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THE ETHICS OF ANIMAL TRAINING

Tony Milligan

Adherence to liberal norms concerning the avoidance of cruelty (on all occasions) and domination (where possible) does not require us to buy into the entire package of a “liberal” standpoint by contrast with something else. We can, and arguably ought to, be more piecemeal in our attitude toward the liberal tradition and what it has to offer— particularly so with regard to its resolute individualism. Nonetheless, even a pared-back commitment to liberal norms is enough to generate a reasonable unease about our relations with other creatures. More precisely, we ought to be uneasy about the dominance that we exercise over domestic companion animals or, in familiar terms, “pets.” (I will switch between these two terms for ease of engagement with the literature, although the former is my preferred terminology.) Paradoxically, this sense of unease may be our saving grace in a difficult situation that we have inherited rather than made and that could not itself be ended (through species extinction) without injustice. The absence of such a sense of unease would indicate not so much that we are at home with our pets but that we are too much at home with our role as the dominant partner in a very unequal relationship. In what follows, I will adopt a broadly genealogical approach toward the ethics of training in order gain a sense of how we have arrived in our current predicament and the vague sense of unease that is part and parcel of a broadly liberal response to it.

 
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