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Animal Ethics and the Scientific Study of Animals: Bridging the “Is” and the “Ought”

1 June 2004


From ancient Greece to the present, philosophers have variously emphasized either the similarities or the differences between humans and nonhuman animals as a basis for ethical conclusions. Thus animal ethics has traditionally involved both factual claims, usually about animals’ mental states and capacities, and ethical claims about their moral standing. However, even in modern animal ethics the factual claims are often scientifically uninformed, involve broad generalizations about diverse taxonomic groups, and show little agreement about how to resolve the contradictions. Research in cognitive ethology and animal welfare science provides empirical material and a set of emerging methods for testing the plausibility of claims about animal mentation and thus for clarifying the interests and needs of animals. We suggest that progress in animal ethics requires both philosophically informed science to provide an empirically grounded understanding of animals, and scientifically informed philosophy to explore the ethical implications that follow.


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