Tamen's essay is one of a group of responses to Émilie Hache and Bruno Latour's article “Morality or Moralism?” which advocates our “sensitization” to nonhuman things. Tamen examines the picture of universal reciprocation that Hache and Latour propose, according to which, when I “bow at” (acknowledge) things, some things bow back at me, and I must treat whatever bows back as if it were like me. Unlike James Lovelock, a passage from whose work they discuss, Hache and Latour understand this picture in a sense that is essentially “honorary.” The picture or premise they propose sets up, they admit, “a promising misunderstanding.” Tamen offers two arguments in response: one against as-if locutions and another against the very notion of setting up a misunderstanding. But it is good news, Tamen concludes, that sensitization cannot be set up. To what extent we would want a “revival of scruple” to succeed is a serious question, the answer dependent on how much scruple about which things and for what reasons. However pleasing the Hache/Latour or Lovelock picture, it is easy to imagine an intemperate degree of scruple, requiring agonies of continual debate and calculation of the minutest consequences of our acts and the most unlivable alternatives.
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Miguel Tamen; Alice—mutton: Mutton—alice. Common Knowledge 1 April 2010; 16 (2): 346–350. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2009-112
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