CCEP colloquium: After Nagel: Science and the Phenomenology of Animal Subjects (Conference)

Monday 6 March 2023 until Tuesday 7 March 2023Add to my calendar
Radboud university, Huize Heyendael, Kamer van Agt (March 6) and Senaatszaal (March 7) Hybrid conference: please register with to receive the Zoom links.
Annabelle Dufourcq

Many animals think and feel. This idea is now widely shared but clashes with the persistent – and still legal – traditions of pure scrutiny and exploitation of animals. The challenge for contemporary societies is to develop specific and careful ways of interacting with animals as subjects. That means, by engaging their perspectives and their agency or, in other words, developing a phenomenological perspective on animal life. This challenge still remains to be met.

In 1974, Nagel famously pointed out the urgent need for a phenomenological perspective in cognitive sciences. He roughly outlined the project of an “objective phenomenology” that would describe the structural features of perception in the third-person mode. This very limited conception of phenomenology was meant to tackle the thorny issue of consciousness, yet it disregarded the school of phenomenology founded by Husserl, that had developed a rich conceptuality and complex method for studying subjectivity on its own terms. In fact, this kind of phenomenology of animals has been flourishing for years. Many phenomenologists have used the conceptual and methodical frameworks provided by Husserl to investigate animal worlds and the way non-human animals relate to meaning and possibilities.

Yet there remains a wide gap between these phenomenologies of animals and the approach to non-human animals in the empirical natural sciences.

Phenomenologists, on the one hand, have famously criticized naturalism but still have a lot to learn from scientists’ concrete interactions with non-human animals. Animal scientists, on the other hand, work with animals and are thus part of what Haraway has described as intersubjective and interspecific nodes (2008). But they are torn between acknowledging those interrelations and the methodological objectification of animals classically required by a natural-scientific approach.

This colloquium brings together experts in phenomenology, hermeneutics, animal philosophy, ecophenomenology, ethology, biosemiotics, animal welfare, comparative psychology, and animal cognition. The presentations and discussions will address the following question: to what extent and in what ways can phenomenology and empirical animal sciences cooperate to foster the recognition of animal subjects?

Program and book of abstracts (pdf, 286 kB)

Poster (pdf, 212 kB)

Annabelle Dufourcq