The possession of specific mental faculties has long been considered a key factor in extending moral consideration to other beings, with an animal’s capacity for suffering widely believed to create ethical obligations in terms of their subsequent treatment and safeguarding of welfare. My research attempts to unpick the initial stages of this ‘ethical contract’ by exploring whether individual’s willingly attribute mental capacities to a range of nonhuman animals, and if so, what is the nature of those attributions? In addition to understanding these fundamental parameters in our ascriptions of mindedness to others, my work also investigates a range of associated questions such as are beliefs about animal mentality held by members of the public overly anthropomorphic? What factors influence the manner in which we ascribe mentality to animals? Is the ascription of specified mental abilities linked to views on the ethical use of animals for human benefit, or notions of animal welfare? And are the research methods we use to capture an individual’s beliefs surrounding the mental lives of animals fit for purpose? The findings of the research are expected to be relevant to a wide range of stakeholders including fellow scientists, policy officials, charitable organisations, industry bodies, consumer groups, and the general public.
Dr Caroline Spence
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University London