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Metaphysical Anthropocentrism, Limitrophy, and Responsibility: An Explication of the Subject of Animal Rights

Jan-Harm de Villiers


This article undertakes a critical analysis of subjectivity and exposes the metaphysical and anthropocentric quasi-transcendental conditions that give rise to the construct(ion) of the Subject. I locate a critical moment for the metaphysical Subject in the work of Martin Heidegger which, whilst sadly not sustained in his later writings, provides a point of departure for an examination of the significance that animality plays in the metaphysical tradition and its constitutive relation to the construct of subjectivity. I discern this relation to be violent and sacrificial and draw on Jacques Derrida's nonanthropocentric ethics against the background of Drucilla Cornell's ethical reading of deconstruction to construct a critique of approaches that assimilate animals to the traditional model of subjectivity in order to represent their identity and interests in the legal paradigm. The main argument that I seek to advance is that such an approach paradoxically re-constructs the classical humanist subject of metaphysics and re-establishes the subject-centred system that silences the call of the animal Other, thereby solidifying and extending the legitimacy of a discourse and mode of social regulation that is fundamentally anthropocentric. I examine how we can address, incapacitate and move beyond this schemata of power through a rigorous deconstruction of the partitions that institute the Subject and how deconstruction clears a space for a de novo determination of the animal "subject" that can proceed from different sites of nonanthropocentric interruption. What follows is a call to refuse the mechanical utilisation of traditional legal constructs and I argue in favour of an approach to the question of the animal (in law) that identifies and challenges anthropocentrism as its critical target. I ultimately propose a critical engagement with the underlying metaphysical support of animal rights at a conceptual level, rather than simply utilising the law pragmatically as an instrument of immediate resolution.

Keywords: Animal rights theory; animal ethics; anthropocentrism; deconstruction; law and rights; limitrophy; metaphysics of subjectivity.
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