The Face of God in the Cat of Derrida and the Bodhi tree of Buddha

Continental Philosophy has taken our thinking to the horizon of the other. It has opened our eyes and mind to alterity. But there is some sameness in this alterity. It only limits itself to our human other. It has not fully embraced our non-human other. The only non-human others that it exhibits concern are the cosmos and the theos ( sacred). It has not sufficiently considered what has been called the animal question. The otherisms that are thought by continental philosophy have kept the animal question unthought. The reigning Otherisms in continental thinking, as they were, ultimately serve to reinforce a potentially problematic humanocentric thinking that we call anthropocentrism. This is why I dare to say that what we pride in the treatment of as a question of others in our continental thought has traces of sameness. It may be simply a modification of sameness. But to be fair to it, we have to admit that it is almost impossible to get out of the trap of anthropocentric thinking.

Hence, without making tall claims, we have the challenge to embrace the non-human other in the otherisms that we discuss in our philosophy and theology. We have to stretch our potential humanist orbit of thinking to embrace our non-human others. This does not mean that we can stay away from the critique that might say that the non-human other is also a modification of some sameness we share with it. Hence, stretching the thought of Levinas and taking the gaze of a cat in Derrida seriously, we may have to grant that there are several faces of the non-human others. These other faces are interrupting our tendency of giving primacy to the human face as the locus of ethical and moral relations. Hence, we do have to contest the humanocentric thinking of the other in continental philosophy and also discern its potential to embrace the non-human other.

We are making continental philosophy our locus of humanocentric thinking everywhere because it has the potential archive to adequately deal with the question of the non-human other. It is a fecund resource to develop a philosophy as well as the theology of the non-human other. To do this, we will have to address the issue of the subjecthood of the non-human other. We may have no difficulty with the subjecthood of God, Angels, Demons and even our mother Earth/ Universe/ Multiverse. The real challenge is in the question of the subjecthood of animals and trees.

Process philosophy may assist us to arrive at a profound understanding of the subjecthood of animals and trees. Animals and trees are concrescenscing subjects. This is so because they are sensing moment by moment. This sensing belongs to them and not to anyone other than them. They make decisions (we have thought of them as instinct-driven in the case of animals ) to survive and grow. This is why we can think that they enjoy, suffer and live. We may even say that moment by moment they are influenced by past experiences, the chemistry within their bodies, and by other actualities in the world. This means they constitute themselves from moment to moment. If we seek the mirror of human subjecthood in them, we will never find it. This is why the face of the Animals as well as the Trees and the rest of our non-human others cannot simply mirror the human face. God can certainly mirror us. The same may be true of Angels and Demons.

We will have to agree that every individual animal and individual tree have his or her own way of being-in-the-world. Every other individual animal or individual tree is an absolute other. We may say the same about Angels and Demons. The fact that the non-human others like the animals and trees sense the world, they are indeed subject. To arrive at this understanding of sensibility, we have to give up the Kantian opposition of sense and reason. Sensibility is not mindless. Sensing has a mind of its own. Whitehead’s idea of concrescence, which teaches that at every moment of our lives we are experiencing the world through various kinds of prehensions: intellectual, emotional, recollective, anticipatory, and sensory can assist us to illumine the concrescenscing of animals and trees and thus assist us to understand their subjectivity. Animals and trees do exhibit what process thought calls prehensions of the sensory that consider the best survival and growth possibilities for themselves in a given condition. Hence, they are subjects in their own right.

Now we can think a bit further in the light of process philosophy. The Whiteheadian perspective suggests that we can feel the feelings of the divine reality. This does not mean that we can read the mind of God. It only means that we can enter into what might be called the divine sensibility, sharing in love in heaven that floods into love on earth. As entered into by human beings, this divine sensibility will enable us to imagine the world from the point of view of other animals and remain trustful that those points of view are known to our God. This is why we may say following Levinas and Derrida that we have the challenge to face the infinity shining in each unique and individual ‘face’ of an animal and tree. Therefore in the face of an animal (the cat of Derrida) or the tree (the Bodhi tree of Buddha), we can see the face of God.


There is an infinite excess in the concrescenscing of animals and trees. This infinity is addressing us and calling us to responsibility. Thus, the ethical archive of Levinas and Derrida does enable us to draw an ethical response to the call of the non-human other. We become truly human by responding responsibly to the address of our non-human other (animals, trees etc.) as well as our human other. We can find the divine echo in the address of our non-human other. This divine echo is missing in the address or call of the Demon and hence we have the imperative to reject the call/ address of demons. Except for the address of the demons, we have the challenge to respond to every other non-human other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao