The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader, Josephine Donovan

I’m deeply embarrassed to say that my own work with critical animal theory has just ignored or assumed CAT’s debts to feminism. I’d be more embarrassed if I couldn’t say the same thing about a lot of the CAT: Corporeal Compassion, Zoographies, Tom Tyler, any number of the various anthologies on the subject (Killing Animals, Representing Animals), and, as Haraway points out in When Species Meet, Derrida. Only Cary Wolfe, whose first chapter in Animal Rites engages with ecofeminists like Deborah Slicer, escapes the charge.

“Care” is throughout contrasted to the “rights & reason” model of Singer and Regan, which is, justifiably, accused of uncritically perpetuating subject/object distinctions (and all this implies) and of ignoring the ugly history of the category “reason.” I’m in full sympathy with the “care” model, and am happy to add these thoughts to Levinas’s infinite demands of the Other, Derrida’s deep suspicions about reason, the law, and the ‘good conscience,’ as well as Leonard Lawlor’s observations about the ‘minimal violence’ required to single something out for care. Given the training of the essayists here, it wouldn’t really be fair to demand they know all this other work, but it is fair, I think, to take them to task for not showing any knowledge of cognitive science’s advances in discovering the intelligence of emotion and (concomitantly) that a purely ‘reasonable’ brain is a pretty stupid thing.

Some essays (Marti Kheel’s most of all) have aged badly; many would benefit from engagement with the intellectual traditions and thinkers who have ignored them (and of course vice versa: only Carol Adams engages with Derrida); some strike me as supererogatory (the first Donovan and Kelch essays); but many of the essays–Josephine Donovan “Attention to Suffering: Sympathy as a Basis for Ethical Treatment of Animals”; Thomas G. Kelch “The Role of the Rational and the Emotive in a Theory of Animal Rights”; Catherine MacKinnon “Of Mice and Men: A Fragment on Animal Rights”; Cathryn Bailey, “On the Backs of Animals: The Valorization of Reason in Contemporary Animal Ethics” [note the world of difference between “Rights” and “Ethics”!)–are essential reading for CAT and, being outside the abstruse rhetorical traditions of continental philosophy (for better and worse), could be very useful in a classroom setting.