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The Significant Voice

The Significant Voice

Address and the Animal Sign

(p.19) Chapter 1 The Significant Voice
The Animal Claim
Tobias Menely
University of Chicago Press

This chapter situates sensibility in relation to several canonical accounts of human obligation that contrast the imperatives given by the spoken word with those of the creaturely voice. It begins with three exemplary premodern considerations of the situation of communication, the relation between addresser and addressee: the two cosmogonies in Genesis, the political and linguistic philosophy of Aristotle, and René Descartes’s correspondence with Henry More on the animal sign. Considering the philosopher Thomas Reid, the naturalist John Ray, and the political economist Bernard Mandeville, this chapter characterizes eighteenth-century sensibility, in its attribution to the animal of a capacity for address, as an explicit alternative to the Cartesian bête machine. Finally, it locates an afterlife of sensibility in the writing of two twentieth-century philosophers, Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, for whom the addressive voice of the animal presents an unrelenting theoretical and ethical impasse.

Keywords:   Aristotle, René Descartes, Henry More, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, semiotics, voice, address, Thomas Reid

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