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Exploring animal subjectivity

by Richard Meckien - published Sep 12, 2014 02:50 PM - - last modified Sep 24, 2014 03:35 PM

The sixth meeting of the cycle of conferences and debates Humans and Animals: The Limits of Mankind will address animal subjectivity. Organized by IEA-USP's Philosophy, History, and Sociology of Science and Technology Research Group, the event will include two roundtables, taking place on September 29-30, both at 9.30 am, in the Auditorium of USP's Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC).

The subject will be addressed from an interdisciplinary perspective, centered in philosophy but also considering anthropology, biology, linguistics, psychology and law. According to the coordinator of the meeting, Lorenzo Baravalle, a post-doctoral student in Philosophy at USP and member of the research group, "the main objective is to define questions and to sketch lines of response rather than reaching definitive conclusions."

Some of the issues to be addressed are:

  • What are the manifestations of animal subjectivity?
  • Does time have the same unifying function of "I" in some animals, that some authors consider central to human subjectivity and individuality?
  • Is it possible to speak of an awareness of death in animals?
  • Can the concept of "autonomy", taken from political philosophy and law, be used to characterize animal subjectivity?


The debate will bring together some of the researchers who participated in the previous meetings of the cycle. The roundtable on the 29th will be moderated by Baravalle and will feature three panelists. Hernán Neira, a professor of political philosophy at the Universidad de Santiago de Chile (USC), will speak about the awareness of time by animals. His exhibition will focus on the criticism against the philosophical and biological thought of Jakob von Uexküll, particularly with regard to the distinction between the human temporality, considered objective, and the animal one, seen as subjective. Gustavo Andrés Caponi, a professor at the Department of Philosophy of the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), will examine the heterogeneity of the cognitive faculties of human beings and other animals in the context of the ideas of French naturalist Georger-Lous Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Anthropologist Eliane Sebeika Rapchan, professor at the State University of Maringá (UEM), will discuss the existence of an "animal subjectivity" from the results of researches that have explored aspects related to emotions and feelings, conscience, symbolic capacity, among others, in wild and laboratory chimpanzees.

Moderated by Caponi, the roundtable on the 30th will also have three discussants. Stelio Marras, a professor at USP's Institute of Brazilian Studies (IEB), will address the topic of human-animal correspondence. For this, he will address a classical issue of anthropology: "the Bororo are macaws" - a reference to the symbolic thinking of a tribe of Brazilian Indians, the Bororo, who have the macaws as totem and do not make an ontological distinction between themselves and those birds. Baravalle, now as an exhibitor, will reflect on the ability of animals to perceive the uniqueness of the experience - that is, the existence of a 'self' with its own identity - and, from there, he will explore the potential of a theoretical model that enables a better understanding of the phenomenology of animal life. Davide Vecchi, a professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sciences of Complexity (IFICC), Chile, will discuss whether subjectivity is a primitive property of all living beings or conditional upon certain biological capabilities, such as cognition. In the exhibition, he will address two specific cases: the immune system and a colony of bacteria.


Inaugurated in 2013, the cycle Humans and Animals: The Limits of Mankind covers the origins, legitimacy, and ethical-political consequences of differentiation of living beings in humans, animals and sub​​-humans (this last case defined by the prejudiced view of certain groups of individuals of certain ethnicities, body types or gender, considered inferior humans).

The aim is to discuss the most relevant philosophical and epistemological fundamentals to what is meant by human from an interdisciplinary approach, encompassing various perspectives, including those of anthropology, biology, and ethics.

The organization is from IEA’s Philosophy, History, and Sociology of Science and Technology Research Group, the Philosophical Scientiae Studia Association and Fapesp’s Thematic Project ‘Genesis and Meaning of Technoscience: On the Relationship between Science, Technology, and Society’.

The event will be broadcast live on the web.