Hayward, ‘Ecology and Human Emancipation’, Radical
Philosophy 62, Autumn 1992, p. 8.

9

Ibid., p. 9.

Ibid.

Ibid., p. 8.

Ibid.

Ibid., p. 9.

T. W. Adomo,Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, London, 1973, pp. 203-4.

10

11
12
13
14

17
18

Ibid., p. 365.

Joseph McCamey, ‘What Makes Critical Theory Critical?’,
Radical Philosophy 42, Winter/Spring 1986, p. 14.

Ibid.

Ibid.

19

Ibid.

15
16

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