Prof. Gary Steiner fights for animal rights

By Mackenzie Halfhide

Contributing Writer

When thinking of Professor Gary Steiner, the term “philosopher” comes to mind. But it was not until his second year of law school that he realized his interest in philosophy, which sprung from his rejection of the assumptions of human nature he learned in law and economics.  After returning to the undergraduate level at the University of California at Berkeley to study human nature and agency, Steiner earned a doctorate in philosophy at Yale University.

It has been more than 20 years since Steiner began teaching here as a visiting professor. In 2005, Steiner was awarded the John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy, an endowed position established by the eighth president of the University for the recognition of excellence in scholarship, teaching and service to the University.  Though he teaches all course levels, Steiner specializes in Descartes, the history of modern philosophy, nineteenth and twentieth century continental philosophy, and the moral status of animals. Steiner uses the history and the changes in thought as an indirect approach for teaching people how to think.

As a philosopher, Steiner has recently addressed the flaws of advocating for animal rights using postmodern thought because postmodernism defers to “singularity.”  The concept insists that the uniqueness of individual instances and situations renders it impossible to define clear principles for conduct.  Steiner intends to demonstrate that the perspective of postmodernist thinkers is ultimately self-defeating due to conflicting arguments.  The idea of singularity prohibits the ability to proclaim any act or practice as morally wrong, so whether it is rape, murder or violence against animals, the basis of postmodernism allows any atrocity to be justified according to the circumstances. Steiner’s counterargument is that if one can agree that animals are sentient beings capable of suffering and are vulnerable to us, then how can any person justify the exploitation of animals?

Professor Steiner is currently concentrating on the subject of postmodernism and animal rights in a number of different methods, including an essay set to print early next year, and a forthcoming book by Columbia University Press titled “Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism.”  He is also scheduled to lecture at the UCLA School of Law in the spring, and he will be participating in German philosophy conferences in Bern, Switzerland and Vienna, Austria over spring break.

As a proponent of the moral status of animals, Professor Steiner cannot understand how humans can so blindly exploit, abuse and interfere with animals on a daily basis, especially considering that is so easily avoidable.  He converted to vegetarianism nearly 30 years ago, and as of 1996, he has almost no interference with animals as he abides by the vegan imperative, which advocates having as little interference with animals as possible.  Steiner must be vigilant regarding the substance of everyday items because animal by products are used in more products than one would ever believe.  He is willing to make the effort because he feels it is a moral obligation to protect animals and avoid interference.

The one animal interference Steiner does have is with the cat he rescued from a veterinarian who wanted to euthanize it because feline AIDS and leukemia made the animal undesirable. Steiner shows that it is more than possible to avoid meddling and exploiting animals for personal gain. It is a duty to represent those who cannot protect their own existence.

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