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By Thomas Ryan (auth.)

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177). 2 Social Work, Subjectivity and the Moral World Our whole life is startlingly moral. Henry David Thoreau (1968, p. 192) Social work is a moral discipline, and the very existence of social work values presupposes a moral framework and a vision of a moral community. This chapter is foundational, for we need to understand why social work conceptualises morality and moral considerability in the way it does, and how this impacts upon our understanding of both humans and animals. The chapter will argue that the subjectivity of our fellow animals makes the widening of the moral circle, and thus the scope of a code of ethics, morally obligatory.

Philosophy commenced as the quest for, and love of, wisdom, and care of the soul (Clark, 1984), entailing a search for ‘self-knowledge as an aspect of understanding the world’ (Midgley, 1996c, p. 53). For Aristotle, Plato and Spinoza the aim of knowledge is contemplation, ‘part of an understanding of life as a whole, out of which a sense of what really mattered in it would become possible. Knowledge indeed had the same goal as love; contemplation was the highest human happiness’ (Midgley, 1995b, p.

Postmodernism rejects the moral primacy of consciousness in favour of language (Barthes, 1986; Benhabib, 1992), what Murdoch (1993, p. ’ Individuals do not possess an essential identity, personality, subjectivity or a capacity for 38 Animals and Social Work: A Moral Introduction integration (Parton and Marshall, 1998), subjectivity being characterised by contradiction, precariousness, process and subject to perpetual reconstruction (Weedon, 1987). In its rejection of morality, reality, reason, society and truth (Himmelfarb, 1994; Wolin, 2004), postmodernism detaches us from any pre-existing frame of reference, extolling a fundamental discontinuity of meaning (Foucault, 1970).

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