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« Reply to Waters: On Social Bonds | Main | Reply to Bousquet: Humanity and Anthropocentrism »

Of Heterogeneity, Species-Being and Ontological Foundations

Thanks for your responses, Martin, but allow me to push you a bit further on this legal aspect. I hasten to add I am doing so from a purely theoretical and political perspective since I have no juridical expertise (hopefully we may get such insights from other participants before the end of the symposium). I have decided to make a new post rather than add a comment to the original post to keep the discussion open and visible to all participants. Parts of this post were originally in a follow-up to Nate but that has seemingly disappeared down a cyber black hole and I have reworked it quite a bit here.

You are absolutely right that the crux of the debate rests on how one defines ‘humanity’ and if you broaden or modify it sufficiently it can continue being used without conflicting with a re-evaluation of the constitutive role of objects (I think you are being a bit unfair on Latour however since his Parliament of Things is not a call for a separate politics of objects but a re-imagination of politics as a whole in which all actants are included). Your claim to be engaged in “a battle for the definition of what species-being actually is” certainly suggests that you see your work as putting forward a specific understanding of humanity with the aspiration of seeing it carry through its political and legal implications. What troubles me is not so much that you should do so (it is a perfectly acceptable ontological position in itself) but that it seemingly jars with your prior commitment to heterogeneity.

Indeed, to my mind, the heterogeneity you are putting forward in the context of your proposed departure from anthropocentrism necessarily problematises not only the notion of political community (whose membership and boundaries cannot be seen as closed or uncontested without constraining heterogeneity within a broader homogeneity) but also that of humanity itself. The intense debate and controversy surrounding abortion and euthanasia are evidence that the inside/outside delineation of humanity and the entitlements (legal or otherwise) that go with it are never settled and always subject to political contestation (one might also think how in other times certain ethnic groups were excluded from membership of humanity). The present discussion about the role of objects is, as you point out, another manifestation of this contest.

Yet law inescapably rests upon an established and settled understanding of rights-holders that entails a curtailment of heterogeneity in order for it to be applicable within a defined community (humanity in this case). Should your wish to see urbicide enter into international law be thus understood as a desire for a specific fixed species-being to be legally enshrined? And does this not undermine the original impulse towards the recognition of heterogeneity that grounds your project by foreclosing the inclusion of other forms of being? Does this not imply that the heterogeneity you defend is one that is constrained within the boundaries of a common homogeneous species-being? In other words and at the most basic philosophical level, I don’t think you can simultaneously adopt both heterogeneity (or difference-in-itself as with Deleuze) and a specific fixed understanding of species-being as your foundational ontological assumptions.

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