Someone not exactly like the others: The animal’s status

Sergio Dalla Bernardina


Debate about the status of animals has long impassioned theologians and philosophers. Are other animals “subjects” sharing the same rights as humans? Or are animals, as Descartes thought, mere machines? In many primitive societies but also in rural Europe, the question has been raised in quite different terms—less in order to decide whether or not animals have rights (whether or not they are “persons”), than to know how to deprive them of these rights when they are slaughtered (and thus transformed into “things”). Ethnology provides several examples of rites for ensuring this transformation (e.g., the Ainu bear ceremony, Melanesian pig feasts, and the criminalization of pigs in France). Even in the imagination of contemporary hunters, killing a prey apparently requires reevaluating its symbolic status. Though initially presented as a full-fledged partner, in the end the victim is always found to have committed crimes that justify its elimination.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/727704