Letter: Save the whale from myths

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The Independent Online
Sir: Much of what Roger Scruton (report, 3 July) has to say about animal rights is worthy of consideration. To enlist Moby Dick, though, as a vindication of whaling does lead one to wonder whether Professor Scruton has undertaken a serious study of what may well be, as he puts it, the "greatest American novel".

First, Melville "account[s] the whale immortal in his species" - that is, that his "Leviathans", are immune to extinction.

Secondly, to argue along these lines seems to suggest that Melville's priority in Moby Dick was to provide an account of the whale fishery of the 19th century, or a natural history of the great "fish" (yes: Melville defends the view that whales are fish). So far as Ahab was "monomaniacal" about the great white whale, and so far as this monomania corrupted his humanity, it might better be stated that Moby Dick is a cautionary tale to all persons who objectify things (one great white whale; other animals) and pursue them indifferent to how the pursuit impacts upon both his moral nature and the community of which he is a part.

J ELLIS PERRY IV

Department of Philosophy

University of Aberdeen

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