International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

When Species Meet

by Donna J. Haraway

Introductory Essay by William Grassie

When Species Meet is the latest in a series of important books by biologist and philosopher Donna Haraway. In this book, the UC Santa Cruz professor explores what it means to do philosophy at the boundaries of the many complex relationships between humans and animals in our technoscientific, global civilization. Haraway is conversant in multiple disciplines, including microbiology, primatology, history of science, feminist theory, socialism, Continental philosophy, Thomist theology, process metaphysics, standpoint epistemology, and science fiction. In this book, Haraway criticizes the doctrine of human exceptionalism in both its religious and secular forms and instead looks to ways in which humans and animals co-evolve and can better co-inhabit the planet.

Animals have differing levels of subjectivity, cognition, and agency. They also suffer and have pleasures. What do these pleasures, pains, cognitions, and agencies mean for our human relationship with animal in our homes, on the streets, on the farm, and in our laboratories? Haraway proposes, for starters, that we minimize the unnecessary suffering of domesticated animals but rejects a simplistic animal rights discourse “in which animals end up permanent dependents (”lesser humans”), utterly natural (”nonhuman”), or exactly the same (”humans in fur suits”)” [66-67]. Of more philosophical and practical import to Haraway is the fact that animals can also play with, work with, enjoy with, and relate with humans. They are not other kinds; they are intimate relations, what she calls “companion species.”

Much of the book is focused on our relationship with dogs, the first domesticated animal, and their transformation into pets. There are 400 million dogs in the world today. In particular, she discusses her own Australian Sheep dogs, Cayenne and Roland, with whom she trains for agility competitions. Other domesticated species are also considered, including an entire chapter on the factory farming and genetic engineering of chickens.

To capture the complexity of our interspecies relationships in the twenty-first century, Haraway often uses terms like “naturehuman,” “naturalcultural,” “cyborg,” and “technoscience.” Drawing in part on Whiteheadean process philosophy, Haraway notes that our companion species relationships are asymmetrical and multivalent. They include complex economic interests and power disparities. She offers no easy answers to the ethical dilemmas in the barnyard or at the dinner table. To the vegan PETA activist and the corporate executive at Purdue Chicken, she offers the same counsel:

"… one must actively cast oneself with some ways of life and not others without making any of three tempting moves: (1) being self-certain; (2) relegating those who eat differently to a subclass of vermin, the underprivileged, or the unenlightened; and (3) giving up on knowing more, including scientifically, and feeling more, including scientifically, about how to eat well – together" [295].

Haraway identifies herself as a recovering Roman Catholic and now eschews God-talk. But theologians, philosophers of religion, and ethicists will find in her writings the necessary questions and foundations for any serious twenty-first century natural theology, theology of nature, or natural law philosophy.