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Philosophical Debate on the Nature of Well-being: Implications for Animal Welfare

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There has been much consideration of well-being in philosophy, especially of human well-being, which contributes to our understanding of animal welfare. Three common approaches to well-being are presented here, which map approximately onto three possible ideas about animal welfare. Perfectionism and other forms of 'objective list' theories suggest that there are various values that should be realised or various things that an individual ought to have for his life to be a good life. In the case of humans, this is based on the concept of human nature. This approach is reflected in two ideas about animal welfare: first, that animals should live natural lives (which includes consideration of an animal's nature or 'telos'), and second, that welfare is concerned with functioning or fitness of animals. The two other approaches are subjective; in other words, they relate solely to the mental processes of the subject. The first, desire fulfilment, suggests that well-being is defined by the satisfaction of desires or preferences. The other, hedonism, states that well-being is the presence of pleasant mental states and the absence of unpleasant ones. These two approaches are both relevant to the idea that the welfare of animals relates solely to their feelings. That idea corresponds most closely to hedonism, so it may be that preferences are most relevant in helping to reveal feelings. However, it is sometimes implied that satisfaction of preferences is itself part of feelings. It would also be possible to maintain, as in the desire fulfilment approach to human well-being, that animal welfare consists of preference satisfaction itself These possibilities need to be more clearly distinguished. Arguments for and against each approach to well-being are presented, so that scientists may be more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their own ideas about animal welfare.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2002


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