Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Lexington Books


The relationship of philosophy and the human-animal divide is a long one. One could begin with the anthropocentric assumptions of liberal humanism that go back to the Great Chain of Being, a concept of the nature of the universe that traces its lineage to antiquity. The term designates three defining features of the universe: maximal diversity of life, a serial communication within each group, and a hierarchical division of all living beings from God to the simplest forms of existence (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). This essay challenges the liberal humanist emphasis on humans as being the central focus of the universe and, more importantly, the insistence on creating and maintaining exclusive boundaries segregating humans from animals and all other living beings. My critique of humanist thought will be limited to particular traits like rationality, creativity, sense of order, interdependence, and linguistic skills attributed to the humanist subject that distinguishes them from animals, who by extension are aggressive, violent, territorial, illogical, and ignorant. The well-known African American science fiction writer Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood is a narrative where humans, as a result of their violent, hierarchical traits, become victims of a self-inflicted nuclear war till aliens (read animals for they look like worms) travelling through outer space step in and save the handful of surviving humans. The issues at play in her narrative clearly are a critique of a humanist subject: humans are presented as irrational, violent, headstrong, and ignorant while aliens seem to be patient and interested in promoting interrelationality between species. On deeper thought, however, this remains a simplistic reading of Butler' s narrative as it categorically denies and defies easy labelling of the two species. The text begs us to evaluate the two species in all their complexity as the author demolishes the inviolate boundaries of the human-animal divide to create a third identity, what Joan Gordon (2010) calls an "amborg " a product of the human/animal interface, a close relative of Donna Haraway' s human/machine combination, the cyborg. The amborg, birthed of human intelligence and alien connectivity to all other species, dismantles the established hierarchies of power-fraught anthropocentrism by recognizing its unique subject position that draws on the human-animal hiatus only to blur the boundaries. Taking its cue from Western philosophical thought, this essay proposes a reading of Butler's third identity as it rewrites and yet mystifies humanist concepts of humans and animals.

Chapter of

The Human–Animal Boundary: Exploring the Line in Philosophy and Fiction


Nandita Batra
Mario Wenning


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