Philosophy in the City event talks language in animals, environment

Abby Aldinger 

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     On the first Friday of every month, UCCS Downtown hosts a “Philosophy in the City” event where students are invited to share their thoughts on various philosophical topics and ideas in a small group setting. 

      On Oct. 1, Jen Kling, an assistant professor of philosophy at UCCS, led a “lightning philosophy” session with philosophy instructor Colin Lewis in which they each had five minutes to share their thoughts on the topics of pet ownership and wilderness preservation. 

     After the five minutes, students had the chance to counter and respond to the professors’ thoughts, allowing for some deep and insightful conversation to take place. 

     Kling started off the lightning philosophy session with her take on pet ownership, arguing that pet ownership implies a separation between humans and animals where “humans have a higher level of intelligence and animals do not.” 

     The issue with this implication, she argued, is that it suggests humans are of greater importance than animals when in reality, the factors that give humans greater value are present in other animals as well. For instance, several species of animals use language in unexpected ways, including hand gestures, noises and other bodily movements. 

     In response to the argument that animals should be owned as pets because they do not contribute to human society, Kling pointed out that not all humans contribute to society either, and that society itself is a human-made concept that actually harms animals more than it helps them.      

     Differences in agency between humans and other animals also factored into the discussion. Kling acknowledged that agency is multifaceted, and that the human definition of agency cannot be applied to other animals due to key differences in language, intelligence and other internal and external processes. 

     Lewis, following Kling in the lightning philosophy session, spent his five minutes advocating for the positive effects of wilderness preservation. 

     “Cities have a responsibility to maintain and establish city parks,” he said, noting how Colorado’s own Garden of the Gods benefits and gives back to the community in a variety of ways, particularly through economic growth and development. 

     Others topics that came up in the discussion were about what the country chooses to preserve, including how grasslands and forests are regularly destroyed due to human residence and pollution while less scenic areas purposefully preserved and protected despite their appearances. 

     Lewis acknowledged the irony in this but explained that wilderness preservation is often implemented for environmental reasons in addition to economic and aesthetic ones. 

     Swamps and marshes, for instance, are largely inaccessible to humans, but are maintained due to the important role they play in species protection and conservation. 

     Kling added that certain areas are considered sacred land and should not be meddled with or destroyed due to their relevance among indigenous populations. 

     The lightning philosophy session ended with an invite to the next Philosophy in the City event, which will take place on Friday, Nov. 5 from 5:30-7 p.m. Students can RSVP ahead of time on the UCCS Downtown Instagram page. 

     “Attending a [Philosophy in the City] event is a great way for students to see the practical import of philosophy, and to see what it is that academic philosophers actually do, and why,” Kling wrote via email.