The pros and cons of anthropomorphism

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Abstract

Much of the animal ethics and welfare debate today is accused of anthropomorphism, i.e. that human mental states are ascribed to animals. It is generally claimed that these attitudes does no service to animals, since they, according to many natural scientists, usually fail to recognize what animals really are, that animals' needs and responses are actually very different from humans'.
The damaging consequences seem to abound: The meat industry laments the so-called disneyfication of animals, that consumers identify pigs with the "movie stars" in Babe. This leads to a decrease in meat consumption and the promotion of legal restrictions, which financially strain the industry.
Veterinarians are confronted with clients who treat their pets like small children. Even very basic animal needs may be frustrated which sometimes leads to the point where serious welfare problems arise.
However, anthropomorphism is a complex cultural and emotional phenomenon, as it is closely related to the human capacity of feeling empathy for another individual. This may at times be misguided, but proves at other times to be a powerful and useful tool in the interaction with non-human animals. Historically it was instrumental in raising the awareness of the plight of animals in society, which led to ethical benefits such as demands for the humane treatment of animals and even for animal rights.
Anthropomorphism should therefore not offhand be regarded as a defect in society but as a potentially valuable cultural, ethical, and scientific force.

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Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Ideas

Keywords

  • pets, anthropomorphism, science, animal ethics
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalEurSafe
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedNo