Putting Cruelty First: Exploring Judith Shklar’s Liberalism of Fear for Animal Ethics

Ruth Abbey

Abstract


This paper critically examines the extent to which the debate about animal ethics can be enriched by an exploration of Judith Shklar’s liberalism of fear. Shklar’s form of liberalism proceeds from the conviction that cruelty is the greatest vice. Even though Shklar did not write with animals in mind, her work is, prima facie, promising for theorists who are concerned with animals. A focus on cruelty provides an immediate and readily-understood avenue for liberals to recognize and criticize animal suffering. Putting cruelty first also connects with the way many animal advocates talk about human mistreatment of animals. Shklar’s thinking about cruelty was powerfully shaped by Michel de Montaigne, whose essay “On Cruelty” is explicitly attentive to human cruelty to animals. Nonetheless, we need to be suspicious about how effectively a liberal conception and critique of cruelty designed for humans can be transposed to animals.  


Keywords


cruelty, animals, liberalism of fear, Judith Shklar, Michel de Montaigne,

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References


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