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Matthew Calarco and his award-winning book, “Zoographies.” Photo by Karen Tapia

Animal Awareness

Philosopher Studies Ethical Questions Concerning Human Interaction with Nonhuman Creatures

May 4, 2010

By Mimi Ko Cruz

In his book, “Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida” (Columbia University Press), philosopher Matthew Calarco calls for seeking new ways of thinking about and living with animals.

The book has been selected as one of Choice Magazine’s Outstanding Academic Titles. Of the more than 25,000 books that were submitted to the magazine for consideration as an Outstanding Title, only 652 were selected in 2009.

Choice, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, publishes about 7,000 reviews each year. More than 35,000 librarians, faculty members, and decision makers rely on Choice reviews for collection development and scholarly research.

“It’s quite an honor to get the Choice distinction,” said Calarco, assistant professor of philosophy. “It means my book will be read by more people.”

“Zoographies” is Calarco’s 7th book. In it, he examines ethical dogmas regarding animals.

“My aim is to contest the standard ways in which we try to distinguish human beings from animals,” Calarco said. “The goal is to challenge such simple separations and distinctions because I don’t think they exist….When we start thinking about ethics, it's important to learn to see humans and animals as all belonging on the same level of ethical and political concern.”

Choice Magazine calls “Zoographies” a “long overdue important analysis.”

He posts responses to reader comments about his book on The Inhumanities online blog.

About Calarco

Calarco joined Cal State Fullerton’s faculty in 2007, after a four-year stint as chair and assistant professor of philosophy at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, where he was named Teacher of the Year in 2004. 

An expert in 20th century continental philosophy and animal and environmental ethics, Calarco frequently is invited to speak at conferences and universities nationwide. He recently delivered lectures at Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin and Penn State University.

“Matt Calarco is a rising star among philosophers,” said Mitch Avila, chair and associate professor of philosophy. “His research is cutting-edge and he is in high demand as a lecturer at many of the country’s leading universities. While his work on animal philosophy is controversial for many, Matt is a model philosopher by his unflinching examination of unstated premises, unwarranted assumptions and his commitment to carefully-developed philosophical theory.

"Every time I turn around, Matt has given another lecture somewhere or won an award or been interviewed by the media or filmed for a documentary project," Avila added. "He is amazing. He also is one of the most popular professors in our program. Cal State Fullerton and the Department of Philosophy are truly fortunate to have such an exciting young professor among its faculty.”

Calarco, who lives in Irvine with his dog Nietzsche, became a vegetarian when he was 15 and a vegan at 18. He's been concerned about the environment and inhumane treatment of animals since he read books on the topics when was a high school student.

"To me, philosophy is about addressing various kinds of social injustice," Calarco said. "All social justice issues are important to me, but I'm focused on animal studies right now because there is so little research done on the topic. It's not getting enough attention."

In "Zoographies," he writes: "While there is no widely agreed upon definition of what precisely constitutes animal studies, it is clear that most authors and activists working in the field share the conviction that the 'question of the animal' should be seen as one of the central issues in contemporary critical discourse."

Calarco's other books are: "The Death of the Animal" (Columbia University Press, 2009), "Sovereignty and Life" (Stanford University Press, 2007), "Animal Philosophy: Essential Readings in Continental Thought" (Continuum, 2004), "Levinas and Buber: Dialogue and Difference" (Duquesne University Press, 2004) and "The Continental Ethics Reader" (Routledge, 2003).

Besides writing books and teaching philosophy, Calarco also is a competitive athlete. He won the Brea Criterium bicycle race in 2009 and will compete in the upcoming 29th Annual Carlsbad Triathlon, where he will bike, swim and run.

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