Monday, 27 June 2016

Chapter Two – Animal Welfare and the Paradox of Animal Consciousness


Animal welfare science has a potentially paradoxical attitude to animal consciousness. On the one hand, the belief that animals are conscious is what draws people to want to study animal welfare, but on the other, consciousness remains ‘the hard problem’ and seems currently to be beyond the usual methods of science. This article asks whether the study of animal welfare that includes ‘feelings’ can be truly scientific by examining changing scientific attitudes to studying consciousness that have taken place over the last 50 years. Human psychologists have a similar problem in studying human consciousness and their findings provide a framework for studying feelings in nonhuman animals. Animal welfare scientists have at least four different ways of dealing with the potential paradox of animal consciousness. These are the following: (1) To argue that there are no problems and so there is no paradox (2) To admit the difficulties of studying consciousness and to settle for the next best thing—the likely (but not certain) behavioral correlates of consciousness (3) To admit the difficulties but then try to find ways of studying consciousness more directly (4) To ignore the problem altogether and concentrate on studying animal welfare in ways that are independent of assumptions about animal consciousness. I conclude that it is possible to have a science of animal welfare that avoids being paradoxical and is able to make a genuine contribution to the greatest remaining mystery in biology—why suffering, pleasure, and pain feel like anything at all.


  • Animal consciousness;
  • Animal minds;
  • Pain;
  • Sentience;
  • Suffering;
  • Welfare
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