Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1999

Abstract

Since the 1970s, scientists studying animal welfare and philosophers writing about animal ethics have worked toward the common goal of understanding and articulating our proper relationship to animals of other species. However, the two groups approached this task using such different concepts, assumptions, and vocabulary that they functioned as two distinct ‘‘cultures’’ with little mutual understanding or communication. Some of the best known ethical writing created barriers for scientists because it tended (1) to focus only on the level of the individual rather than making some decisions at the level of the population, ecosystem or species, (2) to advocate single ethical principles rather than balancing conflicting principles, (3) to ignore or dismiss traditional ethics based on care, responsibility, and community with animals, (4) to seek solutions through ethical theory with little recourse to empirical knowledge, (5) to lump diverse taxonomic groups into single moral categories, and (6) to propose wholesale solutions to diverse animal use practices. Meanwhile, some of the scientists alienated the ethicists by taking the view that suffering and other subjective experiences of animals are not amenable to scientific enquiry, and by the claim that science could ‘‘measure’’ animal welfare as if it were a purely empirical concept. However, other (often less well known) work in animal ethics creates links with animal welfare science and looks to empirical research to help resolve animal ethics issues. Some of this work (1) expresses moral concern about animals using concepts that lend themselves to scientific analysis, (2) attaches value to traditional care for and community with animals, (3) recognizes the importance of empirical analysis for discriminating between good and bad animal use practices, and (4) sees different taxonomic groups as meriting different types and levels of ethical concern. At the same time, animal welfare science has grown more compatible with the approaches used by some ethicists. Some scientists have recognized and tried to clarify the interplay of normative and empirical elements in the assessment of animal welfare, and many are attempting to understand ethically relevant subjective experiences of animals. The increasing convergence of the scientific and philosophical approaches may lead to a more integrated field of study and to a greater awareness that neither empirical information nor ethical reflection can, by itself, answer questions about our proper relationship to animals of other species.

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