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Cognitive Ethology and the Treatment of Non-Human Animals: How Mati'ers of Mind Inform Mati'ers of Welfare

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Anthropocentric claims about the ways in which non-human animals (hereafter animals) interact in their social and non-social worlds are often used to influence decisions on how animals can or should be used by humans in various sorts of activities. Thus, the treatment of individuals is often tightly linked to how they are perceived with respect to their ability to perform behaviour patterns that suggest that they can think – have beliefs, desires, or make plans and have expectations about the future. Here, I review some basic issues in the comparative study of animal minds and discuss how matters of mind are related to matters of welfare and well-being. Much comparative research still needs to be done before any stipulative claims can be made about how an individual's cognitive abilities can be used to influence decisions about how she or he should be treated. More individuals from diverse species whose lives, sensory worlds, motor abilities and nervous systems are different from those of animals with whom we identify most readily or with whom we are the most familiar, need to be studied. As others, I stress the importance of subjectivity and common sense along with the use of empirical data in making decisions about animal welfare, and that subjective assessments should be viewed in the same critical light as are supposedly objective scientific facts. I also argue that whatever connections there are between an individual's cognitive abilities and what sorts of treatment are permissible can be overridden by that individual's ability to feel pain and to suffer. When we are uncertain, even only slightly, about their ability to experience pain or to suffer, individual animals should be given the benefit of the doubt. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the phylogenetic distribution of pain and suffering.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 1994

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