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Personhood Beyond the Human: “On Why personalism turn towards animal ethics”
Alfred Marek Wierzbicki   Jan 14, 2014   Personhood Beyond the Human  

On December 8, 2013 Alfred Marek Wierzbicki spoke on “Why does personalism turn towards animal ethics?” at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University.

Fr. Alfred Marek Wierzbicki was born in 1957. He is currently the Head of the Chair of Ethics of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, and the Director of the John Paul II Institute of this university.

In his research work, he continues the personalist approach to ethics initiated by Karol Wojtyła, who was the Head of the Chair of Ethics of the Catholic University of Lublin from 1956 to 1978. The research adavnced by Fr. Alfred Marek Wierzbicki focuses on the grounding principles of ethics, the history of ethics, and the problems of the newest applied ethics (such as bioethics, social ethics, political ethics, and professional ethics).

He has authored four books on ethics: The Ethics of Struggle for Liberation: Towards a Personalistic Interpretation of the Principle of Non-Violence (Frankfurt am Main 1992), Spotkania na placu [Encounters on the Agora] (Lublin 2001); Filozofia a totalitaryzm [Philosophy Facing Totalitarianism](Lublin 2005); Polska Jana Pawła II [John Paul II’s Poland] (Lublin 2011), as well as over a hundred papers on ethics.

Fr. Alfred Marek Wierzbicki is Editor-in-Chief of a scholarly Quartertly Ethos. The current issue of this journal (vol. 26, No. 2 (102)), a volume of over 300 pages, is the first publication in Polish which addresses the issues of animal ethics so extensively. The volume in question has already received a vivid response in the media as well as in the academic milieus in Poland.
The Personhood Beyond the Human conference was organized by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, Yale’s Animal Ethics Group and Yale’s Technology and Ethics Group.

Abstract: The intellectual heritage of modernity needs rethinking. It is marked by radical humanism, (implied by the ideas of Descartes and Kant above all) which introduces an unbridgeable gap between the worlds of human and nonhuman animals. Moreover, the project of the emancipation of the human-being, advanced by the philosophers of the modern era, is accompanied by the aggravation of the fate of nonhuman animals, degraded to the status of a products, objects of consumption, and, as a result of intensive breeding, subjected to suffering unknown in wildlife.

Intuitive sensibility to the question of the welfare of nonhuman animals meets a theoretical ally in the rapidly growing knowledge on their subjectivity and makes us pose a questions about their ontological status: Are they persons? Does any instance of subjectivity mean that we are dealing with a person? Another question which thus emerges is whether the necessary response to the threat of speciesism is to consider all living beings as belonging to one species? Is animal ethics conceivable on the grounds of specific and ontological pluralism?

In this context, it might be worthwhile to turn to personalist ethics, yet not to its anthropocentric version implied by Kant’s ethical autonomism, but to personalism conceived of as an instance of value ethics, as exemplified by Antonio Rosmini’s supreme ethical formula of the practical recognition of being in its order or by Karol Wojtyła’s concept of the normative power of truth. The latter model of ethical personalism distinguishes between the subject of morality, or the agent (a person), and the object of moral duty (which can be personal as well as nonpersonal beings on the grounds of the value inherent in their being as such). Such a conception of personalist ethics turns out capable of adopting the knowledge of the value of the lives of nonhuman animals and of their subjectivity without diminishing the status of human animals as the only agents in the realm of being and thus the exclusive subjects of morality. This, however, does not mean that nonhuman animals are superior to human animals in the sense of the value of their lives; rather, it implies that they should embrace nonhuman animals with even deeper care and take responsibility for their “lesser brothers,” as Saint Francis of Assisi used to called them.


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