Animal Consciousness - Not Forcing Morals but Worth Consideration

Discussion Topic Created:
Monday, May 25, 2015
Ethologist Dr. Jane Goodall stated in her 2009 book ”The Inner World of Farm Animals“, that : “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are much more sensitive and intelligent than we ever imagined"
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Discussion Topic Info


Controversy and debate have arisen over the ethics of eating animals. The fundamental ethical objection to meat eating is that for most people living in the developed it is not necessary for their survival or health.

In 2012, a group of well known neuroscientists stated in the "Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals", that all mammals and birds (such as farm animals), and other animals, possess the neurological substrates that generate consciousness and are able to experience affective states.

Eugene Linden, author of The Parrot's Lament suggests that many examples of animal behavior and intelligence seem to indicate emotion, and a level of consciousness that we would normally ascribe only to our own species. Many others have written about animal consciousness

Philosopher Daniel Dennett counters that:

Consciousness requires a certain kind of informational organization that does not seem to be 'hard-wired' in humans, but is instilled by human culture. Moreover, consciousness is not a black-or-white, all-or-nothing type of phenomenon, as is often assumed. The differences between humans and other species are so great that speculations about animal consciousness seem ungrounded. Many authors simply assume that an animal like a bat has a point of view, but there seems to be little interest in exploring the details involved.

Some have argued that sentience (being able to feel sensations, emotions and pain) is not the same as self-awareness (being aware of oneself as an individual). Generally, only the handful of animals that have passed the mirror test are confidently considered to be self-aware.

Peter Singer, in his ethical philosophy of what it is to be a "person" argues that livestock animals feel enough to deserve better treatment than they receive. Many thinkers have questioned the morality not only of the double standard underlying speciesism but also the double standard underlying the fact that people support treatment of cows, pigs and chickens that they would never allow with pet dogs, cats or birds.

Pain in animals

A related argument revolves around non-human organisms' ability to feel pain. If animals can be shown to suffer, as humans do, many of the arguments against human suffering could be extended to animals One such reaction is transmarginal inhibition, a phenomenon observed in humans and some animals akin to mental breakdown.

As noted by John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol:

People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic, sentient animals have the capacity to experience pleasure and are motivated to seek it, you only have to watch how cows and lambs both seek and enjoy pleasure when they lie with their heads raised to the sun on a perfect English summer's day. Just like humans.

Some people choose to be vegetarian or vegan for environmental reasons.

According to a 2006 United Nations initiative :

"the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

The livestock sector is probably the largest source of water pollution (due to animal wastes, fertilizers, pesticides), contributing to eutrophication, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance. It accounts also for over 8% of global human water use.

It is by far the biggest cause of land use, as it accounts for 30% of the global land surface.

It is probably the leading player in biodiversity loss, as it causes deforestation, land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, and invasions by alien species.

Livestock is also responsible for 20% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, that are the main cause of the current climate change due to feed production, enteric fermentation, manure and transport.

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