Denying the obvious is a bad way to go about promoting causes, even (or especially) very good ones. And the emphasis on human exceptionalism — as Smith asks, “What other species builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, communicates in language, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion?” — in a vein that “a misconceived, panic-stricken desire to preserve human dignity by distancing man from the animals,” somewhat misses the point.
But when you ask what these things mean , as translated into capabilities and actions, you find yourself back in the mushy territory of observing quasi-mythical or very-human-seeming behavior and trying to analyze its significance from the outside. And in the category of things you might be prone to romanticize, at the very top there is a faculty that also tops the list of features supposed to distinguish man from animal — and that could, if properly deciphered, unlock the rest of elephant experience for us in a way nothing else will. “The Romans fancied that the elephants had reason, and understood the language of men, though they could not answer them,” the nineteenth-century historian John Ranking . The Romans were not alone. What elephants may be lacking most of all is not language but the Rosetta Stone to prove they have it and clue us in to what on God’s green earth they’re talking about all the time.
he second reason for the taboo is that in modern Western science, the whole concept of life is so mechanical that, if you look closely, not even people are supposed to be anthropomorphized. Emotional, holistic terms such as , , and have no place in an impoverished language of chemical transactions at the micro level and selection pressures at the macro. Not that chemical transactions and selection pressures are not essential influences, because of course they are — but from our current knowledge of them, they are acutely inadequate to describing the subtleties of lived experience.
However, this sort of thing does not necessarily rise to the level considered worthy of the label “language” — though determining where that level should be is hard to say. Even taking into account the impressiveness of all these forms of interchange, and the fact that there is much about them yet to be discovered and explained, we risk defining the term out of its useful meaning if we stretch it to encompass so much that human (or humanlike) powers of complex abstract discourse cease to be recognizably extraordinary.
For a careful analysis of the language question from the Western philosophical perspective, the interested reader may turn to virtue ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre’s (1999), which walks through the discussion on this point while focusing especially on the example of dolphins. Reminding us that “much that is intelligent animal in us is not specifically human,” MacIntyre goes to battle with some residual Cartesian silliness, and takes care (as many philosophers have not) to locate animals on a spectrum of higher and lesser intelligence — a dog, for instance, may have more in common with a person than with a crab in most significant respects — drawing out the implications at each stage till he arrives at conscious action.
Unpacking this remarkable exchange yields several items of note. First, there is the dynamic presence of the unknown in daily life. Second, there is the question of what to do about it. Because it is unknown does not mean that it is necessarily unknowable — nor that it isn’t. The choice to tell about it represents a hopeful effort that it might be understood, though not a presumptive one: there is no undue effort to explain, to impose some kind of theory on it, but an openness to whatever it might reveal. But finally, on the optimistic side of understanding, there is a reminder of the awesome significance of language in the urging to . What could be more crucial in the search for truth than this ability to translate individual experience into common comprehensibility? You just tell what happened, and someone else will hear it.
While both descriptive and narrative essays are similar in many ways, the descriptive essays use of language fully immerses the reader into the story and allows the reader to feel the intended emotion....
It must be emphasized that the direct comparison here is from the harm and injustice of animal captivity to those of human slavery, but in the ability to command the attention of someone in power who does not want to acknowledge them at all. To the extent that elephants and other animals have thoughts and memories and feelings and experiences that they are capable of expressing in their own tongue, what a disadvantage it is to them that we have not cracked that code. Our failure to understand them means that there is no way we can truly assess the limits of their abilities or say for sure what they are saying, and makes it easy to ignore their validity for anyone with reason to. No animal is going to come forward with a written missive in a humanly comprehensible language detailing wrongs or simply proving in our own terms the scope of its existence — that, at least, is an ability that is distinctly ours. But if they could, they would have a lot to tell.
How did Beethoven play his own ? There seems to be no direct evidence, and, indeed, the work was never performed in public during Beethoven's lifetime - hardly surprising, as an early critic had found it "incomprehensibly abrupt and dark - much of it is enormously difficult without there being some exceptional beauty to compensate for it." What little we can glean from contemporaneous written descriptions is confusingly abstract and often contradictory. Thus, Beethoven's pupil Carl Czerny stated: "His bearing while performing was ideally restful, noble and beautiful, without the slightest grimace." Others tended to admire his legato effects and exquisitely even scalar runs. Yet, Czerny also stated: "His playing, like his compositions, was far ahead of his time - The pianofortes of the period could not endure his gigantic style of performance." Beethoven's first biographer, Anton Schindler, said: "His playing was free of all constraint with respect to the beat, for the spirit of his music required freedom." Ernst Pauer, editor of an early edition of Beethoven's piano works, added: "He was not particular in polishing and refining his performances." Ferdinand Ries, who was a piano student of Beethoven from 1801-4, seems to take a middle course, recalling that during this phase of Beethoven's career: "Generally he played his compositions very impetuously but for the most part stayed strictly in time, only infrequently pushing the tempo a little. Occasionally he would retard during a crescendo which created a very beautiful and most remarkable effect." Schindler clarifies that this seeming anomaly arose from stressing the rhythm strictly while treating the melody more expressively (a foretaste of the style later to be perfected by Chopin). The result: "His playing thus acquired a highly personal character, very different from the even, flat performances that never rise to tonal eloquence." Harold Schonberg suggests that as a composer Beethoven had little concern for keyboard mechanics; rather, he replaced taste with expression by playing with unprecedented power, personality and emotional appeal. Schonberg further notes that Beethoven's teachers were not professional pianists and so he was largely self-taught; as a result his piano works were not pianistic in the sense of fitting well on the keyboard, and to Beethoven the idea was always far more important than the practical consideration of its execution.
ronically, it has been the elephant’s misfortune that people find it wonderful. An uglier, more boring, or less gracious animal might have been left more alone to live out its life in peace and freedom, although competition for habitat would have eventually become a problem anyway. But because the elephant is so intriguing, it has been dragooned into any number of unhappy circumstances, out of a sometimes innocent, sometimes less so human wish to penetrate or possess its mystery.
Also a matter of conventional wisdom is the idea that human beings are on one side of a great divide while all animals are on the other, subjects of their instincts and our necessities and pleasures. What exactly the divide is, though, is difficult to define. Various contestants have included reason, language, art, technology, religion, walking upright and the use of hands, knowledge of mortality, sin, suicide, and more. In (1991), Raymond Tallis rounds up a master list of them: