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Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling

Commentary Type

Invited Commentary

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David M. Peña-Guzmán, Can nonhuman animals commit suicide?

Abstract

Peña-Guzmán (2017) argues that empirical evidence and evolutionary theory compel us to treat the phenomenon of suicide as continuous in the animal kingdom. He defends a “continuist” account in which suicide is a multiply-realizable phenomenon characterized by self-injurious and self-annihilative behaviors. This view is problematic for several reasons. First, it appears to mischaracterize the Darwinian view that mind is continuous in nature. Second, by focusing only on surface-level features of behavior, it groups causally and etiologically disparate phenomena under a single conceptual umbrella, thereby reducing the account’s explanatory power. Third, it obscures existing analyses of suicide in biomedical ethics and animal welfare literatures. A more promising naturalistic approach might seek a theoretical understanding of the social/ecological circumstances that drive humans and perhaps other animals to self-destruction.

Author Biography

Irina Mikhalevich is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her research examines conceptual and methodological problems in comparative (animal) cognition science and their implications for the treatment of nonhuman animals. https://www.irinamikhalevich.com/

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