Huxley Lecture 2019: Animal Welfare with and without consciousness
- Aston Webb Main Lecture Theatre (C-Block)
- Lectures Talks and Workshops, Life and Environmental Sciences, Research
The belief that many nonhuman animals consciously can suffer and feel pain is central to many peoples’ concern for their welfare. But consciousness is also the most elusive and difficult to study of any biological phenomenon.
In this talk, I shall argue that progress in animal welfare has been hampered by an over-emphasis on sentience, which we do not understand and which has lead to the terms such as ‘welfare’ and ‘well-being’ being seen as vague and ill-defined. I shall further argue that acknowledging our ignorance of consciousness and focusing instead on what can actually be measured is both more scientific and more likely to be taken seriously by the outside world. Two key measurable factors are what improves animal health and what the animals themselves want. Questions about animal consciousness are important but they remain to be answered.
Marian Stamp Dawkins is Professor of Animal Behaviour in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include include communication in birds and fish, conflict and hierarchy formation, behavioral synchrony and the welfare of farm animals, particularly chickens. She is currently developing an automated camera system for assessing the welfare of broiler chicken flocks. Marian is the author of Animal Suffering: the Science of Animal Welfare (1980), Through Our Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness (1993) and Why Animals Matter: Animal Consciousness, Animal Welfare and Human Well-Being (2012). She has also co-authored (with Aubrey Manning) An Introduction to Animal Behaviour (2012).