Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling

Commentary Type

Invited Commentary


Brian Key, Why fish do not feel pain


Key’s (2016) discussion of his claim that fish do not feel pain ignores the history of attempts to study the attribution of mental states to other species. Although willing to accept that mammals feel pain, Key claims that fish lack the mammalian neural mechanisms underlying pain and are unconscious of their experiences. Consequently, we do not need to be overly concerned about fishing practices that would otherwise be viewed as painful. Key uses a flawed anthropomorphic lens. All attributions of mental events to organisms other than oneself involve inferences derived from anthropomorphic processes through which we process physiological and behavioral data. To do this effectively we need to employ a critical anthropomorphism incorporating our experiences as sentient beings along with diverse scientific findings, avoiding claims that some types of data always trump other considerations.

Author Biography

Gordon M. Burghardt gburghar@utk.edu is Alumni Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has worked primarily on reptile behavior and animal play. However, he has published on animal ethics issues for 35 years and has advocated a critical anthropomorphism as well as an appreciation of historical treatments of animal mentality. http://web.utk.edu/~gburghar/