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Animal pleasure and its moral significance. (Special Issue: Animal suffering and welfare.)

By J. Balcombe

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This paper presents arguments for, and evidence in support of, the important role of pleasure in animals' lives, and outlines its considerable significance to humankind's relationship to other animals. In the realms of animal sentience, almost all scholarly discussion revolves around its negative aspects: pain, stress, distress, and suffering. By contrast, the positive aspects of sentience - rewards and pleasures - have been rarely broached by scientists. Yet, evolutionary principles predict that animals, like humans, are motivated to seek rewards, and not merely to avoid pain and suffering. Natural selection favours behaviours that enhance survival and procreation. In the conscious, sentient animal, the drives to secure food, shelter, social contact, and mates are motivated by desire (appetitive behaviour) and reinforced by pleasure (consummative behaviour). This is reflected in animals' behaviour in the realms of play, food, sex, and touch. Despite the heuristic value of interpreting animal behaviour through the proximate (experiential) lens, scholarly study of animals remains entrenched almost exclusively in the ultimate (evolutionary) sphere. Not just science but also ethics suffer for this, for when we see animals as only the products of a competitive struggle for survival, we risk overlooking the positive qualities of their lives. Pleasure has moral import for such practices as factory farming and laboratory research, for it amplifies the moral burden of depriving animals the opportunity to lead fulfilling, enjoyable lives.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 118
Issue 3/4
Pages 208-216
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.02.012
Language English
Author Address Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 5100 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20016, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  3. Butterflies and moths
  4. Darwinism
  5. Ethics
  6. Evolution
  7. Farms
  8. Flowers
  9. Lens
  10. Mammals
  11. Pain
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. Plants
  14. Primates
  15. Social psychology and social anthropology
  16. survival
  17. taxonomy
  1. peer-reviewed