Today I have composed and submitted the abstract below for the International Human Sciences Research Conference 2019, to be held in Molde, Norway, in June, and which has the theme "Joy, suffering and death - understanding contrasting existential phenomena in the lifespan".
Title: Uexküllian phenomenology and existential phenomena
· Individual presentation
· Author/presenter: Morten Tønnessen (Professor of philosophy)
· Affiliation: Department of social studies, University of Stavanger
“Uexküllian phenomenology” is the phenomenology that is implicit in the Umwelt theory of theoretical biologist Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944). This is a theory that posits that all living beings relate to meaning by using and relating to signs in their environment, and that all humans and animals are endowed with an Umwelt, i.e. a subjective, experiential lifeworld. A key advantage with making use of an Uexküllian perspective is that Umwelt theory, and the Uexküllian phenomenology derived from it, is applicable in the study of humans as well as animals.
Existential phenomena are usually regarded exclusively human phenomena, and yet few would doubt that many animals too experience e.g. joy and suffering. In normative ethics, joy and suffering are typically presented as central experiential features of sentience. While both humans and individuals of many animal species experience some of “the same” existential phenomena, it is clear that there are at times significant differences with regard to how these phenomena appear to different species and also to different individuals within the same species.
One reason why it is important to understand how existential phenomena are perceived, felt and lived through, is that such phenomena evidently affect human and animal welfare. The contributions Uexküllian phenomenology can make in this context is first, that it makes it possible to study human and animal experiences in all its diversity and complexity within one and the same framework, and second – in extension of this – that it is suitable for studying human–animal interaction and relations.