This paper argues against empathy, and in favour of alterity as a basis for an animal-inclusive ethics. Taking up the conception of empathy posited by Elisa Aaltola’s Varieties of Empathy, I put it to the test with the ultimate limit case: the octopus. If, as Aaltola contends, we can feel-with a nonhuman animal through our shared embodiedness, what of our ability to empathise with a being whose morphology is so different from that of the normative human? Empathy runs aground in the face of such radical otherness. Turning to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds, I suggest that alterity can offer an alternative to this misdirected empathy. Drawing also on Yuriko Saito’s argument in Everyday Aesthetics that aesthetic appreciations of biodiversity can foster concern for the environment, I argue that alterity might leverage concern for nonhumans, based not on their perceived similarity to the human, but on a celebration of their difference.
Christie is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Sheffield. He researches contemporary artists and writers who imagine what it might be like to be other animals. His work encompasses a broad range of genres and cultural modes, including literature, nonfiction, film and performance art. His analyses of these diverse texts draw on scientific insights into animal consciousness, and upon philosophical thinking on animals, over the past century or so. Christie completed his BA in English at the University of Leeds (2011-14) and his MPhil in English Studies at the University of Cambridge (2015-16).