Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling


In response to the seventeen commentaries to date on my target article on reducing animal suffering, I propose that the term “welfarism” (when used pejoratively by animal advocates) should be qualified as “anthropocentric welfarism” so as to leave “welfarism” simpliciter to be used in its generic sense of efforts to improve conditions for those who need it. Welfarism in this benign sense — even in its specific utilitarian form (maximizing the sum total of net welfare) with long-term future effects and effects on others (including animals) appropriately taken into account — should be unobjectionable (even if not considered sufficient by all advocates). Rights, both animal and human, should be similarly grounded in the promotion of welfare. My strategic proposal to concentrate on reducing the suffering of farm animals now has been criticized as putting human interests above those of animals and as ignoring the suffering of animals in the wild. These criticisms misunderstand my position and fail to distinguish between the short and long run or between strategy and ideal morality. My position is consistent with perfect impartiality between animals and humans at the level of ideal morality. I also respond to the extreme asymmetrical focus on reducing suffering, ignoring the moral importance of pleasure (the argument against trading off “my orgasms against others’ agony”). Even mild measures for reducing animal suffering such as enlarging cage size for factory chickens and prohibiting the cutting of live eels have to be based on some interpersonal and interspecies comparisons of welfare. We must not use the philosophical uncertainty about the comparability or the very existence of animal sentience to diminish our efforts to protect animal welfare.

Author Biography

Yew-Kwang Ng ykng@ntu.edu.sg, Winsemius professor in economics, Nanyang Technological University, is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia. His recent books include: Common Mistakes in Economics by the Public, Students, Economists and Nobel Laureates (open access); and Happinessism. http://www.ntu.edu.sg/home/ykng/