College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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Spinoza, Zhuangzi, animals, animality, immanence


Interest in the human/animal binary, in its ontological, ethical, and political aspects, has been on the rise together with contemporary philosophies of difference. It has often been argued that the dominant structures of representation, which appeal to absolute, finalizing, and transcendent measures to divide beings into different kinds has the human/animal distinction as its founding trope. Thus the human/animal divide often figures as an entry point to a much broader critique of the history of Western philosophy together with its allegedly absolutist vision of the world and essentialist formulations of identity. In contrast to what are taken to be canonical texts of the Western philosophical tradition, philosophies of immanence are often presented as the panacea that would save us from the problems modernity. Among the philosophies that are appropriated to develop an alternative ontological vocabulary that is adequate for non-reductive formulations of difference, Spinoza has perhaps received the most scholarly attention in the last sixty years. Following the same aim to replace exclusionary paradigms of humanity with alternative formulations of human/nonhuman relations, a geographically richer variety of sources is used by the deep ecology movement, who made use of not only Western philosophical figures, such as Spinoza or certain representatives of immanentist eschatology in the Western Christian tradition, such as St Francis of Assisi, but also a variety of Buddhist and Daoist texts. These appropriations are often fueled by the conviction that there must be a necessary link between immanentist, non-dualistic process philosophies and the emergence of a universal compassion, which transcends and outshines all forms of human exceptionalism. In this project I examine philosophies of Spinoza and Zhuāngzĭ with the goal to demonstrate that, despite having certain ontological presuppositions that necessitate differences to be articulated on a continuous and open-ended trajectory, they still occasionally present us with a human/animal split formulated in the form of a discontinuity. That is, while the difference between humans and other animals is not argued on the basis of any transcendent claim that would appeal to a metaphysical outside (such as a transcendent God who creates humans in His image), there are still discontinuities between humans and other beings in both accounts. While humans’ separateness is merely expressed along the lines of their tendency to obscure their continuity with Heaven in the Zhuāngzĭ; in Spinoza it is formulated along the lines of the unmatched complexity of their minds/bodies, which then is used to promote strengthening human bonds to cultivate more enabling modalities of understanding. This certainly necessitates a critical stance to be taken against hasty appropriations of their philosophies to combat discourses of human exceptionalism. With this project, I not only aim to contribute to contemporary discussions on the issue of animality in a unique way, but also to complicate the sweeping generalizations we make about “philosophies of immanence” by comparing two immanentist figures with remarkably different philosophical terminologies, questions, and concerns.

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