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Irreplaceability of nonhuman animals is a fundamental concern in the field of Animal Studies: The
acknowledgement of the “unquantifiable importance of one” (Pachirat 2018: 349). In this view, nonhuman animals are not considered as collectives, but as irreplaceable singularities. Emphasis is put on the attention towards heterogenic others, particular contexts and multispecies relationships. (e. g., Gruen 2018, King 2017, Safina 2015).
The irreplaceability view, however, is easily confused with other concepts of individuality. In academic and public discourse, concepts of animal individuality are often only circumscribing and thus open for various interpretations. So called moral individualism, e. g., has been a battlefield in Animal Ethics for many years. Reasons for this are, among other, controversial terms like «subject-of-a-life» (Regan 1983) or the narrow focus on animals as bearers of biological features and generalized capacities.
I will argue that the field of Animal Studies calls for a more elaborate term of irreplaceability. My
suggestion is to strengthen the term animal singularity as an important epistemological tool. Taking cue from the philosophical discussion about hermeneutic injustice – a form of epistemic injustice – (Fricker 2007), I will argue that the term of animal individuality often disguises the inherent value and relational significance of nonhuman animals. Hermeneutic injustice concerns the lack of adequate epistemological resources to describe the experiences of marginalized subjects. Without a term for sexual harassment, it went unseen for a long time. (Ibid. 147f.) I will argue that the term animal singularity can shed light on the misrepresentation of human-animal experiences and make sense of a nonhuman animal’s value as irreplaceable other.
In the second part of my paper, I will introduce four criteria for animal singularity: irreplaceability,
acknowledgement of subjectivity, situatedness and relationality. By further exemplifying singularity with reference to an actual case, I avoid a rigid definition, and suggest a contextually sensitive term instead. The rooster Victor, as known from the founding narrative of VINE sanctuary, will stand as exemplar for a singular animal that is recognized in relationship with human others. (jones 2020)
(Center for the Theory and History of Images, University of Basel)