The emotional and moral lives of animals and why they matter
Easy ways to expand our compassion footprint.
A wide variety of animals experience and display deep and rich emotions and moral sentiments. Research in cognitive ethology, evolutionary biology, and social neuroscience, along with common sense, clearly shows that animals are emotional and empathic beings. What we observe when animals interact with one another tells us a lot about what’s happening inside their heads and hearts. Animals’ lives are very public, not hidden, private, or secret, and the privacy of mind argument that we can never know what animals are thinking or feeling is over-used and goes against solid arguments based on evolutionary continuity. It’s a cop-out. I’m incredulous that some skeptics actually question whether animals feel anything (and even if they think). I’ll discuss how we can study animal emotions in a rigorous manner and how the dwindling number of skeptics represent outmoded thinking. We need the details of what animals do when they interact.
Concerning moral behavior in animals, or “wild justice”, I’ll focus on the details of social play behavior especially in dogs, coyotes, and wolves – the many ways in which animals play fairly and honestly. When animals play they carefully signal their intentions to cooperate and to play, they trust that playmates will obey the rules of fair play, and they forgive one another and apologize to one another so that play can continue as play and not escalate to aggression. Individuals fine-tune their interactions “on the run” by paying attention to what is happening from moment to moment. There are also negative consequences of not playing fairly.
Animal feelings matter to them and they must matter to us. We owe it to all individual animals to make every attempt to come to a greater understanding and appreciation of who they are – emotional, empathic, and often moral beings. When we’re not sure about what they’re feeling, we should leave them alone. Quite often “good welfare” isn’t “good enough”. We can always do better. By minding animals we can expand our compassion footprint and make the world a better place for all beings. It’s not all about us.
Marc Bekoff is former professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, and a former Guggenheim Fellow. In 2009 Marc became a member of The Humane Society University and was also presented with the Saint Francis of Assisi Award by the Auckland (New Zealand0 SPCA. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc has published more than 200 scientific and popular essays and twenty-two books including Minding Animals, the Ten trusts (with Jane Goodall), The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, Animals at Play: Rules of the Game (an award-winning children’s book), Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (with Jessica Pierce), The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint, and the Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships , the Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior ), and two editions of the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare . In 2005 Marc was presented with The Bank One Faculty Community Service Award for the work he has done with children, senior citizens, and prisoners. In 1986 he became the first American to win his age-class at the Tour du Var bicycle race (also called the Master’s/age-graded Tour de France).