Animal Studies Bibliography

Lawrence, Elizabeth A. 1995. Cultural perceptions of differences between people and animals: A key to understanding human-animal relationships. Journal of American Culture 18(3): 75-82.

The traditional Judeo-Christian attitude toward animals was that animals were different from humans because only humans had a soul and would go to heaven and that humans had dominion over the earth. The word in the Bible is properly translated as stewardship, not dominion, but their is often not recognized. Despite increasing secularization, many people studied in field research cite the Bible as the reasons for the way they treat animals. The most important factor in determining our attitudes toward animals is how similar to us we think they are. The presence of similarities can be troublesome for researchers, who must recognize them as the reason the research is being done but must also then question their right to use animals in experiments. Our differences from animals are often taken for granted and should be examined. The animal/human boundary has varied considerably over time, with animals variously being considered superior and inferior to humans and, accordingly, being subject to varying degrees of exploitation. In the Classical World animals and humans were considered essentially similar and beings could easily change from animal t human or vice-versa. The early Church separated Christians from pagans by spreading a doctrine of human/animal difference, with humans rational and logical and animals instinctual brutes. This division remains in the modern worldview. Animal rights activists question this division, saying that we are much closer to animals that is commonly thought and asking whether the differences that de exist are important enough to justify ignoring animals' interests. Descartes' ideas were significant in dividing human from animal. He argued that animals are machines with no language, soul, or feeling. Modern research with bees, primates, birds, and other animals, however, shows that animals do have consciousness, self-awareness, communication, and the ability to learn. Researchers who study such subjects are often ridiculed, threatened, and denied scholarly stature. There is a recent trend toward claiming not that animals don't think, but that animals' thoughts are different from humans', which is a way of accounting for the research while maintaining human difference. Another trait used to separate humans from animals was the use and making of tools, but this has been found to be widespread among animals. Other traits thought to be human but found among animals are the teaching of cultural traditions, practicing socially significant rituals, having both group and individual identity, making moral decisions, thinking ahead, restraining behavior when necessary, falling in love, being aware of death, building structures, making art, being altruistic, using language, and feeling wonder, awe, joy, and other emotions. These similarities are important because they affect how we treat a particular kind of animal. Most people still hold anthropocentric creationist ideas about the specialness of humans, despite the acceptance of Darwin and species continuity by scientists. Because in modern society we are separated from reciprocal relationships with nature, our treatment of animals is increasingly determined by our feelings of similarity toward them. The variation between in societies in ways of classifying and treating animals demonstrates that cultural beliefs are the central shapers of human-animal relationships. Throughout history our beliefs about the boundary between human and animal have changed considerably, and they continue to be debated and challenged. While gradualists argue that the difference between humans and animals is one of degree but not kind, others persist in searching for the one key trait that definitively separates us. For the good of all, we must move beyond our old assumptions of our singular rationality granting us the right to dominion.



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