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Sensibilities into Statutes

Sensibilities into Statutes

Animal Rights and the Afterlife of Sensibility

(p.164) Chapter 5 Sensibilities into Statutes
The Animal Claim
Tobias Menely
University of Chicago Press

This chapter investigates the contested legacy of sensibility, beginning with the decades of reaction and reform following the French Revolution. Drawing on Jeremy Bentham’s ambivalent account of “rights” as “sentimental” and “figurative,” and focusing on the unprecedented debates in the public and Parliament regarding the passage of animal welfare law, the chapter argues that the legislative recognition of animals’ personhood actualizes sensibility’s model of sovereign answerability. This chapter also tracks the association between “sentimentality,” as excessive or improper passion, and the promiscuous social identifications, such as the anthropomorphic confusion of “persons” and “things,” conservatives associated with literary humanitarianism. George Canning’s critique of Laurence Sterne’s sensibility in “New Morality” concretizes a link—between pathological sensibility, the humanization of animals, and the animalization of humans—that remains in play through the twentieth century, from Charles Dana’s diagnosis of “zoöphilpsychosis” as a nervous disorder to Hannah Arendt’s rejection of the Rousseauean politics of pity.

Keywords:   animal rights, sentimentalism, anthropomorphism, French Revolution, Hannah Arendt, Jeremy Bentham, George Canning, Laurence Sterne

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