Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling


In debates about animal sentience, the precautionary principle is often invoked. The idea is that when the evidence of sentience is inconclusive, we should “give the animal the benefit of the doubt” or “err on the side of caution” in formulating animal protection legislation. Yet there remains confusion as to whether it is appropriate to apply the precautionary principle in this context, and, if so, what “applying the precautionary principle” means in practice regarding the burden of proof for animal sentience. Here I construct a version of the precautionary principle tailored to the question of animal sentience together with a practical framework for implementing it. I explain and defend the key features of this framework, argue that it is well-aligned current practice in animal welfare science, and consider and reject a number of influential counterarguments to the use of precautionary reasoning in this area.

Author Biography

Jonathan Birch is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics and Political Science, specializing in the philosophy of the biological sciences. He has written on numerous topics in the philosophy of biology, including innateness, teleology, animal signalling, the “major evolutionary transitions,” and the evolution of altruism. He is currently interested in, among other things, the evolution of sentience and the relation between sentience and welfare. http://personal.lse.ac.uk/birchj1/

Article Thread

Birch, Jonathan (2017) Animal sentience and the precautionary principle. Animal Sentience 16(1)

Stauffer, Jay R., Jr. (2017) Cautions about precautions. Animal Sentience 16(2)

Brown, Culum (2017) A risk assessment and phylogenetic approach. Animal Sentience 16(3)

Adamo, Shelley (2017) The “Precautionary Principle” – A work in progress. Animal Sentience 16(4)