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Assessing Animal Welfare: Where Does Science End and Philosophy Begin?

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Abstract:

To be able to assess animal welfare the researcher must presuppose a number of background assumptions that cannot be tested by means of ordinary empirical data collection. In order to substantiate these assumptions two sorts of inferences have to be relied upon, which the authors designate by the terms 'analogies' and 'homologies'. Analogies are evaluative, philosophical reflections by means of which it is made clear what provisions or states constitute the welfare of humans and other animals. By means of analogies it may, for example be argued that animal welfare consists of subjective experiences such as pain, boredom, pleasure and expectation. Also by means of analogies the relative 'weight' of these states can be decided. Homologies are part of theoretical science. They serve to clarify how the relevant experiences are linked to measurable anatomical physiological and behavioural parameters.

An account is given of the steps which have to be taken to give a full answer to a question concerning the welfare of animals. In the account only farm animals are mentioned, but the same steps, of course, also have to be taken to answer questions concerning the welfare of other kinds of animals be they companion, laboratory, zoo or wild. Eight steps are described, and it is argued that both analogies and homologies are needed at very fundamental levels. Therefore, if animal welfare science is to provide relevant, rational and reliable answers to questions concerning animal welfare, it must be an interdisciplinary inquiry involving philosophical reflections and theoretical biology.

Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; ETHICS; METHODOLOGY; PHILOSOPHY; SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCES

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 1992

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