Governing Animals: Animal Welfare and the Liberal State

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Why not share! Embed Size px. Start on. Show related SlideShares at end. WordPress Shortcode. Published in: Education. Full Name Comment goes here. Putting cruelty first requires both legal protections against cruelty as well as a change of ethical character to reduce the presence and power of this vice. As Gary Wihl writing without animals in mind observes, while her liberalism belongs squarely within the tradition of rights protection, Shklar's "emphasis on fear, cruelty, and the ambiguous mixture of injustice and misfortune in ordinary life … seeks a rather more nuanced and subtle framework of liberalism, one that is not reducible to strictly legal or constitutional definitions" Wihl, , p.


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The benefits of Shklar's approach to liberalism for theories of animal ethics are several. Whatever its shortcomings, one benefit of her definition of cruelty is that it allows us to consider that cruelty can sometimes be motivated by a desire to see an animal suffer anguish and fear. Although a liberal, she insists that cruelty is a character flaw that requires change at the individual level as well as action at the public and political level. She encourages us to consider cruelty from its victims' standpoints.

Her negative morality and negative egalitarianism train our gaze on avoiding harm and suffering, and staunching the consequences of asymmetries of power that could otherwise free the more powerful to treat the less powerful as they choose. Two other, related features of Shklar's account can be added to this list of the ways in which her liberalism of fear might profitably be applied to thinking about humans' relationships with animals.

The first is that the cruelty is undeserved Shklar, , p. Taking this latter approach would allow animal ethics to sidestep the question of whether animals are moral beings. Although I have focused on the benefits that Shklar's Montaigne-inspired liberalism of fear brings to the theoretical debates about animal ethics, there are dimensions of her approach that do not translate so well into the arena of animal ethics.

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She declares, for example, that "fear destroys freedom" Shklar, , p. This is especially the case with domesticated animals who are bound to be unfree.

If one wanted to espouse a positive morality for animals and enumerate the good things that cruelty corrodes, other goods seem to be just as, if not more, threatened by human cruelty, such as confidence, happiness, security, well-being, comfort, and flourishing. How a human cultivating the habit of freedom is beneficial for an animal is unclear, in stark contrast to the suggestion above about the positive impact that humans curbing cruelty could have on animals' lives and deaths.

Shklar also connects cruelty with cowardice and advances courage or valor as the virtuous alternative to both vices , pp. Again, it is not clear that cowardice as such informs cruelty to animals. Such cruelty might, as suggested above, be motivated by different things but the idea that someone who hurts an animal is a coward seems strange.

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Is the implication that if dog fighters had more courage they would fight one another to the death instead of having their dogs fight? This might be a form of rough justice but it's hard to see it as an act of courage, and certainly not a virtuous one. It is also hard to square the connection between cowardice and cruelty with Shklar's aforementioned claim that cruelty is a luxury of the powerful who believe in their superiority over others and their right to use them in unrestrained ways.

That outlook might be a failure of many things but it is not obviously a failure of courage. If the claim above is correct that industrialized food production is a form of systematic cruelty, it is hard to see how cowardice plays a role in that. But even in enumerating its many promising contributions to animal ethics, my aim here is not to suggest that Shklar's liberalism of fear should displace or supersede other forms of liberalism when thinking about animal ethics.

Any such ambition would be discordant with her own recognition, mentioned above, of liberalism's inner variety see Wihl, , p. The aim, instead, is the more modest one of advancing consideration of how Shklar's liberalism of fear, heretofore neglected in the animal ethics debate, can complement and enrich this exchange. Moreover, as noted in several places above, Shklar's work can serve as a crossroads where some of the contending approaches, such as rights advocacy on the one hand and an ethic of care on the other, can meet.

She acknowledges the ethical and political complexities and uncertainties that her approach creates. She is insistently aware of power imbalances between the cruel and their victims, and so shares the ethic of care's attention to dependency relations. As Yack observes, Shklar also advances a form of liberalism that emphasizes attention to concrete particulars rather than abstract generalizations only, which should make her approach even more congenial to ethics of care theorists.

The importance with which she invests particulars and sentiments perhaps explains the significance she attributes to literature as a medium for exploring cruelty.

Shklar muses that the vices, and especially cruelty, may escape full rationalization and so require stories to catch its meaning p. The return to Montaigne as a source for Shklar's brand of liberalism can, moreover, create a crossroads between Anglo-American scholarship on animal ethics and that which is more influenced by continental philosophy. All in all, Shklar's liberalism of fear offers some rich resources for the current debate among political philosophers about animal ethics. For a reading of Shklar's contribution that decenters the liberalism of fear, see Forrester Nor do I claim to do full justice to the subtlety and richness of this essay.

For a fuller discussion of Montaigne and animals, see Melehy Smith , pp.

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It introduces the idea of inflicting emotional pain as a secondary goal of cruelty and becomes more open about the perpetrator's aims. But this somewhat wider definition remains intentional and instrumental-cruelty is still "the deliberate infliction of … pain" and is done in order to achieve "some end, tangible or intangible of [sic]" its victim Shklar, , p. So none of what follows is affected by this slight change in definition.

A number of Ordinary Vice 's first responders picked up on Shklar's less-than-analytical style of philosophy. See Baier , pp. Some of the things added by Kekes are, however, considered by Shklar, even without forming part of her definition. These include a focus on the cruel person's disposition Kekes, , p. Think, for example, of Mary Wollstonecraft's suggestion that women can be subjects of tyranny in both senses: they are on the receiving end of masculine tyranny and they often treat those below them-children and servants-tyrannically.

Jean Hampton's analysis of men from socially disadvantaged groups who are both victims of oppressive social structures and who engage in domestic abuse also illustrates this dynamic. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see Suen Cornell His interpretation seems broadly compatible with my remarks about noblesse or pouvoir oblige.

Forrester , pp. This is explored in detail in Stullerova This should appeal to scholars in the broader field of animal studies which evinces a powerful interest in the representation of animals in a wide swathe of aesthetic media. Aaltola, E. Animal suffering: Philosophy and culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Abbey, R. Closer kinships? Rortyan resources for animal rights. Contemporary Political Theory. Adams, C. Women-battering and harm to animals. Donovan Eds. Durham: Duke University Press, Durham. Agamben, G. The open: Man and animal.

California: Stanford University Press. Akhtar, A. Animals and public health: Why treating animals better is critical to human welfare. Allen, J. The place of negative morality in political theory.

Governing Animals Animal Welfare And The Liberal State

Political Theory, 29 23 , Atterton, P. Animal philosophy: Ethics and identity. New York: Continuum International.


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  • Baier, A. Review of Ordinary Vices by Judith Shklar. Political Theory, 14 1 , Baruchello, G. Cesare Beccaria and the cruelty of liberalism: An essay on liberalism of fear and its limits.

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