University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Legal Histories beyond the State > Use, war, and commercial society. Changing paradigms of human relations with animals in the early modern law of nature and of nations

Use, war, and commercial society. Changing paradigms of human relations with animals in the early modern law of nature and of nations

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Organised jointly with the Centre for History and Economics

This paper looks at how the legality of human relations with animals was constructed in the European law of nature and of nations, from roughly the beginning of the sixteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth. It is by no means a complete survey, but takes some key figures and moments to suggest a trajectory – one which may not be the only story, but which is nevertheless, I think, of some interest both from an historical and from a theoretical point of view. The last in the sequence is Francis Hutcheson’s Short introduction to moral philosophy, first published in Latin in 1642. Hutcheson’s remarkably sympathetic treatment of animals has been noticed before, and associated with an Enlightenment move away from the minimal sociality of self-interest towards a morality of benevolence, public good and sympathy. It is this that allows animals to have a right not to be subjected to unnecessary pain, and indeed to enjoy further rights due to their more expansive role within human social systems. While not disagreeing entirely, this paper stresses by contrast Hutcheson’s continuing debt to 17th-century natural law, and in particular to Samuel Pufendorf. I argue that Pufendorf was key in transforming the human use of animals into an economic relationship, albeit one that was implacably hostile and exploitative. He did this by reconfiguring inter-human warfare, too, into an economic phenomenon, at least in part. Thus, the theorisation of human-animal relations in the natural law tradition both tracks and sheds light on the theorisation of human-human relations. I end with some thoughts on war and peace in both.

This talk is part of the Legal Histories beyond the State series.

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